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[MIND MELD] Our Recent Faves from the Lighter Side of Genre

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The news from the real world can depress, horrify and grind anyone down these days. There are SF and Fantasy novels which engage with issues and problems in a serious and articulate way, and then there are the books that emphasize the popcorn, light side of reading. We asked this week’s esteemed panelists about the lighter side of genre fiction:

Q: What books have you read, especially recently, that you’d recommend to others as a temporary vacation from the slings and arrows of our current world?

This is what they said…

Melinda Snodgrass
Melinda M. Snodgrass is a recovered lawyer, a screenwriter and novelist with novels available from both Tor Books (The Edge series), and Titan Books, (The Imperials series). She’s working on the third book in that series. She also co-edits and writes for the Wild Cards book series with George R.R. Martin. She is an FEI dressage rider who owns two Lusitano horses — her stallion Vento da Broga, and her new young horse Donhador.
 

Yep, right now the news is pretty horrifying — Donald Trump? Really? I despair for the country. Anyway, yes, I have sought solace in books and my beloved video games. The books that I’ve been reading that are just terrific fun and have brightened my life considerably is the Shadow Campaigns series by Django Wexler. Thus far the series consists of The Thousand Names, The Shadow Throne and The Price of Valor. The series is a Napoleonic military setting with a dash of magic, and an enigmatic general who is only seen through the eyes of the people around him. I have really enjoyed these books and can’t wait for the fourth volume due out in April.

Kay Kenyon
Kay Kenyon is the author of twelve science fiction and fantasy novels. Her latest novel, a fantasy, is Queen of the Deep, about an enchanted ship, both a colossal steam vessel and a Renaissance kingdom. The first of two fantasy spy novels, At the Table of Wolves, will be published by Saga Press next winter. You can find her on twitter @KayKenyon and at www.kaykenyon.com.
 

Well, normally I would say that fantasy and science fiction are no laughing matter…but to be honest, it’s often hilarious. For instance:

Chicks and Balances. The very title makes you cringe! Unless, of course, you’re ready to throw off the straight jacket of righteous agenda and …just have fun. It’s tongue-in-cheek, right? Right, but it’s also fantasy adventure, and um, there’s no other way to say it, women in armor and excellent makeup. The Chicks in Chainmail anthologies have been chronicling the feats of amazonian babes for twenty years. The sixth volume in the series, with story titles like “Give a Girl a Sword” and “Smackdown at Walmart,” will teach you to take chicks in brass bras seriously. Or not!

Prudence: The Custard Protocol by Gail Carriger. In a world of vampire queens and werewolves, there is still plenty of room for elegance, propriety, scandal and finely brewed tea. This latest from Gail Carriger is set in the same world as her Parasol Protectorate series, and continues the exquisitely brewed Victoriana, mannerly steam punk and supernatural milieu. As the covers promise, there will be a liberated heroine and excellent costuming. Perhaps best to start with the Parasol Protectorate, but Prudence can also stand alone.

TV show: Galavant. As one of the tag lines for this Monty Python-like musical says, it’s about a knight in search of his honor and whatnot. This show is incredibly silly, but witty enough to convince yourself that you’re not wasting time, because you’ll be able to say you watched the show before it went into re-runs. (Any day now.) But hey, how juvenile can it be when Downton Abbey‘s Hugh Bonneville has a guest-star stint? An epical fantasy musical with bouts of bad amulet connections, singing knights and an undead army.

Sue Burke
Sue Burke is an American writer and translator living in Madrid since 2000. She has published short stories and articles in a variety of magazines and anthologies, and her novel Semiosis will be published by Tor in January 2018. Her translations include the novel Prodigies by Angélica Gorodischer, and stories in the anthologies Terra Nova, Castles in Spain, and the forthcoming Spanish Women of Wonder.

I live in Spain, where the economy and politics can depress anyone. Spain has fine SF authors but a bad track record at bringing the genre to the screen. Last year, when Televisión Española (TVE) announced it was going to air a science fiction show about time travel, SF fans expected a cheap ripoff of Doctor Who.

