Still popular, Fredric Brown's science fiction novels and short stories were written in the 1950s and 1960s. They are online in ebook and audio form and can serve as models for short, concise, and clear writing.
In a recent blog on artificial intelligence in Scientific American online, the author Christof Koch used as the centerpiece of his discussion a science fiction story by Fredric Brown, who died in the mid-1970s. Brown was one of my favorite SciFi writers, especially of his 500-750 word short stories. Because of Koch’s blog I went back and reread some of Brown’s short-shorts and I’ve come to the conclusion that he would have been a good fit and a major draw on technology-oriented web sites such as EETimes.
First, Brown was a prolific writer, author of over 250 works of short fiction and five novels. That kind of stamina and discipline is absolutely necessary for online writers today. Second, his 60 or so short-shorts are good models to follow for anyone who wants to produce concise, well-written and clear content for online blogs. Despite the fact that his short-shorts were mostly written in the 50s and 60s, they are still popular and have many fans, including well-known general fiction writers such as Philip K. Dick, Stephen King, and Douglas Adams.
Ebook collections of Fredric Brown’s short-short science fiction stories are an education in clear, concise writing and brain-twisting humor.
(Source: Wildside Press LLC)
In the extremely confined space of 500 to 750 words, Brown takes on almost any science or technology topic and gives it a totally unexpected fictional spin, leading you down the path he wants you to follow. At the very last moment, he quickly turns your expectations upside down and does it in a way that makes you laugh, or think, or both. And you did not forget the point he is making.
I was introduced to his short-shorts in the 1970s at California Institute of Technology, where I worked as a science writer and technical editor. I was on my way to a class in electronics and had stopped by the campus cafeteria, where I came across a group of students and faculty members in animated conversation. They were talking about their favorite subject: Fredric Brown and his short-shorts. It was a regular get-together that I made a habit of attending for most of the time I worked there. If we were not reading aloud from the latest Brown short-short story we had found, we were listening to each other's attempts to write in his style.
One of my Brown favorites is titled "Answer," which Koch quotes in his blog. It is about a character named Dwar Reyn, who has the honor of switching on a just-completed super-super computer with the combined knowledge of 96 billion planets. Dwar then asks it the question no earlier computer has been able to answer: "Is there a God?" The immediate answer, Brown writes, was "Yes, now there is a God." (Sometimes incorrectly quoted as “There is now.”) The computer then strikes Dwar with a bolt of lightning and fuses the switch in the on position.