Morrow, James (Kenneth) 1947-

views updated

MORROW, James (Kenneth) 1947-

PERSONAL: Born March 17, 1947, in Philadelphia, PA; son of William (a clerk) and Emily (a secretary; maiden name, Develin) Morrow; married Jean Pierce (a teacher), September 11, 1972 (divorced); married Kathryn Ann Smith; children: Kathleen Pierce Morrow and a son. Education: University of Pennsylvania, B.A., 1969; Harvard University, M.A.T. (visual studies), 1970. Politics: "Thomas Jefferson meets G. B. Shaw." Religion: "Pantheist."

ADDRESSES: Home and office—810 North Thomas St., State College, PA 16803. Agent—Writers House, 21 West 26th St., New York, NY 10010. E-mail—[email protected]

CAREER: Cambridge Pilot School, Cambridge, MA, English teacher, 1970-71; Chelmsford Public Schools, Chelmsford, MA, instructional materials specialist, 1972-1974; Ordadek Productions, Westford, MA, motion picture writer, director, and editor, 1975-1978; Tufts University, Medford, MA, visiting lecturer in media and communications, 1978-1981; freelance fiction writer, 1980—. Children's book author, Learning-ways Corporation, Cambridge, 1982-87; visiting lecturer in fiction writing, Pennsylvania State University, University Park, 1990.

MEMBER: National Council of Teachers of English Science Fiction, Fantasy Writers of America, Westford Committee to Halt the Arms Race.

AWARDS, HONORS: Pennsylvania Council of the Arts fellowship, 1988; Nebula Award for best short story, Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, 1988, for "Bible Stories for Adults, No. 17: The Deluge," and for best novella, 1992, for City of Truth; World Fantasy Award for best novel, 1991, for Only Begotten Daughter, and 1995, for Towing Jehovah. Blameless in Abaddon was named a New York Times Notable Book of the Year.

WRITINGS:

FICTION

The Wine of Violence, Holt (New York, NY), 1981.

The Adventures of Smoke Baily, (novelization of computer game), Spinnaker, 1983.

The Continent of Lies, Holt (New York, NY), 1984.

This Is the Way the World Ends, Holt (New York, NY), 1986.

Only Begotten Daughter, Morrow, 1990.

Swatting at the Cosmos (short stories), Pulphouse, 1990.

City of Truth (novella), Legend, 1991, St. Martin's (New York, NY), 1992.

Towing Jehovah (first book of the "Godhead Trilogy"), Harcourt (New York, NY), 1994.

Bible Stories for Adults (short stories), Harcourt (New York, NY), 1995.

Blameless in Abbadon (second book of the "Godhead Trilogy"), Harcourt (New York, NY), 1996.

The Eternal Footman (third book of the "Godhead Trilogy"), Harcourt (New York, NY), 1999.

The Cat's Pajamas & Other Stories, Tachyon Press, 2004.

CD-ROM; FOR CHILDREN

The Quasar Kids, Collamore, 1987.

What Makes a Dinosaur Sore, Collamore, 1987.

(With Marilyn Segal) The Lima Bean Dream, Collamore, 1987.

(With Marilyn Segal) Not Too Messy, Not Too Neat, Collamore, 1988.

The Best Bubble-Blower, Collamore, 1988.

OTHER

(With Murray Suid) Moviemaking Illustrated: The Comicbook Filmbook (textbook), Hayden, 1973.

(With Joe Adamson) A Political Cartoon (screenplay), published in Scripts I, Houghton (Boston, MA), 1973.

(With Murray Suid) Media and the Kids: A Real-World Learning in the Schools (textbook), Hayden, 1977.

(With Jean Morrow) The Grammar of Media (textbook), Hayden, 1978.

(With Murray Suid) Creativity Catalogue: Comic Book Guide to Creative Projects (textbook), Fearon, 1981.

