What Mad Universe

What Mad Universe is a science fiction novel, written in 1949 by the American author Fredric Brown.

What Mad Universe
What mad universe
Dust-jacket from the first edition
AuthorFredric Brown
CountryUnited States
GenreScience fiction
PublisherE. P. Dutton
Publication date
Media typePrint (hardback)


Keith Winton is an editor for a science fiction magazine, working during the late 40s when genre fiction magazines have not yet given over to TV shows. With his glamorous co-worker, Betty (an employee of the 'romantic stories' magazine, on which he has an undeclared crush), he visits his boss in his elegant estate in the Catskills, unfortunately on the same day as an experimental rocket laden with a high-voltage generator able to be seen discharging on the Moon's surface 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 rocket's generator (whose launch has been a failure) crashes on his friends' residence and dissipates its gigawatt electrical charge right on the spot Keith is standing on. The massive energy discharge allows his physical form to 'shift' through dimensions, taking him to a strange but deceptively similar parallel universe.

At a superficial glance, the streets look the same, there are the same kind of cars and the people wear the same kind of clothes (and he also knows some of the people, though sometimes they don't know him), and the radio broadcasts familiar tunes from the Benny Goodman Orchestra. But there are many incongruous elements in this seemingly familiar reality. 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. Then, he discovers, to his cost, that such an innocent activity as coin collecting could lead to being suspected of being an Arcturian spy—and since Arcturians possess awesome mental powers and are bent on exterminating humanity, any such suspicion is liable to lead to being shot on the spot. And managing to escape the spy scare, he finds that New York has no night life; there is a total, impenetrable darkness, and wandering the completely dark Times Square could lead to a fatal encounter with the terrible Night Men...

Trying to find his feet in this bewildering world, Winton discovers that - though interstellar space flight and war with aliens has become a daily reality - Science Fiction is still being written and read. He reasons that his best way of making a living would be as a Science Fiction writer. But this turns out to be yet another blunder - placing him under grave suspicion by the formidable WBI (World Bureau of Investigation) and another narrow brush with being summarily shot as a spy...

Having as a science fiction editor rather despised space opera, he finds himself living in a "Mad Universe" where the most cliché aspects of that subgenre are an actual, daily reality. At first inclined to regard all this as a bit far-fetched, he is reprimanded by this world's version of his beloved Betty: "Do you think the danger of all humanity being exterminated is a matter for joke?" In order to have any hope of getting back to his own world, 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.

To do that, Winton must again descend into the very dangerous streets of nighttime New York. He makes contact with the underworld - which includes both submachine-gun toting gangsters and Proximans who can burn you to cinder by simply focusing their red lens of an eye - establishes a partnership with a desperate criminal, steals the private spaceship of a rich United States Senator, learns space navigation in a single night and narrowly avoids being blasted by a naval ship for having entered a restricted sector of space - before finally getting involved in a desperate last-minute plan to thwart the onslaught of a fearsome alien superweapon against the Solar System and Earth. In the end, Winton has no choice but himself assume the role of a dashing space hero, embarking on an almost suicidal single-handed attack on the terrible alien ship.


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. In this timeline, H.G. Wells did not write a fictional account of a Martian invasion of Earth but a factual political treatise strongly condemning the human invasion and colonization of Mars. 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 idea of humanity facing an implacably hostile alien species bent on its destruction, with whom no negotiation or compromise is possible, is shared with Brown's earlier short story "Arena".


Boucher and McComas named What Mad Universe the best SF novel of 1949, citing its "blend of humor, logic, terror and satire".[1] P. Schuyler Miller praised the novel as a "gleeful mulligan stew of well tried ingredients dished up with that all-important difference in flavor."[2]

C. Ben Ostrander reviewed the 1978 reprint of What Mad Universe in The Space Gamer No. 18.[3] Ostrander commented that "Brown tells us something about ourselves as science fiction readers with this novel. The message is as true today as it was in 1949 when it was first published."[3]

Ward Smythe noted that "Cervantes sought to write a satire on the Chivalric romances, a very common literary genre in his time. He ended up creating Don Quixote, one of the finest of the fictional Knights Errant (the best of them, in the view of many). Frederic Brown's satire of Space Opera is a satire, all right – but still, it is also among the finest examples of Space Opera...".[4]


  1. ^ "Recommended Reading", F&SF, February 1950, p. 105
  2. ^ "Book Reviews", Astounding, December 1950, p.98
  3. ^ a b Ostrander, C. Ben (July–August 1978). "Books". The Space Gamer. Metagaming (18): 24.
  4. ^ Ward Xavier Smythe, "Science Fiction as Literature, Literature as Science Fiction" in Margaret Bowen (ed.) "The 1940's, 1950's and 1960's in Retrospect: A Multi-Disciplinary Round Table", London, 1993.


