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The Madonna and the Starship Paperback – June 24, 2014
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The Amazon Book Review
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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....”
“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.”
“...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.”
“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
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, editor of The New Encyclopedia of Science Fiction
On The Philosopher’s Apprentice
“A tumultuous take on humanity, philosophy and ethics that is as hilarious as it is outlandish.”
On The Cat’s Pajamas
“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.”
“Amply displays [Morrow's] ability to juggle absurdity, tragedy, irony and outrage ...”
About the Author
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I did not think it succeeded as well as Morrow's Shambling Towards Hiroshima though. The main reason is that it somehow ran out of steam in the last third. Mind, there was still that manic inventive energy of the early sections, but it began to feel a little cramped & forced. Think about caviar or foie gras: a little is delicious; a lot can give you an indigestion. This is how I felt towards the end of the story.
Still a solid 4 stars. I only rarely encounter such original and inventive work, that must be applauded.
It all begins with a 1950s children's TV show called Brock Barton and His Rocket Rangers. The stories are pure pulp sci-fi cheese, complete with in-character advertisements for Kellogg’s Sugar Corn Pops (remember, kids, it’s got the sweetenin’ already on it!), but they're framed by an educational bit where Uncle Wonder demonstrates a science experiment related to the show. It's so educational, in fact, that a pair of aliens who picked up on the transmission announce their plans to bestow upon Under Wonder the Zorningorg Prize.
Pretty impressive stuff, until you discover the aliens are still calibrating their equipment, and the only other shows they've seen are Texaco Star Theater (hosted by a boisterous comedian who dresses in women’s clothes!) and Howdy Doody (featuring a mentally defective child!). Kurt Jastrow, who both writes Brock Barton and plays Uncle Wonder, is understandably skeptical, but he's well-and-truly convinced when the 2 crustacean-like aliens actually do arrive with a wondrous kaleidoscopic trophy. Unfortunately, they caught a rehearsal for Not By Bread Alone on their way in, and they're so very displeased by the Easter Sunday reenactment. So, next Sunday, they plan to broadcast their death-ray through the TV and cleanse the planet of its secret cult of two million irrationalists. Faced with danger the likes of which not even Brock Barton himself has ever faced, Kurt must join forces with Connie, his would-be girlfriend, to hijack the show and broadcast an over-the-top, ridiculously satirical take on the resurrection of Jesus to convince the aliens that Not By Bread Alone is really not purveying metaphysical drivel.
Most of the story revolves around the desperate race to come up with the perfect script, convince the god-fearing actors to betray their audience for the good of the world, and deal with the logistics of keeping the aliens occupied while they do it. It makes for some very funny, yet also very deep, stuff. On the one hand, you have a pulp sci-fi magazine editor who hides under his desk with a pair of rubber love dolls (fully inflated, life-size, all pink flesh and voluptuous parabolas) to stave off agoraphobia and, on the other hand, you have Kurt and Connie engaging in rather spirited debates about irrationality, logical positivism, and nihilism. Then, of course, you have the two crustacean like aliens, disguised by nothing more than old fashioned sandwich boards for a made-up seafood restaurant, playing poker (Seven-card stud, I daresay, is a universal constant, rather like electron mass and the speed of light) and studying the the New York subway system (the most impressive sculpture on the planet).
It's the actual broadcast that really steals the show, however. It's really quite brilliant the way Morrow brings it all together, with each scene and each line of dialogue topping the last for blasphemous irrelevance. Mary no sooner laments Jesus' childhood (As a little boy, you were quite a handful, especially compared to your two brothers) when Brock Barton arrives, having traveled an entire light year to prevent yet another religion from contaminating the Milky Way. Due to contractual requirements for the actors, Morrow even works the commercials into the satire, with Jesus offering up a kid-friendly Eucharist (Eat these measures of Sugar Corn Pops, for they are my body), and commenting to Brock Barton that "four out of five elementary school teachers recommend Ovaltine." The best part of the book - which I won't spoil - is the final twist that Morrow throws at the reader, with a typical 50s sitcom blunder threatening to negate everything Kurt and Connie have worked to accomplish.
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.
Kurt Jastrow is a science fiction writer churning out weekly episodes of Brock Barton and His Rocket Rangers when he is contacted by alien lobsters from the planet Qualimosa who have seen his broadcasts and want to give him an award. This is complicated when they become aware of the "televised irrationality" of Not By Bread Alone, a Sunday-morning religious program, and offer to cleanse the world of irrationality. Kurt and Connie, his love interest and coincidentally the writer of Not By Bread Alone, make a frantic effort to rewrite the religious program as a biting satire, and thus save millions of people from lobsters wielding death rays.
To be fair there are a fair number of laughs, and Morrow treats everyone with equal opportunity satire, but it was hard to escape the feeling of missed opportunity. The concept is filled with inspired lunacy and satirical possibility, the end result seems to barely scratch the surface. There are a number of sharp and pertinent observations. The Madonna and the Starship is a well-researched, philosophically grounded novel that never quite lives up to its ambition.
**Received copy from NetGalley for review