The Madonna and the Starship
by James Morrow
Published: June 2014
Available Format(s): Trade Paperback and ebooks
Only Uncle Wonder can save us from the death beam of the diabolical lobsters from outer space!
New York City, 1953. The golden age of television, when most programs were broadcast live. Young Kurt Jastrow, a full-time TV writer and occasional actor, is about to have a close encounter of the apocalyptic kind.
Kurt’s most beloved character (and alter ego) is Uncle Wonder, an eccentric tinkerer whose pyrotechnically spectacular science experiments delight children across the nation. Uncle Wonder also has a more distant following: the inhabitants of Planet Qualimosa. When a pair of his extraterrestrial fans arrives to present him with an award, Kurt is naturally pleased—until it develops that, come next Sunday morning, these same aliens intend to perpetrate a massacre…
[STARRED REVIEW Jonathan Swift meets Buck Rogers in this hilarious send-up of the golden ages of television and pulp sci-fi. In mid-20th-century New York City, Kurt Jastrow, de facto head writer for NBC’s Brock Barton and His Rocket Rangers, receives a transmission from the planet Qualimosa informing him that he has won the Zorningorg Prize for championing “reason in its eternal war with revelation.” Then the lobster-like extraterrestrials get wind of “Sitting Shiva for Jesus,” an upcoming episode of a Sunday-morning religious program written by Kurt’s love interest Connie Osborne. The crustacean “logical positivists” propose to use their death ray to annihilate the show’s two million devout, “irrational” viewers. Can Kurt and Connie refashion her script into a satirical, sacrilegious screed, forestalling mass slaughter? This delightful romp from Morrow (Shambling Towards Hiroshima) provides the breathless answer in short order; no need to wait for next week to tune in and find out.
“…breezy humor and provocative thinking… Don’t miss the thrilling conclusion of James Morrow’s The Madonna and The Starship!
“I am so besotted with James Morrow’s talent that I cannot find a word big enough to deify it.”
—Harlan Ellison, bestselling author of Shatterday
“The story has the tone of a manic tall tale, and is often just as hilarious…reminiscent of Kurt Vonnegut and the film Galaxy Quest….this latest book by the inimitable James Morrow is rife with gonzo charm and buried barbs and offbeat parables galore.”
“To whatever extent the Qualimosians represent the spirit of Richard Dawkins’ The God Delusion, the ‘live and let live’ moral of The Madonna and the Starship is closer to Sagan’s The Demon-Haunted World. And what’s more, it’s funny!”
“a wild, over-the-top farce…. once it starts, never stops racing, Complications abound, lunacy predominates, the aliens are kept distracted and the world is saved with a broadcast that surely would have made viewer heads explode in 1953.”
—SCI FI Magazine
“. . . an enjoyable read—funny, thought provoking, and memorable.”
“The Madonna and the Starship will have you laughing out loud while you think about what it means to be human.
—Looking For A Good Book
“Galaxy Quest, eat your heart out.”
“The Madonna and the Starship is hysterically funny and thought-provoking at the same time.”
“James Morrow is a master of couching heavy topics in irreverent, ridiculous scenarios, and The Madonna and the Starship deftly tackles atheism, science worship, and the ’50s rationale of the benevolent alien visitor. . . . Transcendently weird and aggressively smart, this book is Morrow at his most barbed and satiric.”
“This is a perfect summer read, light-hearted, but intelligent.”
“The Madonna and the Starship gives a brisk spanking to fundamentalism on both sides of the religion vs. rationalism debate.”
—See the Elephant
“The Madonna and the Starship is a very funny, very clever look at philosophy and faith, couched in a comfortable, loving homage to nostalgia for a simpler time. It’s ridiculously blasphemous and completely absurd . . . and that’s entirely the point.”
—Beauty in Ruins
“…a work of wit and substance.”
—New York Review of Science Fiction
James Morrow is the author of the World Fantasy Award–winning Towing Jehovah, the New York Times Notable Book Blameless in Abaddon, and the Theodore Sturgeon Award–winning Shambling Towards Hiroshima. His most recent novels include The Last Witchfinder, hailed by the Washington Post as “literary magic,” and The Philosopher’s Apprentice, which received a rave review from Entertainment Weekly. A master of satiric and the surreal, Morrow has enjoyed comparison with Mark Twain, Kurt Vonnegut, and John Updike. He lives in State College, Pennsylvania with a collection of Lionel trains and a rapidly growing library of DVDs of questionable taste.
Praise for James Morrow
“The most provocative satiric voice in science fiction.”
“…widely regarded as the foremost satirist associated with the SF and fantasy field.”
“Morrow understands theology like a theologian and psychology like a psychologist, but he writes like an angel.”
—Richard Elliott Friedman, author of The Hidden Book in the Bible
“America’s best satirist.”
—James Gunn, University of Kansas
Praise for Shambling Towards Hiroshima
“This dark, wildly funny, politically incorrect satire is a winner.”
—Nancy Kress, author of After the Fall, Before the Fall, During the Fall
“Readers will never think of Godzilla—or any other B-movie monster—in quite the same way, that’s guaranteed.”
—Green Man Review
“…the strange brew of jolly satire and moral indignity of vintage Kurt Vonnegut….”
—Time Out Chicago
“It’s called satire, and James Morrow does it brilliantly.”
“…tour-de-force of razor-sharp wit…packs a big wallop….”
“Morrow is the only author who comes close to Vonnegut’s caliber. Like Vonnegut, Morrow shrouds his work in science fiction, but the real story is always man’s infinite capacities for love and for evil.”
