Born in Philadelphia in 1947, James Morrow grew up in the suburban town of Roslyn and spent most of his adolescence in Hillside Cemetery, not far from the big city. While such a preoccupation might normally bespeak a morbid frame of mind, in Jim’s case the explanation lies in his passion for 8mm moviemaking. Before going off to college, he and his friends used graveyard locales in a half-dozen short horror and fantasy films, including The Revenge of the Monster Maker, Cagliostro the Sorcerer, and two literary adaptations, The Ancient Mariner and The Tell-Tale Heart.
After receiving degrees from the University of Pennsylvania and Harvard University, Morrow channeled his storytelling drive into the production of prose fiction. His first such endeavor, a Vonnegutian fable titled The Wine of Violence, was called “the best SF novel published in English in the last ten years” by the American Book Review. Next came The Continent of Lies, a satiric meditation on what is now termed virtual reality. The author’s breakout novel was an acerbic indictment of the nuclear arms race, This Is the Way the World Ends, which became a Nebula Award nominee and the BBC’s choice as the best SF novel of the year. His subsequent dark comedy, Only Begotten Daughter, chronicled the escapades of Jesus Christ’s divine half-sister in contemporary Atlantic City. It won the 1991 World Fantasy Award.
Throughout the 1990’s Morrow devoted his literary energies to killing God, an endeavor he pursued through three interconnected novels. The first book of the Godhead Trilogy, Towing Jehovah, winner of the World Fantasy Award, recounts the efforts of a supertanker captain to bury the two-mile-long corpse of God. Blameless in Abaddon, a New York Times Notable Book of the Year, finds a small-town, small-time Pennsylvania magistrate putting God on trial for crimes against humanity. In The Eternal Footman, nominated for the Grand Prix de l’Imaginaire, a “plague of death awareness” descends on humankind after God’s skull goes into geosynchronous orbit above Times Square.
Having grown sick of his Creator, and vice-versa, Jim next attempted to dramatize the birth of the scientific worldview. The resulting historical novel, The Last Witchfinder, tells of Jennet Stearne, who makes it her life’s mission to bring down the 1604 Parliamentary Witchcraft Act. Janet Maslin, writing in the New York Times, praised this postmodern extravaganza for fusing “storytelling, showmanship, and provocative book-club bait … into one inventive feat.” The author followed The Last Witchfinder with a thematic sequel, The Philosopher’s Apprentice, relating the adventures of a failed philosophy student hired to implant a conscience in a young woman whose brain is a tabula rasa. Reviewing The Philosopher’s Apprentice on NPR’s Fresh Air, Maureen Corrigan called it “an ingenious riff on Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein,” adding, “hold on tight and enjoy the giddy thrills.”
The author’s other literary projects include a set of Tolkien Lesson Plans, written in partnership with his wife, Kathy. Aimed at secondary-school teachers who want to bring The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings into their classrooms, this nine-unit curriculum is featured on the Houghton Mifflin website. Another Jim and Kathy collaboration appeared in April of 2007, The SFWA European Hall of Fame, which anthologizes sixteen Continental science fiction stories, each rendered carefully into English via a three-way Internet conversation among the author, the translator, and the editors.
Jim’s contributions to the short fiction field include the Nebula Award-winning story, “Bible Stories for Adults, No. 17: The Deluge,” the Nebula Award-winning novella, City of Truth, and the Theodore Sturgeon Award-winning novella, Shambling Towards Hiroshima. Set in 1945, this critically acclaimed satire narrates the U.S. Navy’s attempt to leverage a Japanese surrender via a biological weapon that strangely anticipates Godzilla. Morrow recently published his third-stand alone novella, The Madonna and the Starship, which Publishers Weekly called “a hilarious send-up of the golden ages of television and pulp sci-fi” and a “delightful romp.”
Early in 2015, St. Martin’s Press will publish Jim’s comic epic about the advent of Charles Darwin’s theory of natural selection. Set in the mid-nineteenth century, Galápagos Regained tells of Victorian actress and adventuress Chloe Bathurst, who recapitulates Darwin’s famous voyage to the Encantadas, her goal being to collect illustrative specimens and thereby win the Percy Bysshe Shelley Prize: £10,000 to the first contestant who can prove, or disprove, the existence of God. In a pre-publication blurb, acclaimed novelist-philosopher Rebecca Newberger Goldstein called Galápagos Regained “an adventure story that’s not only bursting with page-turning plot but with dangerous ideas of the very best kind.”
A full-time fiction writer, James Morrow makes his home in State College, Pennsylvania, with his wife, Kathy, his son, Chris, an enigmatic sheepdog, Molly, and a loopy beagle, Harley.