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Creator / Fredric Brown

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Fredric Brown (October 29, 1906 – March 11, 1972) was an American Science Fiction and Mystery Fiction writer, author of What Mad Universe, Martians Go Home, and countless short stories. One of his most famous short stories, though often misattributed, is "Answer", in which all the computers in the world are linked together to form a single supercomputer capable of determining whether there is a God. His short story "Arena" has been adapted for television several times, most famously influencing an episode of Star Trek: The Original Series.

His works provide examples of:

  • The Ace: What Mad Universe: Doppelle due to the universe resulting from a science fiction editor's musing of how a young fan of his, Joe Doppelberg, might conceive of the world working.
  • The Air Not There: What Mad Universe: Averted Trope; it is stated that a starship's teleporting drive should only be used to travel into outer space. If you try to emerge in a place which already contains air, it's not pretty.
  • Aliens Steal Cable: In "Man of Distinction", alien slavers learn English from radio broadcasts they catch while hanging in the air above Philadelphia. All they know about Earth comes from radio ads, westerns and quizzes.
  • The Aloner: The protagonist of "Something Green" is trapped on an alien world where there is apparently nothing that is colored green. He keeps himself sane by a combination of talking to his alien pet and occasionally firing his Ray Gun, which has a green energy discharge, while he dreams of returning to Earth, apparently the only planet where green things grow.
  • As You Know: Lampshaded in "Keep Out". About half the story is one character giving backstory to a group of other characters, including the narrator, who then tells the reader, "Of course we had known a lot of those things already."
  • Ascended Fanboy: What Mad Universe: A fiction writer reads a letter from a fan, then a strange explosion occurs in front of him... And he is transported to an Alternate Universe where said fan is literally the Parody Sue.
  • Bigfoot, Sasquatch, and Yeti: In "Abominable", the main character encounters a small group of Yeti that are actually humans transformed using a drug. They keep their numbers stable by capturing mountain climbers and giving them the drug.
  • Binary Suns: The planet Placet in "Placet is a Crazy Place" orbits two suns in a figure-eight. When it is between the suns, the human colonists experience hallucinations. This is only one of the reasons why it is considered crazy.
  • Bluffing the Advance Scout: Two stories in which the aliens aren't scared off, but, instead, are inadvertantly convinced that humanity is useless.
    • In "Man of Distinction", alien slavers capture a derelict alcoholic, and find him unsuitable for mental or physical labor of any kind. He does make a very interesting and popular zoo specimen though.
    • In another story, the aliens take two apes out of a zoo (naturally, their intellect measuring device tells them to come again in two million years).
  • Bolt of Divine Retribution: In Answer, the newly created Deus Est Machina fries its creator with a lightning bolt (the sky is cloudless!) when he tries to pull the plug.
  • By the Eyes of the Blind: Inverted in Martians, Go Home. The Martians are real, and everyone on earth can see them — in fact, it's impossible not to — except for one guy, thanks to a Martian-caused nervous breakdown.
  • Combat by Champion: In "Arena", a super-advanced race picks a random individual from humanity and a race they are fighting to the death. The super-intelligence says that in an all-out war one will win, but both will be destroyed, so it will be decided by single combat.
  • Counterfeit Cash: In "Don't Look Behind You", a man with a gift for printing is recruited to make plates to print counterfeit money.
  • Cozy Catastrophe: "The Waveries" is about alien microbes that "eat" electricity, causing virtually all technology to stop working. People are surprisingly okay with this.
  • The Cycle of Empires: In "Letter to a Phoenix", a 180,000 year old man claims he saw Humanity bomb itself into the stone age six times already.
  • Deal with the Devil:
    • In "Nasty", the protagonist makes a deal with the Devil for a pair of magic swimming trunks to restore his virility. But if he takes them off or even pulls them down...
    • In "Naturally" (adapted into a short movie by Guillermo del Toro), the main character is about to flunk out of college, so he summons a demon to help him pass his Geometry final. Because he's bad at Geometry, he puts the wrong number of points on the pentagram and the demon simply steps out of it and carts him off to Hell.
