James Morrow: “an absolute master of the sardonic”

On his More Red Ink blog, award-winning book and copy editor Marty Halpern recounts his working relationship with James Morrow, “an absolute master of the sardonic.” His account culminates with the forthcoming The Madonna and the Starship, which he’s currently copy editing for Tachyon.

So, here I am working on The Madonna and the Starship, a story that takes place in the early 1950s, the decade in which commercial television was finally affordable for mainstream America. Television sets first appeared in the Sears Roebuck catalog in 1949, and by 1950 nine percent of U.S. households could boast of owning a television set. By 1951 the television networks broadcast a total of twenty-seven hours of children’s shows each week, and promoted the educational aspects of television to parents.1 Which brings me to Kurt Jastrow, the protagonist of our story. who is the head writer for the NBC children’s program Brock Barton and His Rocket Rangers. In addition to cranking out weekly episodes of Brock Barton, Jastrow was also tasked with writing — and starring in — a ten-minute segment at the end of each episode: Uncle Wonder’s Attic. Wearing a cardigan sweater and hiding behind a fake grizzled beard and equally fake eyebrows, Uncle Wonder would rummage around in his attic until he found just the right materials to perform some experiment related to theBrock Barton universe. Here’s Kurt:

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 that I was a playwright, though I knew perfectly well that nobody was about to confuse a space schooner called theTriton with a streetcar named Desire.

But, Jastrow’s day-to-day normalcy was interrupted by the arrival of two lobster-like aliens — Wulawand and Volavont, from the planet Qualimosa in the Procyon system: a planet of “logical positivists.” Unfortunately, this didn’t bode well for Kurt Jastrow’s love interest, Connie Osborne, who wrote and produced a Sunday morning religious program called Not By Bread Alone. Certain that the program’s audience represented “a hive of irrationalist vermin,” the Qualimosans planned to piggyback their death-ray onto the broadcast signal of Not By Bread Alone, to every NBC affiliate. Come Sunday morning, at ten minutes past ten o’clock, the Earth would be cleansed of nearly two million irrationalists.
 
Kurt and Connie now had less that two days to write, cast, and rehearse a replacement episode of Not By Bread Alone, one that was so perfectly rational and utterly absurd as to foil the Qualimosans’ plans.
 
1. “Television History – A Timeline: 1878-2005,” The University of Texas School of Law, Tarlton Law Library, Jamail Center for Legal Research: 
 
Read the rest of Marty’s fascinating post about James Morrow at More Red Ink
 
For more on The Madonna and the Starship, visit the Tachyon page.
 
Cover and design by Elizabeth Story

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