Thursday, 12 December 2013

Humor In SF?

I have been asked what I think about humor in Poul Anderson in particular and in sf in general. I have read very little humorous sf. One value of humor is that it enables us to look at familiar or serious issues from a completely different perspective as the Greeks found when they watched a comedy after a trilogy of tragedies. Shakespeare's plays are Histories, Comedies and Tragedies, with Sir John Falstaff appearing in a History and a Comedy.

HG Wells wrote two frivolous short stories about flying and mountaineering with a common narrator, both unlike his usual style. A, if not the, major humorous sf writer is Robert Sheckley, highly recommended by other authors, but I have read almost none of his works. His Dimension Of Miracles is said to be similar to Douglas Adams' later The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy, which is good sf humor but is also a classic example of a series continued for too long, even, in the books, adding extra volumes to a supposed "trilogy."

HHGTTG's proliferation through every available medium is also a bit overdone. I have seen the TV series and the feature film and read some of the books but have not heard the radio series or (I think?) the record or read the comic. When the feature film followed the plot of the TV series, I thought, "What is the point of this? It is the same as on TV, " whereas when it differed, I thought, "What is the point of this? It is arbitrarily changing the plot." Did we need two screen versions?

I value Poul Anderson's and Gordon R Dickson's Hoka series and Anderson's The Makeshift Rocket primarily as imaginative sf rather than for their humor. Anderson's best humor, I think, is in some chapters of A Midsummer Tempest but that is fantasy.


Sean M. Brooks said...

Hi, Paul!

Nice definition of the use or purpose of humor, as a means of LOOKING at things from a different perspective.

When I really stopped to think about it, I found it difficult to think of much comedy written in SF (or fantasy). Again, it was Poul Anderson and Gordon Dicksom whom I thought of first. Besides the stories he co wrote with Anderson about the Hokas, Dickson has written other SF comedy, such as THE RIGHT TO ARM BEARS (a collection of stories).

Hmmm, never thought of it before, that comedy can be found in A MIDSUMMER TEMPEST. What esp. interested me about the notes you wrote about that Anderson novel was realizing much of it was written as blank verse, so skillfully done I had not seen that till you pointed it out. Yes, there are "lighter" moments from to time in that book.

And I know an author named, I think, Robert Asprin, has also written SF comedy (such as PHOUL'S ERRAND, hope I got the book and author's names right). And the late Avram Davidson wrote stories some of which I thought was funny, or had humorous portions. I have his Dr. Engelbert Eszterhazy stories in mind.

I rather regret to say this, but comedy may be more often seen in other genres than SF. Most often as satires. Jonathan Swift's classic GULLIVER'S TRAVELS comes to mind (altho I know some claim it as proto SF). And Evelyn Waugh's BLACK MISCHIEF was also funny. The US author Tom Wolfe has written satires of life in America such as THE BONFIRE OF THE VANITIES. Another American writer named Christopher Buckley has also written satires of life and politics in the US. His LITTLE GREEN MEN was both a laugh riot and the closest of his works to resembling SF.

I'll have to check the Clutopedia to find out more about comedy in SF! (Smiles) It makes me wonder, in conclusion, whether comedy is a difficult art for many writers to master. Which means we should be all the more grateful to Poul Anderson and Gordon Dickson for their contributions to SF humor.


David Birr said...

HG Wells also wrote at least one humorous fantasy story, "The Truth About Pyecroft." The fantasy aspect is that the narrator concocts an apparently magical potion based on a recipe he had from one of his grandmothers; the story is otherwise set in a London club of the late 19th or early 20th Century.

Paul Shackley said...

I read it. Quite amusing with Pyecroft floating indoors like a blimp.