  • Deus Est Machina: In "Answer", all of humanity's computing power across ninety-six billion planets is connected up to make a single supercomputer capable of answering the question "Is there a God?" Its answer is, "Yes, now there is." Then the creator tries to pull the plug and is fried by a Bolt of Divine Retribution.
  • The Dog Is an Alien: In "Puppet Show", an old prospector brings a very ugly Rubber-Forehead Alien out of the wilderness on muleback, and the captive is questioned by the military. After a bit of subterfuge, it turns out that the captive is a robot, and the prospector declares himself to be the real alien. The interrogator expresses relief that the master race of the galaxy looks human after all... at which point, the prospector reveals itself to be a robot as well, and the mule asks what a "master race" is and why its appearance should matter.
  • Energy Beings: "The Waveries" features probably the most realistic take on this trope. The waveries are literally living waves on the electromagnetic spectrum, and because they are waves, they interfere with technology (making electronics impossible) and are not sentient beings.
  • Feghoot:
    • "Too Far", a story about a werebuck who decides to try mating with a doe. Unfortunately the doe turns out to be a witch. She casts a spell to freeze him as a buck, and refuses to change him back because she wants to keep the first buck she ever made.
    • "Cat Burglar", a story about a man stealing a large number of cats, who eventually reveals why he needed so many.
  • First Contact: "Puppet Show" revolves around the arrival of an alien sent to Earth to see if humans are ready to meet galactic society without embarrassing themselves.
  • Flash Fiction: Many of his stories are very short (no more than a page or two) and have twist endings.
  • The Fog of Ages: In "Letter to a Phoenix", which is told by a narrator who is 180,000 years old. He only remembers the important things... his real name is nowhere in the list.
  • The Fourth Wall Will Not Protect You: "Don't Look Behind You" purported to be a first-hand account of a supposed real killer who got a hold of one of the copies of the short story collection it was in. He inserted this one and only version of the story under an appropriate-looking title and is lurking around near whoever got the copy of the book with it.
  • A God Am I: "Answer" has every single computer in the galaxy linked together to answer a single question: "Is there a God?" The computer responds: "Now there is."
  • Go Among Mad People: "Come and Go Mad" involves a character who had once believed he was Napoleon being returned to an asylum to uncover a conspiracy.
  • Gods Need Prayer Badly: Central to "The New One", where it also applies to mythic beings other than gods, and even to stuff such as ectoplasm. However, even a strongly believed-in being will not show up at all before being "invoked". The human protagonist ends up invoking a fellow with a stovepipe had and red, white and blue clothing, who then proceeds to kick ass.
  • Gone Horribly Right: In "Answer", the most powerful computer in history is built to answer the question, "Is there a God?" The computer answers "Yes, now there is a God," and with a single lightning bolt kills the man who tries to turn it off and fuses its switch on.
  • Grandfather Paradox: In "First Time Machine", when the inventor of the time machine describes the grandfather paradox, one of his three friends declares he's always wanted to kill his grandfather, takes the machine and does so. We then cut back to the present, where the inventor is introducing the time machine again, but to his two friends.
  • Humanoid Alien: In "Puppet Show", the alien is humanoid but described as being "horrible to look upon". When it is revealed to be a puppet, the ambassador explains that it was based on an actual alien species.
  • Incidental Multilingual Wordplay: In "Man of Distinction", one of the running gags is that aliens come to Earth from a planet named "Dar", which is apparently pronounced same as "there", leading to a lot of Who's on First? when they speak to The Alcoholic they capture. At least one Russian translation keeps the planet's name, but instead runs on the gag of "Dar" (pronounced as spelled) sounding like "gift" or "for free".
  • Kill on Sight: In What Mad Universe, the parallel universe's humanity is engaged in a war with an alien race. Any time an agent of theirs is spotted, a description is passed to the population and everyone knows to kill on sight. A dozen innocents die each time, but due to the aliens' abilities, there is no alternative.
