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[GUEST POST] Jo Zebedee (ABENDAU’S HEIR) Asks: Should SFF Have a Funny Bone?

Jo Zebedeejo has been writing science fiction and fantasy for four years. Her debut book, Abendau’s Heir was released by Tickety Boo Press in April 2015 and has already become a bestseller. A dark, character focused space opera, it explores the psychology of being the chosen one and asks the price demanded. The second book of the trilogy, Sunset Over Abendau, will be released in Autumn 2015. She has been selected by Culture NI as one of their ‘debut authors to watch.’ In addition to the Abendau books, Jo will be releasing a standalone science fiction novel in Summer 2015. Based in a post-alien invasion Belfast, humanity has been defeated. It’s a pity no one told the locals. Links to some of her published short work can be found here, and she can also be followed on twitter under @joz1812, as well as on Facebook.

Should SFF Have a Funny Bone?

by Jo Zebedee

I’m catching up on some long-overdue reading and I’ve started with Scalzi’s Redshirts. I’m liking its pace, the familiarity of the tropes (because sometimes I like not to think too much), and the characters. Most of all, though, I’m enjoying the humour. Some of it’s toilet humour, some a comedy of misunderstandings: all of it has been applied deftly. For someone in need of a brain relax, it’s perfect because, frankly, nothing gives good curl-up joy more than a quiet chuckle as I read.

It’s sad, then, that as a genre, sff isn’t renowned for humour. Sure, most genre readers could name the late, great Terry Pratchett and Douglas Adams and I love both their work – Hitchhiker’s remains the go-to for me when I need a quick laugh, and Pratchett’s world contains some of my favourite genre scenes ever (Nanny Ogg having a bath is enough to cheer any week up, I find.) But it feels, to me, that they’re where the perception of humour in genre starts and ends. Which is ironic, given that today KJ Parker has just been unveiled as the inimical, and very funny, Tom Holt. It will be interesting to see, in the coming week’s, Holt’s reasons for choosing to write his more serious genre work under a pseudonym and if it was anything to do with the perception that comedy writers don’t do serious?

Perhaps with the reveal, comedy in sff will get a new breath of life. That would be great because surely even the darkest bunny could get weary of dismal kingdoms and miserable fates for grim characters. In fact, comedy can sometimes act as a nice parallel to the grimness of tales – Mark Lawrence’s Jorg got a bye from me for quite a while because of the black humour leaking into his narrative which often made me smile despite myself. Tyrion Lannister, too, brings the odd wry moment. Without that contrast the grimdark genre could be so bleak as to lose credibility – it may be that for a world to be real, it must have both light and dark.

I steer away from comedys which try to make me laugh, preferring those that slip comedy into the narrative and take me by surprise. Scenes like Miles Vorkosigan’s dinner party in A Civil Campaign (Lois McMaster Bujold) take me by surprise and leave a more indelible memory than a book which tries to remind me it wants to be funny. To this day the mention of a Butterbug will make me snigger. Aaronovitch, too, in his Peter Grant books manages to imbue a voice with humour, giving a page turning book that refreshes in part to do with its humour.

Sly humour, too – clever and twisty and encompassing a good story will carry me a long way. The clever framing of the fantasy story in The Princess Bride, combined with its smart one-liners, work for me. Its ability to carry more than one generation along is a strength, too. Seeing children snigger along with adults – Prachett had that quality in spades – is a treat. Guardians of the Galaxy managed it, too, the adult in-jokes meshing seamlessly with those my ten year old could understand.

I’m not sure there is an exhaustive list of comedy in genre works. One person’s funny moment is another’s roll-of-the-eyes. But the ones which stay with me, that I return to when I need a smile, are those that cast a light on what’s around us, that make me think a little about the world I’m in. Sometimes, when I emerge from yet another dark world, or indeed after spending months immersed in writing just such a world, I’m glad to make my way out to something just a little lighter. Something that gives space for my thoughts and gives me time to muse and think and just be. For me, comedy ticks those boxes and, when it’s combined with genre, hits everything I need in a book. To that end – any recommendations? What makes you smile in genre?

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