External links

Alternate history

Alternate history or alternative history (Commonwealth English) (AH), is a genre of speculative fiction consisting of stories in which one or more historical events occur differently. These stories usually contain "what if" scenarios at crucial points in history and present outcomes other than those in the historical record. The stories are conjectural but are sometimes based on fact. Alternate history has been seen as a subgenre of literary fiction, science fiction, or historical fiction; alternate history works may use tropes from any or all of these genres. Another term occasionally used for the genre is "allohistory" (literally "other history").Since the 1950s, this type of fiction has, to a large extent, merged with science fiction tropes involving time travel between alternate histories, psychic awareness of the existence of one universe by the people in another, or time travel that results in history splitting into two or more timelines. Cross-time, time-splitting, and alternate history themes have become so closely interwoven that it is impossible to discuss them fully apart from one another.

In Spanish, French, German, Portuguese, Italian, Catalan and Galician, the genre of alternate history is sometimes called uchronie / ucronia / ucronía / Uchronie, which has given rise to the term Uchronia in English. This neologism is based on the prefix ου- (which in Ancient Greek means "not/not any/no") and the Greek χρόνος (chronos), meaning "time". A uchronia means literally "(in) no time". This term apparently also inspired the name of the alternate history book list, uchronia.net.

Arena (short story)

"Arena" is a science fiction short story by American writer Fredric Brown, first published in the June 1944 issue of Astounding Science Fiction magazine. Members of the Science Fiction Writers of America selected it as one of the best science fiction stories published before the advent of the Nebula Awards, and as such it was included in The Science Fiction Hall of Fame Volume One, 1929-1964.

The Star Trek episode "Arena" had some similarity to this story, so to avoid legal problems, it was agreed that Brown would receive payment and a story credit. An Outer Limits episode, "Fun and Games", also has a similar plot, as does an episode of Blake's 7, titled "Duel" and an episode of He-Man and the Masters of the Universe titled "The Arena".

Marvel Comics' Worlds Unknown issue 4 (November 1973) featured a faithful adaptation of the story.

Fredric Brown

Fredric Brown (October 29, 1906 – March 11, 1972) was an American science fiction and mystery writer.

He is 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 American television series Star Trek.

According to his wife, Fredric Brown hated to write. So he did everything he could to avoid it—he'd play his flute, challenge a friend to a game of chess, or tease Ming Tah, his Siamese cat. If Brown had trouble working out a certain story, he would hop on a long bus trip and just sit and think and plot for days on end.

When Brown finally returned home and sat himself in front of the typewriter, he produced work in a variety of genres: mystery, science fiction, short fantasy, black comedy–and sometimes, all of the above.

"There are no rules. You can write a story, if you wish, with no conflict, no suspense, no beginning, middle or end. Of course, you have to be regarded as a genius to get away with it, and that's the hardest part – convincing everybody you're a genius."

-- Fredric Brown

Fredric Brown bibliography

The bibliography of American writer Fredric Brown includes short stories, general fiction, mysteries and science fiction stories.

History of US science fiction and fantasy magazines to 1950

Science fiction and fantasy magazines began to be published in the United States in the 1920s. Stories with science fiction themes had been appearing for decades in pulp magazines such as Argosy, but there were no magazines that specialized in a single genre until 1915, when Street & Smith, one of the major pulp publishers, brought out Detective Story Magazine. The first magazine to focus solely on fantasy and horror was Weird Tales, which was launched in 1923, and established itself as the leading weird fiction magazine over the next two decades; writers such as H.P. Lovecraft, Clark Ashton Smith and Robert E. Howard became regular contributors. In 1926 Weird Tales was joined by Amazing Stories, published by Hugo Gernsback; Amazing printed only science fiction, and no fantasy. Gernsback included a letter column in Amazing Stories, and this led to the creation of organized science fiction fandom, as fans contacted each other using the addresses published with the letters. Gernsback wanted the fiction he printed to be scientifically accurate, and educational, as well as entertaining, but found it difficult to obtain stories that met his goals; he printed "The Moon Pool" by Abraham Merritt in 1927, despite it being completely unscientific. Gernsback lost control of Amazing Stories in 1929, but quickly started several new magazines. Wonder Stories, one of Gernsback's titles, was edited by David Lasser, who worked to improve the quality of the fiction he received. Another early competitor was Astounding Stories of Super-Science, which appeared in 1930, edited by Harry Bates, but Bates printed only the most basic adventure stories with minimal scientific content, and little of the material from his era is now remembered.

