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The Madonna and the Starship

3.64  ·  Rating details ·  179 ratings  ·  53 reviews
In the golden era of sci-fi TV, why were alien crustaceans so darned literal? Beloved 1950's star Uncle Wonder must create the ultimately irreverent television show — or crayfish from outer space will inflict their death-ray on an unsuspecting viewership.

It is New York City, 1953. The new medium of live television has been kind to young pulp-fiction writer Kurt Jastrow.
Paperback, 192 pages
Published June 24th 2014 by Tachyon Publications (first published May 15th 2014)
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Richard Derus
Aug 17, 2014 rated it really liked it
Rating: 4.4* of five

The Publisher Says: In the golden era of sci-fi TV, why were alien crustaceans so darned literal? Beloved 1950's star Uncle Wonder must create the ultimately irreverent television show — or crayfish from outer space will inflict their death-ray on an unsuspecting viewership.

It is New York City, 1953. The new medium of live television has been kind to young pulp-fiction writer Kurt Jastrow. Not only does he enjoy scripting a popular children’s space opera, Brock Barton and His
The Shayne-Train
May 03, 2014 rated it it was ok
Shelves: netgalley
I surprised myself by not liking this book very much.

Perhaps it was my fault. Not only did I move into this book from one I absolutely loved, but I also had high expectations, since this same author's earlier work, 'Towing Jehovah,' was such a mind-blower for me back in college.

I suppose what I was expecting was something similar: a touching and irreverant exploration of faith (and the lack of it) both inside and outside organized religion.

What I got instead was a story of a sci-fi writer in
Joe Karpierz
Apr 18, 2014 rated it it was amazing
When I reviewed Peter Watts' short story collection Beyond the Rift, I mentioned that the one and only work of his that I had read was the Hugo-nominated BLINDSIGHT, and that I decided to reread my review of that novel in preparation for the review of
the collection.

I will start THIS review by saying the one and only work by James Morrow that I have ever read was his Hugo-nominated novel TOWING JEHOVAH. That novel was nominated in 1994, and thus was published in 1993. I do remember reading that
Apr 22, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: scifi-fantasy, humor
This review originally published in Looking For a Good Book. Rated 4.75

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 onBrock Barton and His Rocket Rangers, and also as a character actor for Uncle
Apr 17, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: netgalley
From the man who killed God comes another exploration of religious themes through atheism, or in this case, logical positivism.

We all wish we could be as cool-headed as pulp writer Kurt Jastrow when approached by lobsters from outer space who wish to annihilate the viewership of a certain television show based on the illogical qualities of religion. The prospect of such a genocide of fellow humans is enough to force any moral and rational human to shoulder the responsibility of ensuring such a
Feb 28, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: books-by-friends
Funny, barb-filled short novel/novella set in 1953 about a tv writer working on a SF show for kids who receives an unexpected award for representing reason and skepticism from some aliens who come from a planet where civil war is going on between the forces of rationality and those of superstition. Suddenly, the writer is in a race to demonstrate to them that Earth is free of superstition or they'll do us a favor by eradicating the superstitious vermin. Morrow has a gift for taking a way-out ...more
May 14, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2014
In 1953 NYC, Kurt Jastrow writes Buck Rogers-esque science fiction for NBC. When two aliens resembling giant lobsters and inform him of their plan to kill two million viewers of religious programming for their not being logical positivists, Kurt knows he must stop them. Fans of James Morrow know the kind of satiric, irreverent humor that will follow. It's a fun, fast read that also plays homage to classic sci-fi and the "Golden Age of Television."
May 28, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2017, science-fiction
The Madonna and the Starship is about a group of actors, writers, and producers working together to try to fool a group of potential attacker from going to war. That's a premise that sounds remarkably like the one in Shambling Towards Hiroshima, Morrow's other novella that I read about a week before. I'll admit I didn't notice the similarity until I was more than halfway through, but when I did, I wondered if these were written this was intentionally, to serve as two sides of a coin. Knowing ...more
Mar 27, 2017 rated it liked it
I've run into several accounts of SF that states either that James Morrow is one of the foremost satirist in SF or the only one (I guess making him the foremost as well). I have certainly not run into similarly satiric SF that The Madonna and the Starhip represents.

Much like in Star Trek Voyage Home, aliens arrive to Earth looking for something not quite there. Instead of whales, they are looking for a character from an science show for kids. However, they are in danger of quickly turning from
Nov 14, 2017 rated it it was ok
James Morrow is one of those writers who I will follow anywhere he takes me. From Killing God with his "Towing Jehovah" Trilogy. He's a writer who has sensibilities very similar to mine--the philosophical and theological through a very satiric lens.

While he's definiltey not in their category but imagine a Vonnegut or PKD inspired heavily by Dante/Voltaire/Dostoveksy/Camus and Kafka but with a little more more of an impression they're a teacher and this is their side hustle.

