Fredric Brown, date unknown
October 29, 1906|
|Died||March 11, 1972(aged 65)|
|Occupation||Novelist, short story author|
|Genre||Mystery, Science fiction, Fantasy|
|Notable works||The Fabulous Clipjoint
He is perhaps best known for his use of humor and for his mastery of the "short short" form—stories of 1 to 3 pages, often with ingenious plotting devices and surprise endings. Humor and a somewhat postmodern outlook carried over into his novels as well. One of his stories, "Arena," is officially credited for an adaptation as an episode of the landmark television series, Star Trek.
His classic science fiction novel What Mad Universe (1949) is a parody of pulp SF story conventions. The novel functions both as a critique of its genre and a superior example of it. It may have provided a model for Philip K. Dick when he later created his own stories set in alternate personal realities. Martians, Go Home (1955) is both a broad farce and a satire on human frailties as seen through the eyes of a billion jeering, invulnerable Martians who arrive not to conquer the world but to drive it crazy.
The Lights in the Sky Are Stars (1952) tells the story of an aging astronaut who is trying to get his beloved space program back on track after Congress has cut off the funds for it - an accurate prediction of the actual conditions for a space program, at a time when many SF writers still tended to ignore or downplay the financial side of spaceflight.
One of his most famous short stories, "Arena", was used as the basis for the episode of the same name in the original series of Star Trek. It is similar to a 1964 episode entitled "Fun and Games" of The Outer Limits.
Brown's first mystery novel, The Fabulous Clipjoint, won the Edgar Award for outstanding first mystery novel. It began a series starring Ed and Ambrose Hunter, and is a depiction of how a young man gradually ripens into a detective under the tutelage of his uncle, an ex–private eye now working as a carnival concessionaire.
Many books make use of the threat of the supernatural or occult before the "straight" explanation at the end. Night of the Jabberwock is a bizarre and humorous narrative of an extraordinary day in the life of a small-town newspaper editor.
Also highly regarded are The Screaming Mimi (which became a 1958 movie starring Anita Ekberg and Gypsy Rose Lee, and directed by Gerd Oswald, who also directed the "Fun and Games" episode of The Outer Limits) and The Far Cry, powerful noir suspense novels reminiscent of the work of Cornell Woolrich, and The Lenient Beast, with its experiments in multiple first-person viewpoints, among them a gentle, deeply religious serial killer, and its unusual (for a book written in the 1950s) examination of racial tensions between whites and Latinos in Arizona.
Even more experimental was Here Comes a Candle, which is told in straight narrative sections alternating with a radio script, a screenplay, a sportscast, a teleplay, a stage play, and a newspaper article.
Many of his science fiction stories were shorter than 1,000 words, or even 500 words.
Popularity and influence
The depiction of aliens who are completely alien mentally as well as physically and are completely bent on humanity's destruction is similar to that of the Arcturians in Brown's earlier What Mad Universe.
His short story "Arena" was voted by Science Fiction Writers of America as one of the top 20 SF stories ever written before 1965. His 1945 short story "The Waveries" was described by Philip K. Dick as "what may be the most significant—startlingly so—story SF has yet produced." "Knock" is well known for its opening, which is a complete two-sentence short-short story in itself.
Ayn Rand singled out Brown for high praise in her book The Romantic Manifesto. The famous pulp writer Mickey Spillane called Brown "my favorite writer of all time". Science fiction and fantasy writer Neil Gaiman has also expressed fondness for Brown's work, having his novel Here Comes A Candle narrated by the character Rose Walker in the collection The Kindly Ones of The Sandman. Also in the Sandman graphic novels, Fredric Brown is a character in the first story of "The Sandman: Dream Country." Though his name isn't given, the Fredric Brown character makes a comment about having written "Here Comes a Candle." In this graphic novel by Neil Gaiman, Fredric Brown is an aging writer whose past accomplishments can be attributed to the muse that he has locked in his house. Calliope is her name and she is also the muse to Homer, the Greek poet.
In his 1981 non-fiction book Danse Macabre, a survey of the horror genre since 1950, writer Stephen King includes an appendix of "roughly one hundred" influential books of the period: Fredric Brown's short-story collection Nightmares and Geezenstacks is included, and is, moreover, asterisked as being among those select works King regards as "particularly important."
He had two sons: James Ross Brown and Linn Lewis Brown (October 7, 1932 – June 15, 2008).
- Martians and Misplaced Clues: The Life and Work of Fredric Brown, by Jack Seabrook, Bowling Green University Popular Press, 1993. ISBN 978-0-87972-591-4.
- Earthmen Bearing Gifts, a short science fiction story from 1960
- Fredric Brown's The Weapon, Mind Webs, WHA radio, 1977
- Fredric Brown at the Internet Speculative Fiction Database
- Fredric Brown at Goodreads
- Fredric Brown at the Internet Book List
- Fredric Brown at Memory Alpha (a Star Trek wiki)
- Career as a mystery writer; includes a photo
- Past Masters - It's Not the Length, It's What You Do With It by Bud Webster at Galactic Central
- Fredric Brown at Project Gutenberg
- A short animation of "Knock"
- First Lines: Fredric Brown at Pulp Serenade