To everyone’s surprise, the show, El Ministerio del Tiempo (The Ministry of Time) was original, exciting, and funny. Its first season won major prizes, and it was promptly renewed. According to the plot, in 1491 Queen Isabel I ordered its creation using arcane knowledge from The Book of Doors, written by a wise old rabbi. Time travel takes place in a subterranean labyrinth of doors, each one leading to a different place and time in Spain’s past. The ministry must make sure no one changes time to their own advantage.

Or, as the 21st-century sub-secretary of special missions says, “Ours might not have been the best possible history, but it could have been worse.”

That dry humor permeates the show. Diego Velázquez is the staff artist, and during his lunch break he experiments with cubist sketches on paper napkins. During a mission to keep Lope de Vega from getting on the wrong boat and dying in the defeat of the Spanish Armada, a time patrol member grumbles that they’ve come almost too late. He’s reminded, “We wouldn’t be Spanish if we couldn’t get everything done at the last minute.” And if there isn’t a plan? The sub-secretary orders: “You’re Spaniards. Improvise.”

It’s become a hit largely thanks to social media, where fans, known as Ministéricos, share jokes, commentary, and fan art. The derelict building in downtown Madrid that supposedly holds the ministry has become a pilgrimage site. After the episode in which 17th-century military hero Ambrosio Spínola, the ministry’s head of security, saves it from a Nazi invasion, his name became a trending topic.

The special missions team – made up of a 16th-century soldier, 19th-century university graduate student, 20th-century police officer, and 21st-century EMT – grapple with Napoleon, snatch a victim from Torquemada, meet Lazarillo de Tormes, protect the painting Guernica, find out who’s impersonating El Cid, and prevent the spread of the Spanish flu in the 21st century. Every episode includes jokes, pranks, and winks to history and pop culture.

You can become a Ministérico, too. Because TVE is a public station, all the episodes – and more – are on its website. It’s all in Spanish, of course, but unauthorized subtitles in English can be found on the internet.

Once a week, I can forget about everything but history, maybe not the best possible history, but at least it isn’t going to get any worse.

Rene Sears
By day, Rene Sears is the Editorial Director for Pyr. By night, or early in the morning, or on lunch breaks, she writes. She narrowly missed getting hit by a car once due to walking and reading at the same time, and has since adopted safer reading practices.
 

Seanan McGuire’s InCryptid novels, beginning with Discount Armageddon and through most recent release Chaos Choreography, feature the Price-Healys, a family of cryptozoologists trying to protects supernatural creatures from humans and vice versa. The series dances across the line from humor into horror and back again and the body count sometimes gets quite high. But if a priesthood of talking mice or breeding programs for basilisks sound like your kind of thing, do check these books out.

I can’t recommend Matt Wallace’s Sin du Jour series of novellas highly enough. The first, Envy of Angels, introduces Sin du Jour, a catering company with a highly specialized clientele of paranormal creatures who eat unusual foods (the procurement team are mainly ex-military and sometimes come back missing limbs.) Our entrée into the world are a pair of line chefs who need a job and have a chance to prove themselves for hire on a more permanent basis, but the story opens up to more of an ensemble team, including celebrity chef Byron Luck. Wallace does a great job at capturing the feel of a kitchen, from overbearing sous chefs to stoned busboys, and the addition of witches and drunken alchemists feels perfectly natural in the context of the story. Each novella will be centered around a sin (of the seven, deadly variety); the third is due to come out in June.

Nimona is a graphic novel by Noelle Stephenson. Originally published as a webcomic (the first three chapters are still available), Nimona follows the adventures of the eponymous shapeshifter, who presents herself as a sidekick to Ballister Blackheart, a knightly supervillain constantly at odds with the Institution of Law Enforcement and Heroics. A father-daughter relationship develops as Blackheart tried to restrain his sidekick’s murderous urges while he combats his former friend and current nemesis, Ambrosius Goldenloin. The comic is full of delightfully anachronistic touches–a medlievalish kingdom with pizza delivery and mad science fairs–and the art is beautifully offbeat. As the story progresses, the humor leads to a poignant ending, but it still makes a lovely vacation from current events.