So Madonna and the
Jun 07, 2017 rated it really liked it
Our hero, star of his own local 1950s Sci-Fi TV serial, finds out he will be honored by aliens who are impressed by his rational, science based view of the world. Unfortunately, while honoring our hero, the aliens stumble upon a rehearsal for a Lamp Unto My Feet type of religious show, Not By Bread Alone. The aliens plan on using their death ray to roast Sunday's viewers of the show, while our hero and his unrequited love (and writer and producer of Not By Bread Alone) try to convince the aliens ...more
Brian Bohmueller
Aug 16, 2019 rated it really liked it
This was Morrow's quirkiest tale to date, coming in slightly above The Asylum of Dr. Caligari. It was delightfully irreverent, yet thoughtful, with plenty of 50's pop culture references and delicious high fallutin' verbage.....and did I mention quirky! As in Aliens meets Howdy Doody quirky!

I particularly like that the tale emphasized that not only is militant religiosity dangerous, but so is militant nihilism. Let's just retire the militance out there, please!

Overall a fun read!
Oct 22, 2014 rated it liked it
James Morrow writes very entertaining Kurt-Vonnegut-esque type dark comedies employing a lot of satire, especially of the religious variety.

This latest book takes place in the 1950’s and centers on protagonist Kurt Jastrow, an aspiring dramatist who earns a living as a pulp-fiction science fiction writer. Currently he is head writer for a schlocky tri-weekly science fiction adventure series, “Brock Barton and His Rocket Rangers.” He also stars in a ten-minute epilogue at the end of each
Aug 03, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: read-2014
New James Morrow - Yipee! One of my favorite authors. I got this as a generous gift from LT friend Richard. This was a really fun read. The last couple books from him were more historical fiction set in the time of the early settlers to America and I just didn't connect with them. With this one, he gets back to his satirical, philosophy questioning, witty ways that I loved in his past works, like Bible Stories for Adults and the Towing Jehovah trilogy.

The story set in the Classic TV era of the
Lindsey Lewis
Aug 07, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: net-galley
Disclaimer: I received a free digital copy of this book from NetGalley in return for an honest review. The review was not required to be positive. The views and opinions expressed below are entirely my own. This review also appears on NetGalley, Amazon, and my blog, Mediatron (under construction)

I did not expect to like The Madonna and the Starship as much as I did. I judge books preemptively by the covers no matter how much I try not to, and this one struck me as "self-published," a
Aug 12, 2015 rated it it was amazing
When I saw this book in the library, I thought it was something I had already read, but it turns out I was confusing it with First Contact-Or, It's Later Than You Think. They have similar premises, and they both have yellow covers, so it's an easy mistake to make. As it turns out, if you liked First Contact-Or, It's Later Than You Think, you'll probably like this book a lot too.

Uncle Wonder, the star of a children's television show about science, is about to receive a prestigious award - the
A Brilliantly Irrepressible Work of Satirical Pulp Speculative Fiction

James Morrow demonstrates why he should be viewed as the George Carlin of speculative fiction in his clever, wickedly funny, and brilliant, satire “The Madonna and the Starship”, in which he pokes fun not only at Christianity, but also 1950s pulp fiction, most notably its science fiction. Morrow’s hero is Kurt Jastrow, the creator and head writer for the NBC television show Brock Barton and His Rocket Rangers, whose alter ego,
Antonio Urias
Jun 09, 2014 rated it liked it
This review and others are available on my blog.

Set in the world of 1950s television, The Madonna and the Starship is a loving satire and a spoof of the golden age of television, of 1950s science fiction at its silliest, and of religion and rationalism. It is, in short, exactly the sort of novel I should love. The title, the cover, the very idea of nihilistic, arch-rationalist, anti-religious, extraterrestrial lobsters contacting a TV hack writer and forcing him on pain of death ray to prove
Alison C
Jul 28, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
In The Madonna and the Starship, by James Morrow, we meet Kurt Jastrow, a science fiction and television writer in 1950s New York City. He writes for a show called “Brock Barton and His Rocket Rangers,” and also embodies the character of Uncle Wonder for a segment called “Uncle Wonder’s Attic,” where he plays a 1950s’ type Bill Nye the Science Guy, showing kids scientific experiments and explaining the principles behind them. He is surprised one day when his television set comes to life on its ...more
Jeff Raymond
May 02, 2014 rated it liked it
Shelves: read-sci-fi
This is a pleasant, short novella that attempts to answer the question of how some might react if aliens came in the 1950s and threatened to death ray a bunch of people for watching religious programming due to its irrationality.