  • The Last Man Heard a Knock...: "Knock" begins by quoting in full a short story that has become known as the world's shortest horror story: "The last man on Earth sat alone in a room. There was a knock on the door." It goes on to tell a story in which the knock is actually a hopeful sign: it's the return of the last woman on Earth.
  • Lightswitch Surprise: In "Nightmare in Yellow", the main character is coming home from work on his birthday and decides to start a new life, beginning by killing his wife. He does so on the front porch when she comes out to greet him, then steps inside propping up her body, turns on the light and... all the birthday guests shout, "SURPRISE!"
  • Little Green Men: The Martians in Martians, Go Home.
  • Luxury Prison Suite: A short story about a tourist arriving on a distant planet who accidentally kills a local. Told that because the locals enjoy a very long lifespan, the penalty for murder, even accidental murder, is death at dawn the next morning, he despairs. Under the law he is to be housed overnight in a magnificent 18 room suite with all manner of luxuries, food, liquor, and even women provided to meet any imagined need of the condemned man for his last night. Then he asks how long he has to enjoy all this. He is told that a night on this planet equates to only about 93 Earth years. As the story ends, he wonders if he'll make it.
  • Mayfly–December Romance: In "Letter to a Phoenix", the narrator is a man who ages one day per 45 years; 30 of them he is constantly awake, and 15 are sleep. He states he was married several thousand times, each time marrying a younger woman, about 15 years below his biological age. At the end of the thirty years, he leaves her a well-to-do widow. Of course, once his sleep is over, he makes no further contact.
  • Mermaid Problem: The protagonist of "Fish Story" falls in love with a mermaid. It isn't until after he successfully petitions Triton to turn him into a merman that she informs him merfolk spawn like fish, causing him to regret that he can no longer drown.
  • Mistaken for Apocalypse: A really saddening case in "The Dome". A scientist seals himself under a force field after he hears that a city was wiped out by a nuclear bomb and assumes a war had started. He asks a girl he loves to join him, but she refuses, determined to help the people any way she can. Thirty years later, he deactivates the dome... turns out the explosion was merely a starship from another planet which crashed during the landing. Earth is now a part of an alien federation and the scientist is past the age where he can receive their life extension therapy. Therefore, he has no choice but to go back to his shelter and hope the civilization gives him enough energy to bring it back online to live the rest of his life there.
  • Napoleon Delusion: Played with in "Come and Go Mad". A man who was once institutionalized for believing he was Napoleon returns to the asylum to uncover a conspiracy, and discovers that he was, in fact, Napoleon—body-swapped through time by a conspiracy who secretly control all of human history. The revelation drives him to violent insanity; he undergoes electroshock therapy and returns home "cured", believing himself to be a salesman.
  • Prospector: "Puppet Show" begins with a trope-standard grizzled prospector arriving in town with his trusty mule — which is carrying an alien visitor he met out in the wilderness. Invoked Trope: it turns out that the "prospector" is a member of the alien delegation (as is the mule) and his claimed meeting with the alien was set up as a way of introducing the alien ambassador to humanity.
  • Pyrrhic Victory: The alternative in Arena; it's predicted that if the conflict escalates to all-out war, the losing side will be wiped out and the "winners" will be reduced to pre-technological barbarism.
  • Reality-Breaking Paradox: In "Experiment", a group of professors who have built a time machine discover the hard way what happens if they cause a Temporal Paradox (For Science!, of course).
  • Relationship-Salvaging Disaster: In "Reconciliation", a couple are about to break up over cheating when a nuclear explosion happens. They have just enough time to embrace tightly and declare their love for each other before dying.
  • Shattered World: "Letter to a Phoenix" uses the once-popular theory that the asteroid belt is the remnants of a destroyed fifth planet.
  • Shiny New Australia: In "The Star Mouse", Mitkey is a well-intentioned uplifted mouse rather than a villain, but he proposes that the intelligence of all mice on Earth be raised to approximately human level, and then the mice promise to stop being pests (and work with humans to drive rats into extinction) in exchange for Australia (which would be renamed "Mousetralia").