And finally, for a brief dessert in flash fiction form, I highly recommend “I am Graalnak of the Vroon Empire, Destroyer of Galaxies, Supreme Overlord of the Planet Earth. Ask Me Anything.” by Laura Pearlman.

Lyda Morehouse
Lyda Morehouse‘s first four books, the LINK Angel series (Archangel Protocol, Fallen Host, Messiah Node, and Apocalypse Array), blend cyberpunk technology with unconventional religious themes. She is the winner of multiple national awards, including the Philip K. Dick Award’s Special Citation of Excellence , Shamus Award for Original Paperback featuring a Private Investigator, and the Barnes & Noble Maiden Voyage Award for debut science fiction novel She’s also sometimes Tate Holloway.

If the political season is stressing you out, I would 100% recommend that you pop a bowl of popcorn and settle in to watch Showa Genroku Rakugo Shinju (currently available on Crunchyroll).

Despite its long, complicated name and being seinen (anime/manga for adult women, which means it can have adult content in all senses of that word), Showa is a very…pretty and relaxing. It’s the story of a famous fictional storyteller–actually more the back story, a story within a story about stories. Before starting watching this anime, I had no idea what rakugo even was, so not only is the story entertaining, but it also educational, and got me interested in finding out more about this 9th century storytelling artform.

So far–Showa is ongoing–there’s been a lot of drama (pardon the theater pun), but not a lot of STRESS. So if you’re up for some anime, this might just be the cure for what ails you.

Maybe you’re finding certain candidate’s political rhetoric too violent? Try grinding through Undertale (on Steam) in pacifist mode. Seriously, if you’re a roleplay gamer, you really ought to try out Undertale. There’s a lot to love about this game. For one, it’s probably the first game I’ve ever encountered where your character is set up from the start to be gender fluid/gender neutral. The pronoun for you that’s used throughout the game is “they.” Your avatar is too young to really display any particular sex, and your name is likewise neutral: Frisk.

Also, the whole point of it? (Possibly a tiny spoiler!) Not to kill anyone.

The actual gameplay can be stressful (at least for me, I’m not very fast with the left/right arrows), but the story is captivating and fascinating. You can lose hours in this amazing universe…literally just hanging out with someone you just met on the battlefield.

If you’re familiar with this game, I have to confess: I nearly never left Toriel’s house, but my son told me that I had to for the game to progress.

Perhaps you’re the sort who loves conspiracy theories, but just can’t hack the current Real Life (™) ones. For you, I would recommend picking up the first few issues of Vision (2015) by Tom King/Mike Del Mundo.

The only problem with this title is that there just aren’t that many of them out yet. But, the story follows Marvel’s Vision, an android created to be a weapon, who decides that in order to understand humans, he needs to create a family and live in the suburbs. And, of course, everything goes horribly, horribly wrong. King gives us a very spooky story, highlighted by excellently creepy art by Del Mundo. Maybe not the most relaxing read, but very captivating.

I would also recommend the Vision to Marvel Cinematic Universe readers who would are curious about this comic book thing, but aren’t sure quite where to start. This Vision is not the same one that you were introduced to in the second Avengers movie, but, honestly? If you’re going to be a Marvel fan, get used to it. There are so many versions of everyone in canon…a True Believer knows better than to get too attached. However, the point is, the story is strong and you can start here without needing too much background, since Vision has created his whole family and the new reader is meeting them the exact same way a long time fan is.

One last feel good recommendation? Haikyuu! Do you know how fun this sports anime is? It has an exclamation mark as part of its title, that’s how fun!

Okay, okay, I know what you’re saying, because I said the same thing: High school sports? I HATED sports in high school! Yeah, but I DARE you to try to hate on the spunky little Hinata and the guys from the Karasuno boys volleyball team. Seriously, this anime is so shounen, I cried over a volleyball game….WHILE CHEERING.

We’re in the middle of the second season of Haikyuu! So, if you’re feeling really down, you can binge watch the heck out of this (and watch the OVA) and I guarantee you, you will come out from under your blanket fort with a huge smile on your face.