Yes, that's the premise. As an atheist, I might just notice this stuff more, but there's been the push in the last decade or so to really kind of push this line of thinking, and then the questions arise as to why the movement feels like it's treading water instead of
Aug 28, 2014 rated it liked it
Shelves: fiction
A fun, thought experiment of a novel. What Morrow did for old monster B-movies in Shambling Towards Hiroshima he does for early Sfi-Fi TV shows of the fifties, lovingly sending-up their conventions while hanging a philosophical argument on a coat hanger plot. Militant logical positivists from the planet Qualimosa, in town to present a slumming it children's TV writer an award, discover Earth is not as rational as they thought when they catch a rehearsal of a religious program down the hall. ...more
Jack Haringa
Jun 20, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: science-fiction
Morrow's The Madonna and the Starship makes a delightful companion piece to his earlier short novel Shambling Toward Hiroshima, both chronologically and thematically. While the latter played in the world of monster movies in the 1940s, the former is set in the days of live television serials and SF pulps from the 1950s. But The Madonna nad the Starship isn't a stroll down nostalgia lane, though there is clear affection for the period and its often less-than-plausible science fiction ideas. ...more
Oct 03, 2014 rated it it was amazing
This is a hilarious and thought-provoking story about Kurt Jastrow, a writer for a 1950s sci-fi television show, who is given an award by the Qualimosans, a race of blue lobster-like aliens, for promoting logical positivism. But these aliens also witness a religious program and, wanting to free Earth of irrationalists, plan to hit all viewers of said show with a death ray. Kurt must figure out a way to dupe the aliens into believing that the show is not pious but, rather, a parody of religion ...more
May 21, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2014, fiction
Note: I read an unedited advanced copy of this book.

James Morrow tends to traffic more in ideas than in stories, the The Madonna and the Starship is no exception. Fortunately, he has really fascinating ideas. This book came about as a result of his discussions with his wife about the history of science fiction and the role even pulp science fiction plays in charting a course between religious fervor and nihilistic rationalism. The book is somewhat a refraction, since it is about a pulp science
May 09, 2014 rated it liked it
Shelves: netgalley
Well, I thought it was entertaining and, at times, both funny and thought-provoking. Several times, though, it seemed to be setting up some really slapstick moments, which are moments I truly savor in print, but each time it fell a little flat for me.

What also fell a little flat was the response of the protagonists to learning that we're not alone in the universe. You've got a sci-fi writer, a sci-fi editor, a religious-leaning writer and none of them exhibit any real astonishment or
Aug 15, 2014 rated it really liked it
A weird satire of science fiction and religious thought, set during the 1950s, with obligatory headnods towards McCarthy and Buck Rogers. A science fiction writer for a Buck Rogers-type show learns that logical positivist lobster aliens really really like his show, and then has to conspire to pull the wool over their eyes when they decide to vaporize the two million viewers of a religious drama on the same channel. The dialogue feels a little too snappy at times-- it's very hyper-stylized. But ...more
May 17, 2014 rated it really liked it
Ever since I discovered Towing Jehovah, I have been an unabashed Morrowite (Morrovian? Morroweenie?). The man combines big themes, fantastic imagination, and riotous humour like few else can. That said, Madonna/Starship is of a different vein, a light romp that posits the concept of alien logical positivist lobsters almost destroying the world, were it not for resourceful writers of a cheap NBC kids’ science-fiction show who intervene to save mankind. There’s an overwhelming amount of philosophy ...more
Jun 27, 2014 rated it it was ok
Shelves: science-fiction
I usually like James Morrow's novels and short-stories, but for some reason, this novella didn't resonate with me. The characters were a little boring. Sometimes they seemed more as mouthpieces for philosophical/metaphysical musing than they did as real people. This problem (the mouthpieces that is) seems to be a common problem in Morrow's works. If he fleshed out the characters more this wouldn't be a problem for me. The plot seemed to plod along, but it got better it the final third. Overall, ...more
Jun 11, 2014 rated it it was amazing
The Madonna and the Starship—Utterly entertaining. James Morrow has pleased this reader again! This time with the kind of laugh-out-loud philosophical humor I am only accustomed to finding in Terry Pratchett’s pages (and in Neil Gaiman’s American Gods). The book’s setting – with its fancies of time that will be found by Baby Boomers laden with nostalgia and by Gen-Xers with cultural curiosities – is both accurate and absolutely entreating. Morrow’s voice is clear and pleasing. A simply wonderful ...more
Jun 18, 2014 rated it really liked it
Wow! What a ride. Like every other Morrow novel I've read, there is a kind of Swiftian play afoot: both religious and secular sparring for supremacy. A fun short read, like most of his others. The setting is 1953 and Qualimosans (or something like that) which are giant blue lobsters that are going to execute two million people via their televisions for watching an irrational Sunday religious; step in our heroes and they alter the script to create a sacrilegious religious satire to save the day.
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Born in 1947, James Kenneth Morrow has been writing fiction ever since he, as a seven-year-old living in the Philadelphia suburbs, dictated “The Story of the Dog Family” to his mother, who dutifully typed it up and bound the pages with yarn. This three-page, six-chapter fantasy is still in the author’s private archives. Upon reaching adulthood, Jim produced nine novels of speculative fiction, ...more