—Paul Constant, The Stranger.com
“…witty, playful…reminiscent of Watchmen….”
“…a reminder that for all the shenanigans in his plots, [James Morrow is] first and foremost just a great writer.”
“In the tradition of Dr. Strangelove…even as you’re laughing, you’re not sure you should be.”
“James Morrow’s bizarrely funny new book Shambling Towards Hiroshima turns the usual Godzilla paradigm on its head: Instead of being inspired by the horrors of nuclear war, Godzilla is its herald.”
“It takes a special sort of person to…imagine a real-world basis for Godzilla….”
—John Scalzi, The Big Idea
“Morrow liberally salts the yarn with real Hollywood horror-movie personnel, Jewish showbiz snark, and gut-wrenching regret for the bomb. As usual for Morrow, a stellar performance.”
“…sharp-edged, delightfully batty…skillfully mingling real and imaginary characters with genuinely hilarious moments.”
“…a total hoot to read…recounting horrors both imagined and real with equal aplomb.”
—The Agony Column
“A ridiculously fun read…pitch-perfect satire.”
—Fantasy & Science Fiction
“This is what we have come to expect from Morrow: intelligent, thoughtful, dark comedy with real bite—and in this case radioactive breath.”
—New York Review of Science Fiction
Praise for The Cat’s Pajamas
“His latest collection demonstrates that his rapier wit has lost none of its edge as it encompasses twisted scenarios ranging from Martians invading Central Park to having the fates of other worlds rest upon the scores of American football games…. All the stories manifest Morrow’s penchant for exploring the dark underbelly of technological promise and extracting quirky moral conundrums. Morrow’s fans will revel, and first-time readers may find his grim humor making fans of them, too.”
“…far more entertaining than most of that tedious stuff you’ve been forcing yourself to read.”
“Morrow’s shorter tales possess…a keen sense of folly and morality, a witty inventiveness….”
“Amply displays [Morrow’s] ability to juggle absurdity, tragedy, irony and outrage….”
“Darkly delightful satire.”
Praise for The Last Witchfinder
“Intrepid, impeccably researched.”
—Publishers Weekly, starred review
“James Morrow’s novel about early American witchcraft pulls off so many dazzling feats of literary magic that in a different century he’d have been burned at the stake.”
“This impeccably researched, highly ambitious novel—nine years in the writing—is a triumph of historical fiction.”
Visit the James Morrow website.
Uncle Wonder Builds a Jet Engine
X minus ten seconds and counting! Nine, eight, seven! Step lively, cosmic cadets! Six, five, four! Time to scramble aboard the space schooner TRITON! Good job, cadets, you made it! Three, two, one ... BLAST OFF with BROCK BARTON AND HIS ROCKET RANGERS! Brought to you by Kellogg’s Sugar Corn Pops, with the sweetenin’ already on it, and by Ovaltine, the hot chocolaty breakfast drink schoolteachers recommend! And now, stalwart star sailors, let’s race on up to the bridge, where Brock and his crew are about to receive an assignment that will hurtle them pell-mell into the dreaded “Coils of Terror,” chapter one of this week’s exciting adventure, THE COBRA KING OF GANYMEDE!
If I were a nine-year-old kid becalmed in the cultural doldrums of postwar America, nothing would have thrilled me more than the voice of Jerry Korngold announcing an impending episode of Brock Barton and His Rocket Rangers. Every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday afternoon, at four o’clock precisely, this indefatigable off-screen TV host delivered the program’s opening signature, exhorting young viewers to enter a sacred and forbidden zone. Follow me to the throbbing heart of the cosmos, boys and girls. Come hither to infinity.
As fate would have it, however, in the early fifties I could not accept Jerry’s entrancing invitation, partly because I was no longer a child but mostly because I happened to be the head writer of Brock Barton and His Rocket Rangers. I liked my job. Just as our show enabled kids to fantasize that they were star sailors, so did my scripting duties allow me to imagine I was a playwright, though I knew perfectly well that nobody was about to confuse a space schooner called the Triton with a streetcar named Desire.
While my primary Brock Barton obligation was to crank out a triad of weekly episodes, including a cliffhanging climax for chapters one and two, I was further charged with writing and starring in a ten-minute epilogue to each installment, the popular Uncle Wonder’s Attic segment. Cut to me, Kurt Jastrow, a.k.a. Uncle Wonder, an endearing old tinkerer in a cardigan sweater. (I played the role behind an artificial grizzled beard and equally fake eyebrows.) Nestled in his attic workshop, Uncle Wonder has just finished watching the latest Brock Barton chapter with a neighborhood kid, frecklefaced Andy Tuckerman. The absentminded eccentric flips off his bulky Motorola TV and chats with Andy about the episode, and before long the boy pipes up with an astute question concerning some scientific aspect of the Brock Barton universe. (I tried to leaven the show’s bedrock implausibility with flashes of real physics and chemistry.) After rummaging around in the attic, Uncle Wonder finds the necessary materials, then proceeds to address the boy’s perplexity through a science experiment.
Under normal circumstances, the Monday, November 9, 1953, Brock Barton chapter called “Coils of Terror” would not have lodged in my memory. It was neither better nor worse than my usual attempt to write a script poised on the proper side of the rift that separates exhilarating junk from irredeemable dreck. As it happened, though, “Coils of Terror” occasioned my first interaction with the Qualimosans—I speak now of by-God extraterrestrials, complete with crustacean physiognomy, insectile eyes, and an antisocial agenda—and so I can easily discuss that episode without benefit of a kinescope or other tangible record of the broadcast.
Don’t touch that dial.