Mari Ness
Mari Ness worships chocolate, words and music. Her fiction and poetry have appeared in numerous publications, including Tor.com, Clarkesworld, Daily Science Fiction, Apex Magazine, Nightmare, Uncanny, Strange Horizons, and Shimmer, and is forthcoming in Lightspeed and Fireside Fiction. For a longer list, see her blog at marikness.wordpress.com. She tweets about random things, including silly television shows, @mari_ness.
 

To be honest, grimdark often is my escape from the horrors of the real world: Game of Thrones and The 100 make my life seem positively joyful in comparison, and the main issue I have with season four of House of Cards is that compared to real world politics this year, the show just isn’t dark enough.

But that doesn’t mean that I don’t crave light humor from time to time. I keep my omnibus edition of Douglas Adams’ The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy near my bed to help combat moments of despair, and I’ve spent more time in the archives of Rich Burlew’s Order of the Stick than I care to admit. The first few Order of the Stick strips may be a bit incomprehensible to those who, unlike me, were not nurtured in Dungeons and Dragons, but after that the comic gets a lot more accessible – and more amusing, and always worth a reread. McSweeneys Internet Tendency is bookmarked for when I need a quick lift. (Full disclosure: McSweeneys has published two of my pieces.)

Other staples include old Calvin and Hobbes comics, Caroline Stevener and Patricia Wrede’s Sorcery and Cecelia (Wrede’s loosely related Mairelon the Magician and Magician’s Ward are also amusing), William Goldman’s The Princess Bride (book and film), Jasper Fforde’s Thursday Next series, anything by Edith Nesbit, almost anything by Christopher Moore, and Diana Wynne Jones’ Dark Lord of Derkholm (my all time favorite of hers), its not quite as good but still amusing sequel Year of the Griffin, and her The Tough Guide to Fantasyland, a must read for all fantasy readers and Dungeons and Dragons players.

More recent indulgences include ABC’s Galavant, a deeply uneven show that still managed to give us zombies doing a takeoff on Grease, which more TV shows should do, when you think about it; NBC’s live version of The Wiz, with Queen Latifah performing my all time favorite Wizard of Oz ever; and Joanne Harris’ The Gospel of Loki, featuring Loki’s point of view.

Kat Howard
Kat Howard lives and writes in New Hampshire, where she works very hard to keep her cats in treats. Her debut novel, Roses and Rot, is out May 17th from Saga Press. Her short fiction has been performed on NPR, nominated for the World Fantasy Award, and will be collected in A Cathedral of Myth and Bone, out in 2018, also from Saga. You can find her on twitter as @KatWithSword.
 

So, I’ll start by saying that I’m not sure I’m the best person to answer this – when I want to escape, I don’t necessarily go for the lighter side, but for the immersive side. Which means that I recently once again reread Susanna Clarke’s utterly fantastic Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell. It’s not a happy book, not really, but it is one that makes me believe in magic and wonder, and the kind of magic that can be called up from the rocks and stones. That’s what I want, when the world feels too much.

The other genre thing that I’ve really been looking forward to of late is the tv show Supergirl. Again, I don’t know if I’d call it popcorn or fun – people die, actions have consequences, sometimes serious ones – but it’s a show that feels like the main characters truly are trying to be good people – to be heroes. And I love that.

Kelly Robson
A transplant to Toronto with her wife, Alyx, Nebula Nominee Kelly Robson‘s my first fiction publications appeared in major Science Fiction markets Clarkesworld, Tor.com, and Asimov’s Science Fiction, and in the anthologies New Canadian Noir, In the Shadow of the Towers, and License Expired.

When I need to escape, I want action and humor combined with deep worldbuilding and memorable characters. In a word: FUN. Two books hit my funny button: one’s an old favorite and the other is a new indie title. Both are delightful.

Rock of Ages by Walter Jon Williams is a rollicking action comedy of manners, set in a far future where Earth is just a small part of a galactic empire. It’s accurately described as Jane Austen meets P.G Wodehouse in space, with some French farce and Monty Pythonesque morsels thrown in for spice. Rock of Ages is actually the third book in a trilogy, but you don’t need to read the previous books to catch up. Since it’s the best of the three, start here if you’re not sure — but if this sounds great to you, start at the beginning: The Crown Jewels followed by House of Shards. They’re all available as ebooks.

