Friday, November 23, 2012

For Purple Monsters Majesty Above A Nutty Plain

by Stephen J. Gertz

New York: E.P. Dutton, 1949. First separate edition.

 "What mad universe was this that Keith Winton found himself in?
Where purple monsters from the moon roamed the streets with
no one paying any attention to them?"

While strolling in the park one day, in the merry, merry month of May, I was taken by surprise by a pair of purple eyes, purple limbs, purple torso, bad hair day.

Hi, I'm Keith Winton, editor of a pulp science fiction magazine based in a major market - and I ain't  talkin' Trader Joe's. One day (in May), with my trusty co-worker and glamorous girlfriend, Betty, at my side, I visited  my publisher's elegant Borscht Belt estate in the Catskills, just down the road from Grossinger's, up the street from The Concord, around the corner from The Pines, and next door to The Nevele, which is eleven spelled backwards but don't ask me why. We were in a mad universe of upstate New York Jewish resorts and spritzing, tummling comedians. Rim-shot! Laugh? I thought I'd die.

New York: Bantam Books #835, 1950. Cover by Herman Bischoff.
First edition in paperback.

Unfortunately, on that same day an experimental rocket was launched to the Moon. Simultaneously, Betty was launched back to New York. I was alone, then, in my publisher's' garden, lost in thought, when, suddenly, the Moon rocket (whose launch was a friggin' failure) crashed and exploded on the estate (aka Inanity Acres), careening me into a strange but deceptively similar parallel universe. 

Wild-eyed, as you might imagine (if not, imagine it now), I was astonished to discover that credits had replaced dollars; amazed when I encountered scantily-clad pin-up girls who, it turned out, were distaff astronauts with va-va-voom and oh-la-la lunar dreams; and was stupefied when I encountered a Moon race of seven-foot tall purple beings who insouciantly walked down Broadway in New York City as if they were cast members from a parallel universe production of Rogers and Hammerstein's 1949 sock-o South Pacific and belonged there, enjoying one enchanted evening on The Great White Way. Even a cockeyed optimist would look askance at this parade of purple protoplasm engaged in happy talk. How would Earth wash these purple people right out of its hair?

New York: Bantom Books #1253, 1954. Cover by Charles Binger. Reprint.

What mad 1949 universe was I in where Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower makes a cameo appearance? Last I heard he was president of Columbia University and the staff and faculty resented his galavanting around the nation to promote a personal agenda that would one day lead to his nomination and election as President of the United States. Now he's in command of the Venus Sector in defense against the Arcturians with whom we are at war? I like Ike but what mad universe indeed!

Startling Stories - September 1948 - Vol. 18, No. 1
First appearance in print.

And a comic one, yet. Y'know, when a character like yours truly winds up in a science-fiction novel you figure cosmic funereal not interplanetary farce; dying is easy, comedy is hard. But that's exactly what What Mad Universe is, a social and literary satire of modern American life at mid-century and science-fiction genre conventions.

Call me Pirandello minus five but I feel like one character in search of an author, specifically Fredric Brown (1906-1972), who wrote me into  What Mad Universe. I suppose I should consider myself lucky: Brown was a master of the short-short story, often writing fully-developed tales of only one to three pages in length; my story - my life! - could have been dramatically condensed. In 1955, he published Martians Go Home (They Came, They Saw, They Left!), another screwball sci-fi comedy.

London: Grafton, 1987. Artist unknown.

Brown was also a fine mystery writer, his first full-length novel, The Fabulous Clipjoint (1947), winning an Edgar Award. For years prior he wrote hundreds of stories for the pulp magazines of his era.

What Mad Universe has become a classic, one of the most popular speculative fiction novels ever written. It has been reprinted many times.

Paris: Le Rayon Fantastique #21 (Hachette/Gallimard), 1953.
First ppk. edition in French. Cover by Rene Caillé.

It was very popular in France, winning immediate critical acclaim upon its release. Many French critics consider it to be one of the major sci-fi novels of all time. But they are equally ga-ga about Jerry Lewis movies, UFOs in the U.S.A. but laff-fests in France. Vive L'Univers en Folie.

What Mad Universe?

Goodbye, I'm Keith Winton, not to be confused with my cousin, Alfred E. Newman, above.

Below, allow me to serenade you with a little bagatelle I recorded in 1959 under an assumed name when the purple people eaters returned to digest and excrete me.


BROWN, Fredric. What Mad Universe. New York: E.P. Dutton, 1949. First separate edition. Octavo. 255, [1] pp. Cloth. Dust jacket.

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