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Mr. Spaceman Hardcover – January, 2000

3.4 out of 5 stars 25 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Desi is a spaceman who has a way with words. Listening to them, that is. He's been hovering over Earth for years, occasionally beaming up earthlings and telepathically auditing their personal histories. At the opening of Robert Olen Butler's metaphysical comedy, the date is December 30, 2000. Desi has beamed up a busload of gamblers bound for a Louisiana casino. His wife, Edna Bradshaw--beamed up earlier from Bovary, Alabama--is making sausage balls, a dish she believes will comfort the astonished visitors. Together, Desi and Edna put everyone so at ease that the abductees quickly become disciples.

Butler's narrator is a happy comic creation, a deadpan alien in love with his wife and her fine set of knockers: "There are three things about this planet which are too wonderful for me. Make that four things. The way of dreams in the mind; the way of tears in the eyes; the way of words in the mouth; and the way of my wife Edna Bradshaw when she acts like a cat and lovenibbles me into her arms." In a novel that eludes classification, Butler propels Desi's linguistic struggles, busload of disciples, and attempts to plumb the mystery of human yearning to a tight climax as he plans his first public appearance on Earth, which his new followers believe is a second coming. Mr. Spaceman is by turns a fond satire of science fiction, an ode to the South, and an exploration of marital dynamics that's as besotted with detail as any Anne Tyler novel--though the perspective tilts a little off-center. Edna gives her spaceman a fond pinch on the cheek, and he observes,

Her hand lunges forward and grabs a sizeable part of my cheek and squeezes and jiggles it. This physical attack is very distressing to me, especially given the sudden light-heartedness of her demeanor as she does it. This is a side to Edna that shocks me, and the violence goes on. I am bearing it the best I can and now Edna even says, "Oh you spaceman," in that cheery, loving voice that I have grown to recognize in spite of the neutrality of the words themselves. I am very confused and her attack on my cheek ceases and her hand drops and I think I may have missed something. I think she has meant this gesture as a friendly thing. After all, she does not have suckers on her fingers.
Butler also frequently digresses into the narrative voices of the earthlings in their monologues about their lives. Alas, so appealing is Desi's narrative voice that these (admittedly often virtuoso) forays into other voices offer a degree of frustration. --Claire Dederer