Our hero is Drake Maijstral a disarming rogue who, over the course of the first two books, has become the number one rated Allowed Burglar in the empire. Now he’s come to Earth for a bit of vacation, but nobody believes he’s not planning his next big heist. My favorite part is when the entire cast has to go undercover at Graceland (which has evolved into a Vatican-like religious centre) all dressed as Elvis impersonators. The whole series is full of wonderful hijinks and science-fictiony grace notes. It’s sheer heaven.

The Brothers Jetstream: Leviathan by indie author Zig Zag Claybourne is a head-first, ramming-speed, no-holds-barred adventure that might have come about by crossing Buckaroo Banzai with Blade. Brothers Milo and Ramses Jetstream are mystical warriors in a sideways Earth that includes Atlantis, talking whales, vampires, and angels. In the hands of another writer this might be a mess, but Zig Zag Claybourne has a lovely warm voice, a light touch, an unerring instinct for avoiding expected plot developments, and a gift for delivering laughs on every page. The Brothers Jetstream: Leviathan is definitely not a formula novel and it wouldn’t have seen daylight without the indie scene. Get it. It over-delivers the fun.

Valerie Valdes
Valerie Valdes teaches for The Brainery, which offers online writing workshops focusing on speculative fiction. Her latest work can be found in She Walks In Shadows, the first all-women Lovecraft anthology by Innsmouth Free Press. Valerie copy edits, moonlights as a muse and occasionally plays video games if her son and husband are distracted by Transformers.

When the world is too much with me, I inevitably reach for one of two (technically, three) books that have perked me up over the years.

The first is Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones. Set primarily in the magical kingdom of Ingary, the book follows Sophie Hatter as she toils meekly in her stepmother’s hat shop, until a witch curses her with advanced age. She then sets out to lift the curse and, perhaps, get revenge, finding her way to the fantastic titular home of the naughty, heart-stealing wizard Howl. The setting is both familiar and fresh, with a lot of standard fantasy tropes put to good use, and it sneaks in a bit of Jones’s iconic multiverse-hopping as well. It’s a love story, but it’s also about overcoming self-doubt and finding one’s place in the world, about righting wrongs and healing hurts and taking a stand when it really counts.

The second is A Matter of Magic by Patricia C. Wrede, which collects her books Mairelon the Magician and The Magician’s Ward. These are alternate history Regency fantasies set in and around London, telling the story of Kim, a street thief hired to break into the wagon of a stage magician named Mairelon. He turns out to be an actual wizard trying to solve the mystery of the theft of powerful magical artifacts, and he conscripts Kim into helping him, dragging her into a world of intrigue and conspiracy–even murder. While the Regency setting may attract readers who enjoy authors like Mary Robinette Kowal, the language and narrative concerns share less in common with Jane Austen and others of that period; it’s more Cinderella than Sense and Sensibility. Assuming Cinderella was an accomplished lock-picker, that is.

Neither book is flawless; if you’re fed up with fairly traditional narratives and characters, you may want to look elsewhere. But if the well-worn paths of happily ever after still entice you, these books may be just the treat you need to sweeten a foul mood.

Charlie Jane Anders
Charlie Jane Anders is the author of All the Birds in the Sky, a novel about a witch and a mad scientist who grow up together and maybe save the world. She’s a founding editor of io9.

No question, the world is not giving us a lot to laugh about lately, unless it’s some kind of misanthropic, sardonic, dark chuckle at the awfulness of the world. Over at io9, I recently posted a whole list of fun, escapist books that can help you get through this horrendous year with your sanity intact. But if I had to focus on just one thing that could help keep you laughing instead of weeping uncontrollably throughout 2016, I’m going to go with the Stainless Steel Rat series by Harry Harrison. There are no words for how much fun these books are, and how much of your recommended daily allowance of adventure and snarky ne’er-do-well action they contain.