In 1933 Astounding was acquired by Street & Smith, and it soon became the leading magazine in the new genre, publishing early classics such as Murray Leinster's "Sidewise in Time" in 1934. A couple of competitors to Weird Tales for fantasy and weird fiction appeared, but none lasted, and the 1930s is regarded as Weird Tales' heyday. Between 1939 and 1941 there was a boom in science fiction and fantasy magazines: several publishers entered the field, including Standard Magazines, with Startling Stories and Thrilling Wonder Stories (a retitling of Wonder Stories); Popular Publications, with Astonishing Stories and Super Science Stories; and Fiction House, with Planet Stories, which focused on melodramatic tales of interplanetary adventure. Ziff-Davis launched Fantastic Adventures, a fantasy companion to Amazing. Astounding extended its pre-eminence in the field during the boom: the editor, John W. Campbell, developed a stable of young writers that included Robert A. Heinlein, Isaac Asimov, and A.E. van Vogt. The period starting in 1938, when Campbell took control of Astounding, is often referred to as the Golden Age of Science Fiction. Well-known stories from this era include Slan, by van Vogt, and "Nightfall", by Asimov. Campbell also launched Unknown, a fantasy companion to Astounding, in 1939; this was the first serious competitor for Weird Tales. Although wartime paper shortages forced Unknown's cancellation in 1943, it is now regarded as one of the most influential pulp magazines.

Only eight science fiction and fantasy magazines survived World War II. All were still in pulp magazine format except for Astounding, which had switched to a digest format in 1943. Astounding continued to publish popular stories, including "Vintage Season" by C. L. Moore, and "With Folded Hands ..." by Jack Williamson. The quality of the fiction in the other magazines improved over the decade: Startling Stories and Thrilling Wonder in particular published some excellent material and challenged Astounding for the leadership of the field. A few more pulps were launched in the late 1940s, but almost all were intended as vehicles to reprint old classics. One exception, Out of This World Adventures, was an experiment by Avon, combining fiction with some pages of comics. It was a failure and lasted only two issues. Magazines in digest format began to appear towards the end of the decade, including Other Worlds, edited by Raymond Palmer. In 1949, the first issue of The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction appeared, followed in October 1950 by the first issue of Galaxy Science Fiction; both were digests, and between them soon dominated the field. Very few science fiction or fantasy pulps were launched after this date; the 1950s was the beginning of the era of digest magazines, though the leading pulps continued until the mid-1950s, and authors began selling to mainstream magazines and large book publishers.

List of Parasyte -the maxim- episodes

Parasyte -the maxim- (寄生獣 セイの格率, Kiseijū: Sei no Kakuritsu) is an anime television series produced by Madhouse based on the Parasyte manga series written by Hitoshi Iwaaki. The series follows Shinichi Izumi, a high school boy whose right hand becomes possessed by an alien Parasite who he names Migi, finding himself in a battle against other Parasites who feast on other humans. The series aired on NTV between October 9, 2014 and March 26, 2015 and was simulcast by Crunchyroll outside of Asia and by Animax Asia in Southeast Asia and South Asia. The series is licensed in North America by Sentai Filmworks and began airing on Adult Swim's Toonami programming block from October 3, 2015 to April 9, 2016. The opening theme song is "Let Me Hear" performed by Fear, and Loathing in Las Vegas, while the ending theme is "It's the Right Time" performed by Daichi Miura.

List of fiction employing parallel universes

The following is a list of fiction employing parallel universes or alternate realities.

List of fictional United States presidencies of historical figures (P–R)

The following is a list of real or historical people who have been portrayed as President of the United States in fiction, although they did not hold the office in real life. This is done either as an alternate history scenario, or occasionally for humorous purposes. Also included are actual US presidents with a fictional presidency at a different time and/or under different circumstances than the one in actual history.

List of fictional books

A fictional book is a non-existent book created specifically for (i.e. within) a work of fiction. This is not a list of works of fiction (i.e., novels, mysteries, etc.), but rather imaginary books that do not exist.

List of unnamed fictional presidents of the United States

This list forms part of the Lists of fictional presidents of the United States.

Mars in fiction

Fictional representations of Mars have been popular for over a century. Interest in Mars has been stimulated by the planet's dramatic red color, by early scientific speculations that its surface conditions might be capable of supporting life, and by the possibility that Mars could be colonized by humans in the future. Almost as popular as stories about Mars are stories about Martians engaging in activity (frequently invasions) away from their home planet.

