I’ve been holding off posting in the to be expected that the glitches we’ve knowledge recently might be cleared up. But no prosperity so far. So here’es something illuminate to remind you that we’re still here …
Comedy is hard. Science fiction comedy is harder still. Oh there’s a lot of it out there, but an excessive sum of it seems to consist of little more than fibres of sophomoric puns or shaky jokes. If you’re really interested you can check out Arthur C. Clarke’s Tales from the White Hart, or basically anything by Piers Anthony. Fine if you want to groan , not so great if you’re looking to laugh out loud.
There is also the problem that humour can date pretty quickly. Actually, science fiction is in something of a double bind here, because a lot of sf slapstick is mostly satire, and that likewise tends to lose its bite immediately we forget the thing being satirised. Some old-time parodies, like Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift, still manufacture us smile because of the amazing invention of the storytelling, but in the main comic satires have a very short rack life.
And if you’re trying to write comic science fiction that isn’t exclusively incisive in planned, you need to find some space around the fact that sf worldbuilding can slow down the gait that is a required part of good comic writing, while jokes tend to work by writhe the familiar which doesn’t often fit with the science fictional need to determine things new. That’s why jokes tend to work better if they are short and abrupt, and similarly the very best comic sf is often in short narrations. If you want to see what I convey, check out the often surrealist fables of R.A. Lafferty( in the multi-volume( and outrageously expensive, do check around for cheaper collects) collected floors beginning with The Man Who Made Models, for instance ), the outrageous abilities of Fredric Brown( in The Best Short Stories of Fredric Brown ), and the wild bias of biography from Howard Waldrop( as in Things Will Never Be The Same ). But though these novelists are dazzlingly funny in short pattern, their novel-length work inclines not to be so funny.
On the whole, columnists of sustained comic fabrication, in the mode of, say, P.G. Wodehouse or Thorne Smith, tend to be short on the sand in science fiction. Though, interestingly, both Wodehouse and Smith wrote sf. Check out Laughing Gas by P.G. Wodehouse, in which a British Earl and a Hollywood child star inadvertently swap identities, or Thorne Smith’s Skin and Bones, in which a brand-new photographic procedure inadvertently makes the protagonist and his dog invisible except in cases of their skeletons. This aspect of writing is not easy: Gene Wolfe struggled something in the manner of Thorne Smith in his novel There Are Doors, and it discontinued up represent one of his weaker works.
Here, then, are five columnist who organized the tricky balancing play of writing funny science fiction at story length.
A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court by Mark Twain
This is the exception that proves the rule: an old comedy that can still compile us smile. That’s mostly because we are still familiar with the two things that are being satirised here: the romantic image of King Arthur’s Middle Ages, and the relevant recommendations of the super-competent modern American man. A Yankee mechanic is knocked out and wakes up at Camelot. There he expends his can-do Yankee attitude and a legion of modern abilities to transform the court, but all of his modern forewords are countered by the wiliness of the court magician, Merlin.
Bill the Galactic Hero by Harry Harrison
From the late-1 950 s onwards, Harry Harrison raised a torrent of fast-paced novels that satirised the conventions of science fiction, including The Stainless Steel Rat about an intergalactic swindler turned policeman, and The Technicolor Time Machine about a occasion machine being used for film drawing. But the funniest of these was Bill the Galactic Hero, which hilariously caricatured the cliches of military sf. Bill is a farmboy shanghaied into the military who spots himself in a farcical space fighting against alien lizards, and who, through a series of mishaps, becomes a hero. Twenty-odd years later Harrison returned to the character with a series of sequels, each a collaboration with a different writer and each worse than the last. But the original remains one of the light blots in sf comedy.
Who Goes Here ? by Bob Shaw
Most of Shaw’s work was serious and engaging, but in person he had a very dry wit which came out in a series of” Serious Scientific Talks” he rendered at British sf conventions, and which were collected as A Load of Old Bosh. The incongruous technological plans he floated in these talks rarely are entered into his story, but it did in his one overtly comic fiction. There is, for example, a spaceship with a matter transmitter at either intent, which moves through space by forever moving itself along its own length. The basic storey, like Bill the Galactic Hero, is a parody of armed sf with a reluctant protagonist, Warren Peace, who joined the Space Legion to forget. Unfortunately, the only way he can get out of the Legion is to find out what it was he’d forgotten. There was a less successful sequel, but this original remains an exemplar of Bob Shaw at his funniest.
To Say Nothing of the Dog by Connie Willis
There is a sense that maids don’t write comedy. Certainly, the entry on Humour in the Science Fiction Encyclopedia doesn’t mention a single woman. Yet the idea is nonsense, there’s a lot of smart duty from dames. Connie Willis, for example, has used slapstick very effectively in her short-lived legends and in short romances such as her scintillating lampoon of Hollywood, Remake. Her best comedy is perhaps, To Say Nothing of the Dog, one of her line of go movement fictions, though this is a light-hearted interlude between much darker wreaks such as Doomsday Book and Blackoutand All Clear. In such instances, travellers are sent back to Victorian England on a quest for something that none of then understand or would recognise, and end up re-enacting the adventures of Jerome K. Jerome ad his fellows in Three Men in a Boat.
The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams
Let’s face it, you couldn’t write a list of comic sf and miss this. It is the great classic of comic science fiction: it began life as a radio serial, became a television series, was filmed( not are you all right ), and aimed up as a trilogy of six diaries. It starts when Earth is bulldozed to make way for an intergalactic route, but Arthur Dent is extricated at the last minute by his friend, Ford Prefect, where it was makes him on an amazing escapade that includes Vogon poetry, Zaphod Beeblebrox the two-headed president of the galaxy, Marvin the nervous android, a computer built by mice, and the answer 42. Still as fresh and as funny as ever, this remains the standard against which all future sf humor has to be measured.
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