They even include a book where the Stainless Steel Rat runs for president! (But don’t worry—it’s way too ridiculous to remind you of anything happening now…Oh, wait. Well, maybe skip that one.) Eventually “Slippery” Jim DiGriz meets his match in a formerly psychopathic criminal, and they even have kids. Whenever you think these books can’t get more out of control, they do.

Diana Pharaoh Francis
Diana Pharaoh Francis writes books of a fantastical, adventurous, and often romantic nature. Her award-nominated books include The Path series, the Horngate Witches series, the Crosspointe Chronicles, and Diamond City Magic books, and the Mission:Magic series. She’s owned by two corgis, spends much of her time herding children, and likes rocks, geocaching, knotting up yarn, and has a thing for 1800s England, especially the Victorians. For more about her writing, visit www.dianapfrancis.com. She can also be found on twitter as @dianapfrancis.
 

This is a perfect topic for me, because I’m totally into popcorn entertainment these days. I’m looking for fun and snark with lots of action and hopefully some romance in the mix. I’m going to just toss out the recent stuff that I’ve liked a lot. First up, I’ll get the TV popcorn out of the way. That would be Lucifer. The character is just lovely fun and the interactions with Linda, his psychiatrist, just kill me. I hope it gets renewed. Another one is Galavant. Sheer silly humor a la Monty Python or Mel Brooks. Just watch. It’s wonderful.

Now books. I just have been rereading Seanan McGuire’s InCryptid series. The latest one, Chaos Choreography, just came out. This series is just so fun. Funny moments, funny critters and Verity’s family is priceless. The characters are so well-written. But I will say that I’d have read the whole series just for the religious mice. Another book that just came out is the latest in Lisa Shearin’s SPI Files. The Brimstone Deception is the third. Again, a lot of humor and silly moments, while still having real characters. It’s set in New York City, and the SPI is an unofficial police network designed to protect the supernaturals and keep them in line. It’s sort of a police procedural with CSI elements and cool crimes and bad guys, all mixed up with a light story-telling touch.

Last, I’m a huge huge huge fan of Jane Austen. Just a few days ago, C.E. Murphy released Magic and Manners, a story that’s both a retelling of Pride and Prejudice, while still being a story all on its own. It’s so well written. I love all the characters and the women are far more rounded, especially the Lydia-equivalent character. The main concept change is a story of manners around magic being nothing a good family should have, and yet the Dover family happens to be infected with it and must hide it if the girls hope to marry. I have loved all of Murphy’s books, but this one is my very favorite.

Oh, I lied. There is one more fabulous popcorn read that you must read. It’s called Thinning the Herd by Adrian Phoenix. It came out in January. Our intrepid hero is Hal Rupert, dogcatcher. His weapon of choice–a catchpole. He’s on a mission to protect Eugene, Oregon’s hippies from whatever is killing them, while protecting his beloved Desdemona, who works at Hot Topic and insists on acting like he’s some sort of stalker-pervert, even though she actually loves him. It’s all about point of view, don’t you know. This book starts out as sheer parody, and then melds with real story and is so delightful. It’s totally popcorn fun.

I hope you get a chance to experience these books for yourself. You won’t regret it.

Ursula Vernon
Ursula Vernon is the author of the Hugo-award winning comic Digger and a great many books for kids. She writes fairy-tale retellings for adults under the name T. Kingfisher, and promises that they all mostly have happy endings. Her latest T. Kingfisher book is a retelling of the Snow Queen called The Raven and the Reindeer.
 

Some days it seems like the only place to find happy endings is in fiction, so I’m glad that I have authors to turn to for those moments when things are looming dark on the horizon.

First off, I highly recommend the work of Robin McKinley. No matter how harrowing, there is always the promise that things will work out in the end. (Just don’t start with Pegasus, an as-yet unfinished duology that ends in a very dark place indeed.) The same can be said for Juliet Marrilier—her heroines frequently go through hell and back, usually by way of Faerie, in an alternate-world Ireland, but one can generally be assured that in the end, they’ll win. And I appreciate that.