In the 20th century, actual spaceflights to the planet Mars, including seminal events such as the first man-made object to impact the surface of Mars in 1971, and then later the first landing of "the first mechanized device to successfully operate on Mars" in 1976 (in the Viking program by the United States), inspired a great deal of interest in Mars-related fiction. Exploration of the planet has continued in the 21st century on to the present day.

Materials science in science fiction

Materials science in science fiction is the study of how materials science is portrayed in works of science fiction. The accuracy of the materials science portrayed spans a wide range – sometimes it is an extrapolation of existing technology, sometimes it is a physically realistic portrayal of a far-out technology, and sometimes it is simply a plot device that looks scientific, but has no basis in science. Examples are:

Realistic case: In 1944, the science fiction story "Deadline" by Cleve Cartmill depicted the atomic bomb. The properties of various radioactive isotopes are critical to the proposed device, and the plot. This technology was real, unknown to the author.

Extrapolation: In The Fountains of Paradise, Arthur C. Clarke wrote about space elevators - basically long cables extending from the Earth's surface to geosynchronous orbit. These require a material with enormous tensile strength and light weight. Carbon nanotubes are strong enough in theory, so the idea is plausible; while one cannot be built today, it violates no physical principles.

Plot device: An example of an unsupported plot device is scrith, the material used to construct Ringworld, in the novels by Larry Niven. Scrith possesses unreasonable strength, and is unsupported by physics as it is known, but needed for the plot.Critical analysis of materials science in science fiction falls into the same general categories. The predictive aspects are emphasized, for example, in the motto of the Georgia Tech's department of materials science and engineering – Materials scientists lead the way in turning yesterday's science fiction into tomorrow's reality. This is also the theme of many technical articles, such as Material By Design: Future Science or Science Fiction?, found in IEEE Spectrum, the flagship magazine of Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers.

On the other hand, there is criticism of the unrealistic materials science used in science fiction. In the professional materials science journal JOM, for example, there are articles such as The (Mostly Improbable) Materials Science and Engineering of the Star Wars Universe and Personification: The Materials Science and Engineering of Humanoid Robots.

Paul Gallico

Paul William Gallico (July 26, 1897 – July 15, 1976) was an American novelist, short story and sports writer. Many of his works were adapted for motion pictures. He is perhaps best remembered for The Snow Goose, his only real critical success, and for the novel The Poseidon Adventure, primarily through the 1972 film adaptation.

Space opera

Space opera is a subgenre of science fiction that emphasizes space warfare, melodramatic adventure, interplanetary battles, chivalric romance, and risk-taking. Set mainly or entirely in outer space, it usually involves conflict between opponents possessing advanced abilities, futuristic weapons, and other sophisticated technology. The term has no relation to music, but is instead a play on the terms "soap opera" and "horse opera", the latter of which was coined during the 1930s to indicate clichéd and formulaic Western movies. Space operas emerged in the 1930s and continue to be produced in literature, film, comics, television and video games.

An early film which was based on space opera comic strips was Flash Gordon (1936) created by Alex Raymond. In the late 1970s, the Star Wars franchise (1977–present) created by George Lucas brought a great deal of attention to the subgenre. After the convention-breaking "New Wave", followed by the enormous success of the Star Wars films, space opera became once again a critically acceptable subgenre. Throughout 1982–2002, the Hugo Award for best science fiction novel was often given to a space opera nominee.

Stars and planetary systems in fiction

The planetary systems of stars other than the Sun and the Solar System are a staple element in many works of the science fiction genre.

Startling Stories

Startling Stories was an American pulp science fiction magazine, published from 1939 to 1955 by publisher Ned Pines' Standard Magazines. It was initially edited by Mort Weisinger, who was also the editor of Thrilling Wonder Stories, Standard's other science fiction title. Startling ran a lead novel in every issue; the first was The Black Flame by Stanley G. Weinbaum. When Standard Magazines acquired Thrilling Wonder in 1936, it also gained the rights to stories published in that magazine's predecessor, Wonder Stories, and selections from this early material were reprinted in Startling as "Hall of Fame" stories. Under Weisinger the magazine focused on younger readers and, when Weisinger was replaced by Oscar J. Friend in 1941, the magazine became even more juvenile in focus, with clichéd cover art and letters answered by a "Sergeant Saturn". Friend was replaced by Sam Merwin, Jr. in 1945, and Merwin was able to improve the quality of the fiction substantially, publishing Arthur C. Clarke's Against the Fall of Night, and several other well-received stories.

