Brown wrote relatively little science fiction, mostly short stories. He had a reputation for breaking all the rules and for poking fun at science-fiction stereotypes. His first science-fiction novel, What Mad Universe (1949), was a parallel universe story in which interstellar travel was accomplished by a man tinkering with his wife’s sewing machine. Brown wrote stories about confusion on Earth caused by typographical errors in Heaven, about a superintelligent mouse with a German accent, and about inept devils and amorous abominable snowmen and snowwomen.
The Lights in the Sky Are Stars was written at a time when most science fiction was “space opera,” a term modeled after “horse opera,” which referred to typical Westerns. In these stories, dashing young heroes rescued maidens in distress from bug-eyed monsters, and interplanetary duels were fought both with advanced weaponry and with swords. Brown’s novel is entirely different.
The hero of the story is in his late fifties, has never left Earth, and is missing one leg. His partner is a powerful female politician with none of the stereotypes usually associated with women in the stories of that time. The entire story takes place on Earth, mainly in California.
More important, the mission to Jupiter is seen not in terms of brave young men battling the elements but in terms of politics and economics. The reader learns early on that Max plans to find a way...
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