For those who have not discovered the work of the late, great Eva Ibbotson — well, you have a great deal of joy ahead of you! Primarily known as an author of children’s fantasy, she can stand with Diana Wynne Jones (another great) for delightful magical worlds and characters that you genuinely want to spend time with. (For that matter, if you have not read Diana Wynne Jones, go forth at once and do so!) These are books that end up on the comfort shelf, to be read and re-read in times when you just need to spend a few moments in a world where things will end right.

In terms of games, there is nothing that leaves me with more glum despair than a game where all choices are bad and everything seems futile. (Dragon Age: Origins, I’m looking in your direction!) But I had a great deal of fun with the third game in the series, Dragon Age: Inquisition, where people may do terribly horrible things and the world is more or less falling apart, but you and your band of oddballs generally managed to come through and save the world. There’s even a few characters that don’t have a horribly tormented backstory and just seem to be enjoying life, which you learn to appreciate in a world of grimdark storytelling.

And for pure exploratory fun, the game that’s kept me captivated recently is Subnautica, still in early access on Steam, a glorious underwater sandbox where you crash on an alien planet and have to make tools, build bases, avoid terrifying monsters, and explore the world to survive. There’s not much plot yet—hints only as to the storyline to come—but for sheer open-mouthed wonder, this game beats anything I’ve played recently hollow. It’s gorgeous and full of alien sea-life, some of which look like fish and some of which look…well…alien. I find myself building bases just so that I have a place to stand so I can look at all the things. It’s got all the flaws of an early access game, but if you are the sort of person (like me) who takes delight in building a base with carefully labeled storage lockers to hold all your raw materials, this game is incredibly addictive. (By god, my desk in reality may be a midden, but I have built an organization system in-game to make strong men weep!) Add in the ability to hunt down seeds to grow in your bases, and capturing wildlife for your aquariums, and it has consumed hours of my life in a lovely, brightly colored world where the worst that happens it that I am occasionally devoured, ship and all, by screaming monsters called Sea Reapers. But other than that, it’s a delight!

Penny Reeve
Penny Reeve is publicity manager at Angry Robot. When she’s not wrangling authors or reading sci-fi she writes for various publications and spends far too much time with her cat. You can find her on Twitter @PenelopeBabs.

BOOKSThe Brenda and Effie Mysteries
I adore Paul Magrs’ Brenda and Effie Mysteries series. Set in Whitby (the ‘home of Dracula’) the series follows Brenda, a B&B owner, and her friend Effie who runs the antiques shop next door, as they navigate a series of mysterious events and supernatural beings. The series captures perfectly the quaint and quirky nature of the British while having fun with supernatural tropes and is perfect to curl up with when you need a bit of TLC. Serve with a cup of tea, a blanket and your favourite animal for cuddles.

PODCASTSThe Message, Limetown,
Podcasts are pure escapism for me, and a great way to wind down after work. Since Serial had the entire world in its clutches there have been a slew of brilliant sci-fi podcasts created with that great pseudo-journalistic style that really appeals to me. A couple of favourites of late have been The Message, created by GE Podcast Theatre, in which our intrepid reporter has to uncover the meaning of a recording sent from outer space, and Limetown by Two-Up Productions, a mystery about an abandoned town.

GRAPHIC NOVELSSaga
Although I’ve only just finished the first volume in the series, I’m really enjoying Saga, written by Brian K Vaughan and illustrated by Fiona Staples. The issues presented in the series – forbidden love, family values, race and war – are far from light and fluffy but the combination of great writing and beautiful artwork had me absorbed in Alana, Marko and Hazel’s world from the first page.

TV SHOWS
Recently I’ve been watching Shadowhunters on Netflix, a new episode of which is being released each week in the UK. The acting isn’t fantastic and the SFX leaves a lot to be desired but I’m hooked by a combination of supernatural creatures (fairies, angels, werewolves AND vampires?!) and the ability to blend a coming-of-age tale with the fantastical so well. Clary’s attitude is also refreshing, too – I like to see a female protagonist, in a YA fantasy, who is kickass. I’m yet to read Cassandra Clare’s The Mortal Instruments, which the show – and ill-fated movie – is based on but it’s definitely now on my ‘to-read’ list.

