What Mad Universe
Dust-jacket from the first edition
|Genre||Science fiction novel|
|Publisher||E. P. Dutton|
|Media type||Print (Hardback)|
Keith Winton is an editor for a science fiction magazine. With his glamorous co-worker girlfriend, Betty, he visits his friends one day in their elegant estate in the Catskills, unfortunately on the same day as an experimental rocket is to be launched. Betty has to go back to New York. Keith is alone in his friends' garden, deep in thought, when, suddenly, the engine of the rocket (whose launch has been a failure) crashes and explodes on his friends' residence. The rocket having been equipped with a brand new capacitor capable of storing previously unheard amounts of energy -it had to release that once in outer space- has it instead unloading its full power meters away from Winton, allowing his physical form to 'shift' through dimensions, taking him to a strange but deceptively similar parallel universe. Wild-eyed, Keith is astonished to see how credits have replaced dollars; is amazed when he encounters some scantily-clad pin-up girls who are, at the same time, astronauts; is driven to stupor when he encounters his first lunar native vacationing on Earth. But it is when he tries to get back to his usual world when he finally understands his problem. For a solution he has to get in touch with the impossibly 'larger than life' hero who leads Humanity's struggle against the Arcturian menace and his "artificial brain" sidekick 'Mekky'...getting involved in a last-minute plan to thwart the onslaught of a fearsome alien superweapon against the Solar System and Earth.
What Mad Universe is full of humor, mostly stemming from the description of the culture shock that the protagonist feels, and the strange things that are in the universe, like sewing machines that open the way for a voyage in space. A half-serious, half-humorous take on modern society and the reality of our world, its light-hearted tone would be built on by subsequent books, most notably his 1955 work, Martians, Go Home.
The novel has been named amongst the capstones of science fiction literature by several sci-fi critics, including 
- Annick Beguin, Les 100 principaux titres de la science-fiction, Cosmos 2000, 1981 ;
- Jacques Sadoul, Anthologie de la littérature de science-fiction, Ramsay, 1981 ;
- Jacques Goimard and Claude Aziza, Encyclopédie de poche de la science-fiction. Guide de lecture, Presses Pocket, coll. « Science-fiction », n°5237, 1986 ;
- Denis Guiot, La Science-fiction, Massin, coll. « Le monde de... », 1987 ;
- Enquête du Fanzine Carnage mondain auprès de ses lecteurs, 1989 ;
- Lorris Murail, Les Maîtres de la science-fiction, Bordas, coll. « Compacts », 1993 ;
- Stan Barets, Le science-fictionnaire, Denoël, coll. « Présence du futur », 1994.
Boucher and McComas named What Mad Universe the best SF novel of 1949, citing its "blend of humor, logic, terror and satire." P. Schuyler Miller praised the novel as a "gleeful mulligan stew of well tried ingredients dished up with that all-important difference in flavor."
- Tuck, Donald H. (1974). The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction and Fantasy. Chicago: Advent. p. 69. ISBN 0-911682-20-1.