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The Silly Side of Science Fiction and Fantasy

April 13, 2012

The nominees for the 2012 Hugo Awards for science fiction and fantasy were announced recently, and I was pleased, nay elated, to find John Scalzi’s Shadow War of the Night Dragons: Book One: The Dead City: Prologue nominated for Best Short Story. Why the outburst of glee? Because SF and fantasy writers often take themselves and the genres just a little too seriously. Scalzi is not one of those writers, and this is most definitely not a serious story.

As can be guessed from the title, this short story is a parody of "less than epic" fantasy and bad fiction in general. In fact, the story starts off with the iconic "dark and stormy night" and pummels the reader with a painfully precise description of just how dark and stormy that night really was. It’s not often that an SF/fantasy writer makes me laugh out loud, but this story gave me an uncontrollable case of the giggles. You can read the story in its hilarious entirety at Tor.com.

Scalzi is best known for his outstanding Old Man’s War series (Old Man's War, The Ghost Brigades, The Last Colony, and Zoe's Tale), which are space operas reminiscent of Heinlein's best work. However, Scalzi is no stranger to the world of SF silliness. His novels Agent to the Stars and The Android’s Dream are loving send-ups of such familiar SF tropes as first contact and interstellar diplomacy/conflict. His upcoming novel Redshirts: A Novel with Three Codas sets its satirical sights on a certain starship and the tendency of the titular crew members to die horrible deaths on away missions.

Readers of Scalzi's long-running blog, Whatever, are very familiar with his sense of humor. In attempt to create the ultimate Internet meme, he taped bacon to his cat, and thus was born his "Canonical Bacon Page." To raise money for the Lupus Alliance of America, he commissioned a fan fiction contest based on this picture. Yes, that’s Scalzi's pal and geek icon Wil Wheaton (aka Wesley Crusher of Star Trek TNG fame) in the infamous clown sweater, riding a unicorn Pegasus kitten. Scalzi even grades his hate mail and sends it back to its creators with suggestions for improvement.

If you like reading science fiction and fantasy in the not-so-serious vein, you'll find that Scalzi has some very talented fellow travelers. Perhaps the best known SF humorist was the late, great Douglas Adams. His Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy "five-book trilogy" is the founding document of SF silliness. On the fantasy side, Terry Pratchett's wonderful Discworld universe is the comedic twin of Tolkien's Middle Earth in the depth of its world-building. Another favorite is Christopher Moore, who often takes inspiration from horror fiction to create comic novels such as The Stupidest Angel: A Heartwarming Tale of Christmas Terror and You Suck: A Love Story.

So why not beam over to the silly side? Just make sure you're not wearing a red shirt...

-Jeff D.
Grandview Branch

Image credit: "Clay Target" by Flickr user JD Hancock via Flickr's Creative Commons.

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