Much of Startling's cover art was painted by Earle K. Bergey, who became strongly associated with the magazine, painting almost every cover between 1940 and 1952. He was known for equipping his heroines with brass bras and implausible costumes, and the public image of science fiction in his day was partly created by his work for Startling and other magazines. Merwin left in 1951, and Samuel Mines took over; the standard remained fairly high but competition from new and better-paying markets such as Galaxy Science Fiction and The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction impaired Mines' ability to acquire quality material. In mid-1952, Standard attempted to change Startling's image by adopting a more sober title typeface and reducing the sensationalism of the covers, but by 1955 the pulp magazine market was collapsing. Startling absorbed its two companion magazines, Thrilling Wonder and Fantastic Story Magazine, in early 1955, but by the end of that year it too ceased publication.

Ron Hanna of Wild Cat Books revived Startling Stories in 2007.

The Outline of History

The Outline of History, subtitled either "The Whole Story of Man" or "Being a Plain History of Life and Mankind", is a work by H. G. Wells that first appeared in an illustrated version of 24 fortnightly instalments beginning on 22 November 1919 and was published as a single volume in 1920. It sold more than two million copies, was translated into many languages, and had a considerable impact on the teaching of history in institutions of higher education. Wells modelled the

Outline on the Encyclopédie of Denis Diderot.

Typewriter in the Sky

Typewriter in the Sky is a science fiction novel by American writer L. Ron Hubbard. The protagonist Mike de Wolf finds himself inside the story of his friend Horace Hackett's book. He must survive conflict on the high seas in the Caribbean during the 17th century, before eventually returning to his native New York City. Each time a significant event occurs to the protagonist in the story he hears the sounds of a typewriter in the sky. At the story's conclusion, de Wolf wonders if he is still a character in someone else's story. The work was first published in a two-part serial format in 1940 in Unknown Fantasy Fiction. It was twice published as a combined book with Hubbard's work Fear. In 1995 Bridge Publications re-released the work along with an audio edition.

Writers have placed the story within several different genres, including science fiction, a subgenre of science fiction called recursive science fiction, and fantasy. Masters of the Occult author Daniel Cohen noted the book contributed to Hubbard's reception among influential science fiction authors of the 1940s. It is regarded as classic science fiction by The Houghton Mifflin Dictionary of Biography in its entry on Hubbard, as well as by writer James Gunn, and publications including the Daily News of Los Angeles, and Chicago Sun-Times. Writers have placed Typewriter in the Sky within the Golden Age of Science Fiction. Authors Mike Resnick and Robert J. Sawyer classed the story within the science fiction subgenre recursive science fiction, and writer Gary Westfahl wrote that Hubbard may have been influenced by the 1921 Luigi Pirandello play within the recursive fantasy subgenre, Six Characters in Search of an Author. The book is listed in Fantasy: The 100 Best Books, and Rivals of Weird Tales: 30 Great Fantasy and Horror Stories from the Weird Fiction Pulps placed it among the best quality fantasy writing of the 20th century. Writers characterized the overarching theme within the book as dealing with an individual caught between two different worlds.Typewriter in the Sky was generally well-received, and regular readers of Hubbard's stories at the time widely appreciated the work. Anthony Boucher and J. Francis McComas wrote in a 1951 review that the story was amusing though it could have used copy editing, and Groff Conklin described its concept as silly. The New York Times review the same year said it had a lively pace. Damon Knight was critical of the depiction of the protagonist's fate, and concluded the ending of the book made up for this defect. Books including The Classic Era of American Pulp Magazines and Pulp Culture: The Art of Fiction Magazines characterized the work as one of Hubbard's best stories. Adam Roberts pointed out Hubbard likely based the character of pulp fiction writer Horace Hackett on himself.Subsequent to the story's publication, commentators have speculated that its influence impacted themes in later science fiction works. Paul Di Filippo wrote that the 1949 book What Mad Universe by Fredric Brown may have drawn from Hubbard's tale. Umberto Rossi asserted in a book on writer Philip K. Dick that Typewriter in the Sky likely influenced Dick's first published short story "Beyond Lies the Wub" (1951), in addition to his novel The Cosmic Puppets (1957). Harlan Ellison compared it to the 1989 film The Purple Rose of Cairo. Gary Westfahl likened the Typewriter in the Sky to the 2006 film Stranger than Fiction, going so far as to suggest the two had virtually an identical narrative.

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