Tuesday, July 15, 2014

"The Madonna and the Starship"

James Morrow is the author of the World Fantasy Award-winning novel Towing Jehovah, the Nebula Award-winning novella Shambling Towards Hiroshima, and the New York Times Notable Book Blameless in Abaddon. His recent novels include The Last Witchfinder, hailed by the Washington Post as “literary magic,” and The Philosopher’s Apprentice, which received a rave review from Entertainment Weekly.

Morrow applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel, The Madonna and the Starship, and reported the following:
So I cracked the spine, turned to page 69, overlooked the fellationic connotations, and found what amounts to a summary of the plot. This pleased me. The Madonna and the Starship is a pretty complex machine, with lots of moving parts, and I’m glad I decided to periodically recapitulate the basic situation (while trying to avoid schematic exposition). You want to make the reader’s job as easy as possible.

Our hero, TV actor-writer Kurt Jastrow, and his almost-girlfriend, religious playwright Connie Osborne, are bent on “foiling the Qualimosans.” The hyper-rationalist extraterrestrials in question have appeared at the NBC Studios circa 1953, subsequently bestowing an award on Kurt for his role as an eccentric scientist on the live children’s program, Uncle Wonder’s Attic. It’s the aliens’ way of thanking Kurt for keeping the light of reason burning throughout the Milky Way Galaxy.

The plot heats up when the Qualimosans notice a rehearsal for an installment of Not By Bread Alone called “Sitting Shivah for Jesus.” Horrified by the program’s endorsement of the supernatural, the aliens lay plans for turning a death-ray on the entire viewership when the show is broadcast on the imminent Sunday morning. Kurt and Connie resolve to convince the invaders that Not By Bread Alone is actually satiric in intent, which means our heroes have a mere forty hours to write, cast, and produce an irreverent version of Connie’s script. Of course, the Qualimosans must be put out of commission for that interval—a task Kurt turns over to his Greenwich Village roommates, Lenny and Eliot.

My favorite line here is Lenny’s na├»ve remark, “I never imagined they’d be so antagonistic to God.” But I’m chagrined to recall that I never got around to researching whether there was a Rexall drugstore anywhere near Rockefeller Center in 1953.

Connie and I agreed that, as a first step in foiling the Qualimosans, I should secretly contact my roommates and prepare them for two guests whose resemblance to immense blue bipedal lobsters was best accorded an extraterrestrial interpretation. A Rexall drugstore on 54th Street supplied the necessary pay telephone. Connie contributed the nickel. Lenny answered on the first ring. Probably owing to his bohemian sensibility, he greeted my narrative of alien invasion with minimal skepticism, and he seemed to accept the logic of my argument: only a last-minute Not By Bread Alone rewrite could save two million innocent television viewers from an X-13 death-ray.

“I always knew the flying-saucer people were out there, and sooner or later they’d land on Earth,” said Lenny. “But I never imagined they’d be so antagonistic to God.”

“They’re logical positivists, or so Connie tells me.”

“Eliot’s going to have a lot of trouble with this,” said Lenny, “especially their plan to throw all those Christians to the lions.”
Visit James Morrow's website.

The Page 69 Test: The Philosopher’s Apprentice.

--Marshal Zeringue