(Editor) Nebula Awards: SFWA's Choices for the Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year, numbers 26-28, Harcourt (New York, NY), 1992–1994.

Contributing editor, Media and Methods, 1978-80; contributing writer to A Teacher's Guide to NOVA. Creator of "Suspicion," a board game, for TSR Hobbies, 1977. Freelance fiction reviewer, Philadelphia Inquirer, 1986-90. Morrow's books have been translated into many languages, including French, German, Chinese, Czech, and Hungarian.

WORK IN PROGRESS: A novel, The Last Witchfinder, about the birth of the scientific worldview.

SIDELIGHTS: "If there is such a thing as an anti-science-fiction writer," declared New York Times Book Review contributor David McDonough, "it is James Morrow." "Since the publication of his first novel in 1981," wrote F. Brett Cox in the St. James Guide to Science Fiction Writers, Morrow has "produced a substantial body of high-quality work that rates as one of the field's best. While most of his novels and stories are recognizably science fiction, Morrow is not interested in rigid technological and sociological extrapolation; instead, he uses stock science-fictional devices as a means for examining moral and philosophical issues. Morrow's fiction is notable for its rich, often dazzling prose style, as well as for its strongly comic elements. All of these traits place Morrow squarely within a tradition marked variously by such writers as Ray Bradbury, Kurt Vonnegut, Philip K. Dick, and Robert Sheckley."

Morrow's first novel, The Wine of Violence, presents a utopian society, Quetzalia, in which violence has been obliterated through ritualized, technologically assisted purging of aggressive fantasies. As the story unfolds, the Quetzalians, despite years of conditioning, engage in a grisly battle of self-defense against a neighboring tribe of cannibals. "Although the plot is driven by a high level of action, culminating with the explorers convincing the Quetzalians to go to war against the Brain-Eaters," Cox explained, "the central concern is more abstract: are the Quetzalians heroes for having conquered the dark side of human nature, or hypocrites whose murderous fantasies belie their professed pacifism? The author's sympathies reveal themselves when one of the Quetzalians realizes that, by fighting the Brain-Eaters, he is acting in the tradition of his Earth ancestors and is now a part of history: 'History, he decided, was a terrible idea.'" The novel, Morrow told Library Journal, is "pro-science: the evil comes not from the engineers who built the machine, nor from any inherent flaw in the machines themselves, but from a terrible and arrogant choice regarding their use."

This Is the Way the World Ends offers a satiric attack on the nuclear arms race during the presidency of Ronald Reagan. The unthinkable war occurs, and a group of Americans—each of whom bears some responsibility for the failure of deterrence—awakens on a submarine crewed by the survivors' own ghostly descendants: the "unadmitted" multitudes who will never be born because humanity is extinct. Hauled to Antarctica, the six bewildered men are placed on trial for "crimes against the future." In Cox's view, "Although the novel is, among other things, a scathing critique of the Cold War mentality, Morrow never lets it become a one-sided polemic. The trial is a deliberate presentation of both sides of the deterrence debate, while the 'unadmitted' reveal themselves to be out not for justice, but for revenge." Writing in the Philadelphia Inquirer, Jay Neugeboren noted that This Is the Way the World Ends "begins where Dr. Strangelove ends.... [Morrow] deals seriously and intelligently with large issues—moral choice, global survival—within the most unlikely contexts, and in strangely captivating modes."

Often Morrow's satire takes aim at the foibles of organized religion. Only Begotten Daughter, which won the World Fantasy Award for best novel in 1991, tells of the immaculate conception and birth of Julie Katz, who is born in New Jersey in 1974 from sperm obtained from an Atlantic City sperm bank. She finds life just as difficult as Jesus had in Judea in the first century: she gets little or no heavenly guidance, and she is opposed by fundamentalist forces rooted in her native New Jersey. "The novel is a savage indictment of the potential evils of organized religion," wrote Cox. "It combines Swiftian satire, black humor, warmly sympathetic characters, with a clear yet eloquent prose style. However one wishes to label it, Only Begotten Daughter is one of the most impressive novels of the past decade." Jack Butler of the New York Times Book Review likened the novel's form to that of Kurt Vonnegut's works, commending its "dense, hyperkinetic plotting" and "brilliantly funny vignettes."

