A Review of The Madonna and the Starship, by James Morrow

science fiction by James MorrowScience Fiction vs. Fundamentalism

A book review by Mabel Stark

In 1953, Kurt Jastrow writes science fiction stories for love but not much money. He scripts and hosts a children’s TV show called Brock Barton and his Rocket Rangers to pay the rent. In his spare time he hangs out with other TV writers and moons after Connie, the highly educated and religious writer of a Christian program called By Bread Alone.

Life gets complicated when Kurt’s broadcasts catch the eye of some actual aliens, the Qualimosans, who resemble blue lobsters. The aliens approve of the science lessons Kurt (as Uncle Wonder) gives after the show, and come to earth to give him an award for his exemplary logical positivism. Problem is, during their visit, they catch the broadcast of By Bread Alone.

Intolerant in the extreme, the Qualimosans decide that death is the only remedy for those harboring such dangerous superstition, and vow to kill all the viewers of By Bread Alone with a death ray that comes out of their television during the next broadcast. Kurt, thinking fast, tries to convince them that the show was a satire. The lobsters agree to watch the next broadcast and reassess, but assure Kurt they will give the go-ahead for mass murder if the show fails to pass their logical positivist criteria. Kurt and Connie, in a madcap rush, enlist their friends to entertain the blue crustaceans while they throw together a new script that will convince the aliens that By Bread Alone is actually a parody of religion.

The Madonna and the Starship gives a brisk spanking to fundamentalism on both sides of the religion vs. rationalism debate. I found the characters interesting, but not terribly nuanced. The backdrop of the innocent early days of science fiction lends a certain charm, as does the cast of quirky characters. The centerpiece of the novel is the satirical, surreal episode of the formerly pious By Bread Alone, created by Kurt and Connie and the actors. The ending has the lilt of a Shakespeare comedy, with lessons learned and good cheer all around. A quick read with plenty of inside jokes and clever bits for fans of classic science fiction and philosophy alike.

From the Book:

“We are confused, O Kurt Jastrow. Your civilization stands as a bulwark against irrationality, yet we find no scientific substance in the seminars of Liberace or the symposia of Red Skelton.”

“It’s a cultural crosstalk problem,” I said, improvising as cannily as I could. “The substance is there all right, but you have to know where to look.”

Publisher: Tachyon Publications, June 2014, 179 pp

Other Recommended Reviews

Molly Katz in Strange Horizons

Paul de Filippo in Locus Magazine

 

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