MORRIS, Minn.—PZ Myers, a biology professor at the University of Minnesota-Morris, has a reputation some would envy and others fear: He's one of the country's best-known atheists, and runs a blog, Pharyngula, on scienceblogs.com that's devoted to exposing the insanity promulgated by the world's most prolific religions.
But besides his trademark cephalopods and a fondness for sampling strange brews in foreign pubs, Myers has other interests as well, as he revealed in an essay posted today, "My secret addiction, revealed!": Old porn, sexy science-fiction and browsing used book stores.
Specifically, Myers tells of the enjoyment he had in the 1970s, wandering around "the seedier parts" of Seattle, Washington—1st and 2nd Avenues, near the Farmers' Market—"which were not nice places for a quiet young man."
"But I had an obsession and a pocket full of change, and I was jonesing for a fix," Myers explains. "I'd go to the porn shops. Maybe you don't remember 70s-era porn shops. Maybe you weren't even born then. But the like of these beasts is something that we'll not see again. They were beautiful.
"The typical layout was to have walls covered with display racks, and displayed in all their blatant, lurid glory would be the covers of these glossy, over-sized magazines, and the covers would always be closeups of orgasmic women in hardcore action," he continues. "There was a kind of battle going on: each one was competing to be brighter, shinier, brassier, sexier than the next, so you'd walk in to these little shops and be radiated with pink. Squirming, pulsing pink. There'd be spots of contrast provided by silky mats of pubic hair—this was the 70s, when 'beaver' was the usual synonym, for good reason—and by the segregated strip on one wall of black women, usually entangled with pale pink men, set aside like some exotic perversion."
Myers elaborates, waxing lyrically about the 8 and 16mm films secreted behind the counter, which in later years would be replaced by VHS tapes (and now DVDs, not to mention full hardcore websites) displayed right out in the open, and about the expensive, thick-stock, full-color magazines imported from Europe, which he describes as "published as if they were museum-quality works of art."
But despite his florid descriptions of the merchandise, Myers says the porn wasn't his real goal in frequenting the shops.
"You see, the owners would always have a stash of cheap, entirely random books somewhere, usually unsorted and piled without care somewhere in the store: in the front window, on a low table, in a bin near the clerk," Myers recalls. "They looked totally out of place, with their faded covers and yellowing pages, like dusty, tattered insect carcasses beneath the feet of the lubricious mammalian sleekness prowling above them. I always imagined there must be some loophole in a law book somewhere, so that when the police walked in to harrass the owner with the obviously pornographic nature of his wares, he'd be able to grandly sweep a nicotine-stained hand around his emporium and announce, 'Nah, officer, see… this is a bookstore!', just by pointing out a few tatty, moldering piles.
"And it was. That's what I was after," he continues. "There was absolutely no discrimination in the collection, and the prices were cheap: 5 or 10 cents. There'd be old pulp novels from the 40s, there'd be cowboy stories and romance novels, there'd be stacks of National Geographics (there was always National Geographic, guaranteed), occasionally you'd find battered old comic books (but not often; comics were becoming serious collectables, so they'd be quickly gleaned when left there), and of course, what I was after: cheesy science fiction. It was my addiction."
Myers goes on to recall finding stories by Hugo Gernsback (generally acknowledged as the "father of science-fiction" for having published the first science-fiction magazine, Astounding) as well as novels and stories by Isaac Asimov (I, Robot), Arthur C. Clarke (2001, A Space Odyssey), Ray Bradbury (The Martian Chronicles), Harlan Ellison (Dangerous Visions and Star Trek's "City on the Edge of Forever"), Leigh Brackett (who co-wrote the screenplays for The Big Sleep and The Empire Strikes Back), Michael Moorcock (The Final Programme), and Alfred Bester (The Demolished Man).
But Ellison and Moorcock aside, since it was a porn shop Myers was frequenting, he likely also would have stumbled across even more sexually-explicit works by some of the genre's top writers.
For instance, he surely would have stumbled across works by Robert Heinlein, possibly Stranger in a Strange Land, which tells of Valentine Michael Smith, an earthling born on Mars who returns to Earth with "powers far beyond those of mortal men"—and a voracious sexual appetite that cares not about gender—or possibly even Time Enough For Love, which recounts the journey of Lazarus Long, the oldest living human, who goes back in time and has sex with his own mother. He also could have seen one of the installments of Heinlein's novella Door Into Summer, published in the October, November and December, 1956 issues of the Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, one of which sported a cover by acclaimed artist Frank Kelly Freas depicting a nude woman whose breasts and pussy were covered only by fields of stars.
Myers almost certainly would have seen books by Philip Jose Farmer—perhaps the Ace Double paperback, Lord of the Trees/The Mad Goblin, featuring sexualized versions of Tarzan and pulp magazine hero Doc Savage—a concept Farmer took to even greater, more explicit heights with 1969's A Feast Unknown.
On the distaff side, Myers might have found lesbian author Joanna Russ's The Female Man, about four women living on parallel worlds in different universes, who gain the power to travel between the dimensions, finding, for instance, a utopian society where no men exist, and another universe where the sexes are literally at war with each other. He might also have found Ursula K. LeGuin's 1969 novel The Left Hand of Darkness, about a normally-genderless alien race whose members choose their own genders one a month in order to mate.
And finally, if he was really lucky, Myers might have seen a few back issues of Weird Tales, featuring the sexy covers of Margaret Brundage, whose flourishing career was cut short when, in the early 1940s, New York mayor Fiorello LaGuardia banned magazines with nude or semi-nude women on their covers.
Perhaps Myers will do another post, enlightening us as to the sexiest scifi material he discovered during his porn shop scavenging.