In Bible Stories for Adults, Towing Jehovah, and Blameless in Abaddon, Morrow expands his interest in satirizing organized religion. Bible Stories, a collection of twelve "dark, funny tales of spirituality," explained McDonough, shows how God interacts with the world he created, often in ways that people misinterpret and misunderstand. The book McDonough concluded, "will be advertised as irreverent," though McDonough himself disagrees, saying that despite Morrow's "biting humor," his writing displays respect for humankind's "place in the great cosmic joke." Gregory Feeley of the Washington Post Book World complimented Morrow's stories, saying they are "crisp and readable but they run in the danger of being glib."

In Towing Jehovah, God is dead—literally. His corpse has fallen from the heavens, and the Vatican has to contract with an unemployed oil tanker captain, Anthony Van Horne, to tow it to its final resting place in the Arctic. "The bizarre details actually work in context even if . . . they may seem extreme," wrote Joe Mayhew in the Washington Post Book World. "It is important, however, to remember that Morrow is writing about the vices of man. His novel attacks only the cartoons of religion, not the real thing."

Blameless in Abaddon, the sequel to Towing Jehovah, is a modern-dress retelling of the Book of Job. Devastated by a series of personal losses, a small-town magistrate named Martin Candle drags the comatose Corpus Dei before the World Court in The Hague. A New York Times notable book of the year, Blameless in Abaddon is "diverting and entertaining, sober and demanding, all at once," according to Peter Landry of the Philadelphia Inquirer.

The Eternal Footman, the third novel of the "God-head" trilogy and Morrow's final word on "the post-theistic world," appeared late in 1999. Commenting on the increasingly popular genre of science fiction, Morrow told a reviewer Library Journal: "If I could eventually help fuse mainstream fiction's apprehension of human nature with science fiction's comprehension of human knowledge, I wouldn't mind dying one day."

BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:

BOOKS

St. James Guide to Science Fiction Writers, 4th edition, St. James Press, 1996.

PERIODICALS

Christian Science Monitor, July 31, 1992, p. 13.

Denver Post, November 28, 1999, review of Blameless in Abaddon, p. F2.

FermiNews, February 15, 2002, Mike Perricone, "Talk of the Lab."

Library Journal, June 15, 1981; April 15, 1992, p. 125.

Locus, June, 1994, pp. 23, 62.

New York Review of Science Fiction, March, 1994, pp. 1, 8-11.

New York Times Book Review, March 18, 1990; March 10, 1996, p. 8; September 15, 1996, p. 40.

Philadelphia Inquirer, August 24, 1986; August 25, 1996.

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, February 26, 2000, Ken Chiacchia, "Sci-Fi Writers Urged 'To Think Until It Hurts,'" p. B-8.

Publishers Weekly, April 6, 1992, p. 55; March 21, 1994, pp. 69-70; April 4, 1994, p. 61.

San Diego Union Tribune, July 17, 1994; October 10, 1996.

Science Fiction Studies, March, 2003, Fiona Kelleghan, "War of World-Views: A Conversation with James Morrow," p. 1.

Utopian Studies, January 1, 1999, David N. Samuelson, "Overview of Science Fiction Literature in the 1980's and 1990's," p. 198.

Washington Post Book World, October 25, 1981; April 24, 1994, p. 10; March 31, 1996, p. 8.

ONLINE

SF Site,http://www.sfsite.com/ (November, 2000), Nick Gevers, "A Conversation with James Morrow."*

About this article

Morrow, James (Kenneth) 1947-

Updated About encyclopedia.com content Print Article