James Morrow’s The Madonna and the Starship is the sort of book you just don’t want to put down. Fortunately, because it’s a quick read, you shouldn’t have to!
The story: It is the 1950’s. Kurt Jastrow writes pulp science fiction stories. Because he can’t make a living selling short stories, he also works in television broadcasting as a writer on Brock Barton and His Rocket Rangers, and also as a character actor for Uncle Wonder’s Attic. The television programs have found an audience in space aliens (creatures that appear quite lobster-like) who appear to Kurt as fans of his works. Unfortunately they also plan to vaporize two million people within the next two days. Kurt turns to fellow writer Connie Osborn (head writer for the religious program Not By Bread Alone) for help. Or perhaps he turns to her because it might be his last chance to tell her how he feels about her. In either case, Kurt and Connie have two days to send forth a broadcast that will convince the aliens to leave Earth alone.
Author Morrow captures the language and soul of the 1950’s very well. This could easily be a story from the very pulps that Kurt Jastrow writes for. If anyone had told me that this was a reissue of a book originally released in the mid-fifties, I’d likely believe them. The nods to popular culture of the time (from the early days of television, to pulp editors like Hugo Gernsbach) are a delight to catch.
The book is filled with humor, reminding me of the likes of Joseph Heller, Richard Hooker, and Ron Goulart. Yet underneath that humor is a remarkably touching, philosophical story.
Morrow loves to question organized religion and encourage humanism, and this book is no stranger to these themes. There’s a nice juxtaposition of having the religious broadcast be a part of the response to the lobster-like aliens who wield god-like power.
I don’t read books a second time very often (there are too many I haven’t read to spend time reading some twice!), but with this I expect I’ll make an exception … there’s a lot packed in to this book, and I think I’ll enjoy it even more the second time around.
Looking for a good book? The Madonna and the Starship will have you laughing out loud while you think about what it means to be human.
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The Madonna and the Starship
author: James Morrow
publisher: Tachyon Publications
paperback, 192 pages