Paradox Lost: The 
Fredric Brown Homepage


Recently added, more updates on Fredric Brown’s life and work  (Last Updated Nov. 29, 1997)

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A quarter century after his death and almost thirty-five years after he did his last
significant writing, Fredric Brown is finally beginning to get his due as one of the
most brilliant science fiction and mystery writers in the 20th century. While Brown
was well known and highly regarded in his lifetime, particularly by his fellow
authors, his name has not usually been mentioned with those writers of  the first rank
 (e.g. Heinlein, Bradbury Chandler etc.) from the so-called  “golden age” of pulp fiction.  There are several  possible reasons  for this regrettable omission: First, most of  his best work came in the form of short stories, and even "short shorts," a form  practically invented by  Brown, which  consisted of caustic, witty  tales of only a  page or two in length such as these. Brown was also an experimental  stylist of the first rank, and much of his work may have been too strange and too sophisticated for a mainstream teen-age SF/Mystery audience. 

Paradox is the primary theme of much of Brown’s  work, and he was constantly looking for new ways to tell tales, (For example, "Don't Look Behind You," a classic murder mystery in which the  reader is the victim, or “The End”, a story with a  palindromic structure.) Brown also suffered because his writing was


Poster For the Movie The Screaming Mimi, a 1950s movie, based on a Brown novel of the same title

  largely done for "pulp" magazines that paid by the word (and poorly at that) and frequently encouraged quantity over quality.  Brown’s writing is certainly uneven, and some of his stories can seem dated or forgettable today. Second, and perhaps more unfortunately for Brown's literary reputation, he wrote frequently in two different genres: mystery and science fiction (sometimes crossing the boundaries of each), so neither audience could view him as entirely "theirs" and use this ownership to promote his work to the literary establishment.  Of course, the literary establishment generally considered (and considers) writers in either the SF or Mystery genres beneath notice. Finally, Brown's career was relatively short. He died at the age of 66 having not written anything substantial for the last twelve years of his life, and he did not become a full-time fiction writer until he was  into his forties. In fact, Brown was only able to devote the years of 1947-1960 to writing full-time. Nonetheless, during his career, he turned out more hundreds of short stories and more than 20 novels as well.

Brown was popular with both fans and writers, and he received a number of accolades throughout his career.  His short story "Arena", was the fifteenth most-popular choice among his fellow SF writers when they were asked  to select the best science fiction stories ever written, for the Science Fiction Hall of Fame anthology in the 1970s.  His short story, “The Waveries”, was described by Philip K. Dick, widely considered the greatest of all SF writers,  as "what may be the most significant- startlingly so-story SF has yet produced."  Dick went on to say of "The Waveries" that "You must read that story.  If you do not, you may die without understanding the universe coming into being around you." 

Ayn Rand also singled out Brown for high praise in her Romantic Manifesto. Other awards included a 1947 Edgar Allen Poe Award from the Mystery Writers of America for the years best first Mystery novel, The Fabulous Clipjoint.  Famous pulp writer Mickey Spillaine called Brown “My favorite writer of all time.”

Brown also had the honor of being the dedicatee of one of the most famous of all SF Novels, Robert Heinlen's Stranger In A Strange Land (along with Robert Cornog and Philip Jose Farmer, who is another vastly under-appricated SF author.) Brown is also very highly regarded abroad, (In fact, much of the Brown material on the Web is not in English) where many of his novels and short stories are frequently reprinted. (Another Fredric Brown page with some content is maintained in France by Frédéric Devernay.)  

One of Brown's biggest fans was Robert Bloch, author of Psycho, who regularly gave laudatory reviews of  Brown's work in the "establishment press" such as the New York Times and the New Yorker, providing Brown with at least a measure of valuable critical respectability.  In a posthumous collection of Brown's work Bloch edited, he compares Brown to the great satirist, Ambrose Bierce, which is, I think a particularly apt and astute judgment.

Though Brown died in 1972, his work has slowly, but increasingly, begun to garner critical attention, culminating in the first (and only) full book-length, critical discussion of his work, the excellent Martians and Misplaced Clues: The Life and Work of Fredric Brown, Written by Jack Seabrook and published by Bowling Green State University Press in 1993, the nearly 300 page critical discussion must be considered the definitive work on Brown’s life and career..  (I want to particularly thank Mr. Seabrook, as I have taken much of the information on this Web site from his fine study)

Also in the late 1980s through early 1990s, much of his work has been periodically reprinted, albeit usually in small press runs from independent presses. Particularly notable and frequent among these reprints have been Brown's mystery novel, The Screaming Mimi, and  his science-fiction novels Martians Go Home and What Mad Universe.  Also outstanding was the Fredric Brown in the Detective Pulps, reprinted in the late 80s, that anthologized in a nineteen volumes almost all of Brown’s previously uncollected mystery material, along with his poetry, some letters, and other obscure delights. This was all published by Dennis McMillan Publishing Company, which is to be vastly commended for the effort.  E-mail Dennis and tell him you’d like to see him reprint more of Brown’s work (Or at least come out with paperback editions of more books in the series)

Last but certainly not least among Brown's recent reprints was the absolutely outstanding Carnival of Crime anthology, put out by the Southern Illinois University Press, which collects some of Brown's finest mystery stories.  The  book is part of a series edited by Francis Nevins and Martin Greenberg and has an excellent introduction by noted mystery writer Bill Pronzini.

At the time of this writing, at least three Brown books are known to be in print: The Screaming Mimi, What Mad Universe, and The Lenient Beast.  All are available from the Web Site.  However, additional titles by Brown seem to go in and out of print regularly, so check back frequently for updates.

Readers  looking for used Fredric  Brown books should try Bibliofind or the Advanced Book Exchange. One word of warning though: While collecting Brown’s basic works can be fun and inexpensive, Brown’s cult following has actually made acquiring first editions or rarer Brown books a rather pricey hobby.  Prices for one such hardcover, or even paperback, can set you back several hundred dollars. In the meantime, I am slowly, but surely, adding a “critics corner” to the site to tell you which of Brown’s books are the best.

I personally discovered Brown when I read my father's copy of his short story collection Star Shine (Originally published as Angels and Spaceships)  that had been one of the few books he had saved from his youth.  Thanks dad, for getting me started on this fun oddessey.

Here are some other important links to interesting Fredric Brown-related content on the net

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