Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Fredric Brown

There's a website where you can insert some of your own writing and it will tell you who what author you write like. It seems to tell a lot of people that they write like David Foster Wallace, which suggests a small database. Since I write speculative fiction on occasion, I cut and pasted some of my stuff on the website. The results were, shall we say, humbling. Fortunately they were also false, because I already know what author I write like: my favorite science-fiction author Fredric Brown. Of course, I only mean to compare myself to him in terms of style, not in terms of quality.

Fredric Brown was a master of short-stories -- and by "short" I mean between one and three pages long. He was also a master of the O. Henry ending (that is, surprise endings). His most famous story is "Arena" which was then plundered for the Star Trek episode of the same name. "Letter to a Phoenix" and "Hall of Mirrors" are two of the most haunting stories I've ever read. "The Yehudi Principle" is probably the cleverest. Indeed, if you had to summarize his writings in a single word, "clever" would do it. Another example of this is "Vengeance Fleet". "Star Mouse" is extremely cute. He sometimes wrote series of short stories which were just amazing. "The Short Happy Lives of Eustace Weaver", parts 1-3 are hilarious; "Great Lost Discoveries", parts 1-3 are equally hilarious; his "Nightmare" series, which isn't really science-fiction, is disturbing on several levels (one for each story). His stories have been published in multiple collections, sometimes combined with his detective stories, but a few years ago all of his short science-fiction was published in From These Ashes: The Complete Short SF of Fredric Brown.

Brown also wrote novels, but he seemed (to me) to be out of his element there. In Martians Go Home, Martians suddenly appear all over the earth and reveal themselves to be not only little green men but supremely obnoxious as well. They call all the men "Mack" and all the women "Toots" for example. It's a great theme, but it felt like he didn't know what to do with it.

Like many, perhaps most, science-fiction authors, Fredric Brown often played with the concept(s) of religion. Sometimes it was serious; for example, in the novel The Lights in the Sky Are Stars the main character profanely prayed to God, demanding that he make his existence clear once and for all. His short story "Answer", less than a page long, was included a few years ago as one of the 10 Best Science Fiction Stories About Religion. "Recessional" is just disturbing. But often, when he played with religion it was more, well, playful. "Armageddon" is an example of this, as is "Solipsist". Among his detective stories, "Murder in Ten Easy Lessons" stands out in this regard as well. "Etaoin Shrdlu" is one of the few early examples of science-fiction authors choosing a religious target other than Christianity.

Anyway, the point in all this is that you should do yourself a favor and go read some of his short stories. And if anyone wants to buy me a copy of From These Ashes I won't turn it down.

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The Scylding said...

This is funny: I did the same test, and came out as Cory Doctorow, a Canadian SciFi author,journalist etc. I live in Canada now, but English is my second language, and I immigrated here.

James said...

I did the test with a few random passages from God's Philosophers. The first came out as HP Lovecraft, then Stephen King, then James Joyce(!) and finally Margaret Atwood.

So I think we can assume that I have a wide range of styles, or more likely that the website's algorthm is a bit limited.

Bigland said...

I write like Kurt Vonnegut. That doesn't suck.