Brown, Fredric (pulp fiction writer)



“A genius of sorts,” his friend and fellow writer Walt Sheldon called Fredric Brown. “He was a compulsive storyteller; and made up stories or bits of stories in his every waking moment. Wherever he went he would look at something or somebody .. . and say to himself, ‘What if?’”

That compulsive imagination, plus an unpredictable way with plot and a playful, impish desire to provoke and shock were the building blocks of Brown’s unique, ingenious body of work. An anomalous figure in many ways, Brown was the pulp writer who upset the pulp cliches. A writer of tough and shocking scenes who was also one of the funniest American writers, he was among the rare genre writers who wrote science fiction and crime fiction with equal flair and inventiveness.

Born in Cincinnati, Ohio, Brown briefly attended the University of Cincinnati and Hanover College, then spent his twenties at a deadening office job. A move to work as a proofreader on the Milwaukee Journal took him out of his old rut and introduced him to a new circle of friends, among them such local aspiring and tyro writers as Robert Bloch, Stanley Weinbaum, and William Campbell gault. He put a pulp short story together and sent it to Street & Smith’s Detective Story Magazine. “The Moon for a Nickel,” set in a park on Lake Michigan, was a crudely exciting short-short story, anticipating Alfred Hitchcock’s 1954 film Rear Window (and its Cornell Woolrich story source) in its plot about a man who sees a crime and a getaway through his telescope and then, as an eyewitness, becomes the criminals’ next target. It appeared in the March 1938 issue. The Detective Story editors did not know it—the author’s cleverness was still in embryo—but a star was born. Brown kept writing. By the early ’40s he had become a regular contributor to the multitudinous crime pulps, including Clues, Thrilling Mystery, Dime Mystery, Thrilling Detective, New Detective, Ten Detective Aces, G-Man Detective, Popular Detective, and Detective Fiction Weekly. When he branched into science fiction he sold stories to Unknown, Thrilling Wonder Stories, Planet Stories, Captain Future, and more. He wrote some 200 stories for the pulp magazines in less than 10 years, nearly all of it while working full time as a proofreader.

He went to New York in the 1940s to take a job with one of the pulp developers. When this did not work out, Brown decided to try writing full time. He published his first novel in 1947. The inventive and delightful The Fabulous Clipjoint was awarded the Best First Novel Edgar Allan Poe Award by the Mystery Writers of America. The topic was the first in a brief series about an amateur detective couple, Ed and Am Hunter. Brown’s early nonseries crime topics included The Screaming Mimi, about a reporter’s search for a “ripper,” with a fairy-tale subtext, and Night of the Jabber-wock, an inventive mystery. Brown’s imagination seemed never to lag as he wrote one remarkable topic after another throughout the ’50s, including the psychologically complex The Deep End and the experimental The Lenient Beast, which used multiple perspectives.

Brown’s science fiction was also highly creative, best known for strong infusions of humor. What Mad Universe (1949), his first science fiction novel, was a self-reflexive farce dependent on the readers’ shared knowledge of the cliches of science fiction itself. Just as amusing was Martians, Go Home, (1955) in which the terrifying notion of an invasion from outer space becomes ridiculous, the aliens a bunch of annoying Peeping Toms. Fredric Brown’s irreverence and constant flow of new ideas showed just how much variety and innovation could thrive in the supposedly circumscribed realms of pulp and genre fiction.


  • Angels and Spaceships (1954);
  • Before She Kills (1984);
  • Bloody Moonlight, The (1949);
  • Brother Monster (1987);
  • Case of the Dancing Sandwiches, The (1951);
  • Case of the Dancing Sandwiches, The (collection) (1985);
  • Compliments of a Fiend (1950);
  • Daymares (1968);
  • Dead Ringer, The (1948);
  • Death Has Many Doors (1951);
  • Fabulous Clipjoint, The (1947);
  • Far Cry, The (1951);
  • Five Day Nightmare, The (1963);
  • Freak Show Murders, The (1985);
  • Gibbering Night, The (1991);
  • Happy Ending (1990);
  • Here Comes a Candle (1950);
  • His Name Was Death (1954);
  • Homicide Sanitarium (1984);
  • Honeymoon in Hell (1958);
  • Knock Three-One-Two (1959);
  • Late Lamented, The (1959);
  • Lenient Beast, The (1956);
  • Lights in the Sky Are Stars, The (1953);
  • Madball (1953);
  • Madman’s Holiday (1984);
  • Martians, Go Home (1955);
  • Mind Thing, The (1961);
  • Mrs. Murphy’s Underpants (1963);
  • Murderers, The (1961);
  • Nightmare in Darkness (1987);
  • Nightmares and Geezenstacks: 47 Stories (1961);
  • Night of the Jabber-wock (1950);
  • Office, The (1958);
  • One for the Road (1958);
  • Pardon My Ghoulish Laughter (1986);
  • Pickled Punks, The (1991);
  • Red Is the Hue of Hell (1986);
  • Rogue in Space (1957);
  • Screaming Mimi, The (1949);
  • Selling Death Short (1988);
  • Sex Life on the Planet Mars (1986);
  • Shaggy Dog and Other Stories, The (1963);
  • Space on My Hands (1951);
  • 30 Corpses Every Thursday (1986);
  • Three Corpse Parlay (1988);
  • We All Killed Grandma (1952);
  • Wench Is Dead, The (1955);
  • What Mad Universe (1949);
  • Whispering Death (1989);
  • Who Was That Blonde I Saw You Kill Last Night? (1988)

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