  • The Sleepless: The narrator of "Letter to a Phoenix" had some rare endocrine disorder and then got irradiated during a nuclear war. Now he stays awake about 30 years, then sleeps about 15 years in a hidden shelter and then emerges with a new identity. Thus he ages 1 day per 45 years. To avoid suspicions he pretends to sleep several hours every day.
  • Stable Time Loop: In "Paradox Lost" the protagonist causes a disturbance in a class five years in the future, which gives his future self a good pretext to hit on a student.
  • Stealth Pun: The ending of "Blood".
  • Summon Binding: In the short-short "Naturally", it turns out that the demon is not bound because the summoner got the binding sigil wrong.
  • Summoning Ritual: The short-short "Naturally" shows the importance of a basic understanding of geometry in performing one of these.
  • Tele-Frag: What Mad Universe: It is stated that a starship's teleporting drive should only be used to travel into outer space. If you try to emerge in a place which already contains air, it's not pretty.
  • Temporal Paradox: "Experiment" is about a group of scientists who decide to cause one and see what happens.
  • Time Police: "The Short Happy Lives of Eustace Weaver" is a set of short stories about a man who invents a time machine and uses it to steal money from a bank with a time lock. In most of them, misunderstandings about the nature of time trip him up. In the third, Time Police arrive and execute him on the spot.
  • Tomato Surprise:
    • "The Sentry" is told from the point of view of an infantry trooper, involved in a war with aliens. After he kills one of these aliens we find out that "Such repulsive creatures they were, with only two arms and two legs, ghastly white skins and no scales." The invading, aggressive horrible aliens are humans, and the sentry isn't.
    • "Preposterous" is about parents who are really upset that their son is reading a sci-fi magazine about preposterous things like intergalactic travel and time machines. Then, the husband leaves the apartment and it turns out that he lives in a world slightly more advanced than can be expected.
  • To the Future, and Beyond: In "Blood", two vampires escape lynching with a time machine. They travel to more and more distant futures in order to find an age when vampires have been forgotten, so that nobody can recognize them as a threat.
  • Twist Ending: The identity of the actual alien ambassador in "Puppet Show". (It's the burro.)
  • Uncanny Valley: Invoked as part of the test set up by the aliens in "Puppet Show". The alien in question is particularly repulsive to humans because he is just humanoid enough to look severely wrong in their eyes.
  • Uplifted Animal: Mitkey the mouse in "The Star Mouse" gets uplifted by aliens after encountering them while on a rocket aimed at the moon.
  • Vicious Cycle: In "Letter to a Phoenix", the Time Abyss protagonist tells how humanity repeatedly destroys its own civilization and has to start anew every 30,000 years or so — therefore, while all other races reach their peaks and after that must decay and die, humanity can survive forever, thus making it the eponymous Phoenix.
  • Voodoo Doll: In "Voodoo", during divorce proceedings the wife reveals that she's been learning voodoo, and claims to be able to produce a voodoo doll that can kill the husband.
  • Who's on First?: In "Man of Distinction", one of the running gags is that aliens come to Earth from a planet named "Dar", which is apparently pronounced same as "there", leading to a lot of confusion when they speak to The Alcoholic they capture.
  • Will Not Tell a Lie: One of the obnoxious behaviors of the Martians in Martians, Go Home is spying on humans and blabbing their secrets. The fact that their stories always check out when someone tries to verify them just makes matters worse.
  • You Wake Up in a Room:
    • "Knock" begins with the following:
      There is a sweet little horror story that is only two sentences long:
      "The last man on Earth sat alone in a room. There was a knock at the door..."
    • In "Hall of Mirrors", a 25-year-old man suddenly finds himself fifty years in the future, in a locked room, with a letter addressed to him on the desk. Reading it, he learns that he is actually 75 years old, but has just de-aged himself, which erased his memory of the last fifty years. The letter is from his older self, and it includes the horrifying explanation of why he has done this. And may have to do it again, fifty years from now.