From Publishers Weekly

An alien with a heart of gold beams up 12 people on a casino-bound bus on the eve of the millennium in a last-ditch effort to understand humanity before making his long-planned descent to earth in Butler's boundlessly imaginative tale of self-discovery. Desi, who first appeared in the short story "Help Me Find My Spaceman Lover" (Tabloid Dreams, 1997), has been hovering over the U.S. (and watching our TV programs) for some 30 years, collecting the words, memories and yearnings of a few chosen people in a great machine on board his spaceship. Although he is the only remaining representative of his species, he is not alone; keeping him company are his curvaceous human wife, Edna Bradshaw, and their cat, Eddie. With the Wonders of Modern Technology at his disposal (Butler uses capricious capitalization throughout the narrative, to convey Mr. Spaceman's voice and delivery), Desi "interviews" some of the 12 gamblers, bringing forth their voices via the "memory machine" in a series of dramatic monologues that showcase Butler's talent for capturing vernacular and also his gift for parable. Each voice bears witness to a culture-defining event of the 20th century, from the first airplane flight in 1903 to the Branch Davidian debacle at Waco. But before he must make himself known to the world (and in so doing, reveal the "great and fundamental truth of the cosmos"), Edna prepares an unforgettable Alabama-style Last Supper for her spaceman lover and his 12 guests. Through Desi's alien eyes, Pulitzer Prize-winning Butler makes poignant observations about the power (and inadequacies) of language, the logic of dreams and the universal hope for redemption. He balances the playfulness of alien lore with the weight of religion, marrying the comic and the tragic with mastery. In Butler's view, our stories all have certain inevitable endings. This novel raises fin de siecle literature to new heights and turns inevitability on its head. (Jan.)
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Grove Pr; 1st edition (January 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0802116604
  • ISBN-13: 978-0802116604
  • Product Dimensions: 1 x 6.5 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.2 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (25 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #4,126,545 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
Mr. Spaceman is an eloquently written novel about an alien perparing to make contact with Earth. The spaceman attemps to obtain a thorough understanding of humanity by sensing the "inner truths" of a variety of people. This entertaining book gives a wonderful perspective on humanity, our fears and desires, allowing both the spaceman and the reader to gleam a better understanding of humanity. This book should quickly be elevated to "literature" status, especially when so much science fiction is so poorly written.
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By A Customer on September 19, 2000
Format: Hardcover
Mr. Spaceman had its genesis in one of the funniest and most poignant stories in Butler's last collection, Tabloid Dreams. In "Help Me Find My Spaceman Lover," lonely Edna Bradshaw told of falling in love with Desi, an alien being, in the parking lot of an Alabama Wal-Mart. Now Butler has picked up Desi and Edna's story at a later point. Married and hovering above the earth at the end of the year 2000, they're entertaining an entire busload of Texans bound for a Louisiana casino. Desi has beamed both bus and passengers up to his spaceship so he can continue his research into the nature of human beings. This is to prepare him to reveal himself and his spaceship to earth media on New Year's Eve.
With down-home hospitality, Edna offers cheese straws and sausage balls to the abducted bus passengers who can't help noticing Desi's eight fingers on each hand, all ending in little sucker disks. But he's no ordinary spaceman; he's simple and wise by turns, lacing his conversation with earthly advertising slogans and song titles. "I'm a friendly guy," he says. "There Is a Kind of Hush All Over the World Tonight. I Would Like to Teach the World to Sing. I Would Like to Buy the World a Coke."
Eventually Desi learns the life stories of the individual passengers through his empathic powers. Though these often moving monologues from the heart compose a kind of cross-section of American humanity, many have the familiar ring of characters met too often in recent fiction. None is as engaging or original as Desi himself. His visit to an American supermarket, dressed in zoot suit and hat, is one of the most hilarious scenes in the book.
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Format: Hardcover
Desi the Spaceman has quite a task before him. As he continues to hover over planet Earth with his wife Edna - he picked her up in the Walmart parking lot near her home in Alabama - he realizes that his mission is coming to its most dangerous step. He must reveal himself to Earth and face the possible defensive (and violent) response.
Before the "unveiling", which is to take place on New Year's Eve, Desi decides to hijack a bus of casino-bound gamblers from a dark highway. He's brought people to his ship before, but these will be the first who are allowed to retain the experience upon their release. The bus reveals a truly diverse bunch, everything from a punky, confused Christian to a gay bus driver named Hank.
Mr. Spaceman is a simple, affecting collection of the very things that Desi is trying to learn from each of the individuals. Their inner voices, emotions, fears, and - most importantly - their yearnings. While it sounds a lot like science fiction, it's really more of a gentle, New Age study of the human condition. Robert Olen Butler seems to have a great compassion (if not always the best understanding) for each of his characters as they reveal their stories to the spaceman. That sensitive tone carries through the novel without much plot development, but that seems about right. While there's nothing new here, it's an enjoyable read and I certainly look forward to other works by the author.
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Format: Hardcover
I bought Mr. Spaceman because of the novelty of the plot. It sounded quirky and fun and I hadn't read anything by the author despite the fact that I have seen his work in quite a few bookstores. I am very glad that I picked it up - this was a very honest look at American life at the turn of the millennium. Lives seen through the naive eyes of an outsider. Well concieved and written. And while lives and cultures are being examined, the author makes no value judgements; he leaves it to the reader to interpret.
Bottom line: great read. I wish there was a 4 and a half star rating...I'm stingy with my 5's but this one is almost there.
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Format: Hardcover
The author of the beautiful Pulitzer-winning "Good Scent from a Strange Mountain" sends his readers on another incredible journey with "Mr. Spaceman." Not afraid to tread new ground by taking his literary voice into the science fiction genre, Robert Olen Butler has written the perfect novel for the new millenium. "Mr. Spaceman" is deeply satisfying -- funny, moving and always surprising. I couldn't put it down and felt a huge sense of loss when I finished reading. A slim book, it speaks volumes about our commercialized society, about dreams, about families, about religion and about love. This is a unique and very funny voice, writing at his best. Mr. Spaceman will stay with you for a long time.
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