Erin Lindsey
Erin Lindsey is the author of the Bloodbound series and the Nicolas Lenoir series (writing as E.L. Tettensor). Her latest, The Bloodforged, is a finalist for the RT Reviewers’ Choice award for Best Epic Fantasy of 2015. The third installment in the trilogy, The Bloodsworn, is due from Ace in September 2016. You can find her on the web atErin-Lindsey.com or on Twitter @etettensor.

This topic is totally my jam. Most of what I read, and much of what I write, falls into the self-consciously fun category. But it’s a harder habit to sustain these days than it used to be, especially in SF/F. Lately it seems as if fun is a commodity in decline – precisely when we need it most. What we need is Han Solo; what we get is Kylo Ren. So with the return of Game of Thrones imminent and Batman vs. Superman glowering its way through a theatre near you, it’s a good moment to sit back and reflect on some good reading and viewing that isn’t a total bummer. For me, that involves a lot of back catalogue – as well as some things to look forward to, hopefully.

Guardians of the Galaxy was the most fun I’ve had in space in years. Before that, you pretty much had to go all the way back to Firefly/Serenity. I chose these two examples specifically not only because they were a joy to watch, but because they reflect very different styles and approaches to fun. Guardians is fluff. It’s not trying to be thought-provoking; it’s just a romp through space with a macguffin and a dark lord and a band of misfits – starring a talking raccoon, a bramble, a Star Trek-style green woman, and a hero who calls himself Star-Lord. It’s a trope salad with silly sauce, and I can’t wait for another helping. Serenity, meanwhile, is a good example of a movie that’s both fun and thought-provoking (since, as any skilled humourist knows, these things needn’t be mutually exclusive). Firefly, the series on which Serenity is based, was arguably fluffier; we had the vague sense that this space western was going somewhere, but we never got to see it. Serenity, though, unmistakably had a message, one worthy of “serious” SciFi, about human nature and the quest for perfection. I would take Firefly over The Expanse any day (and not just because I can actually understand the dialogue).

Before coming out of orbit, I have to give a shout-out to the late Alan Rickman and Galaxy Quest – or, as I like to call it, Three Amigos in Space. It’s an old one, but if you haven’t seen it, by Grabthar’s Hammer, get on that.

Speaking of the oldies, one of my all-time favourite franchises was Indiana Jones, so I was pretty stoked to hear about the new one coming out. (That’s assuming it’s more Raiders/Last Crusade than Crystal Skull, but I choose to be optimistic.) There were a lot of secrets to Indy’s success, including a wry but charming protagonist, non-stop adventure, and a series of exotic locales. Hopefully the new movie will pick up on those same winning ingredients, but in the meantime, fellow Indy fans should check out Kristi Charish’s Owl series, starting with Owl and the Japanese Circus and the recently-released Owl and the City of Angels. Owl’s modern-day treasure hunting romp has the fast pace and wry asides we love, but ups Indy’s ante by throwing in some dragons, vampires, and even more exotic locations.

If I was going to give a prize for the most fun I’ve had in fiction recently, though, it would have to go to Naomi Novik’s Uprooted. Chances are you’ve heard of it, and if you haven’t, or just haven’t managed to get around to it yet, do yourself a favour and check it out. Uprooted is a beautifully-crafted fairytale in the traditional sense, and that means it has a message – one so subtle, so organic, that it weaves its way into your consciousness with such grace that you’ll barely realize it’s there. That’s something few books – “serious” or “fun” – manage to achieve, and yet more proof that a book can leave you happy and thoughtful at the end. Personally, that’s exactly where I want to be.


About Paul Weimer (366 Articles)
Not really a Prince of Amber, but rather an ex-pat New Yorker that has found himself living in Minnesota, Paul Weimer has been reading SF and Fantasy for over 30 years and exploring the world of roleplaying games for over 25 years. Almost as long as he has been reading and watching movies, he has enjoyed telling people what he has thought of them. In addition to SF Signal, he can be found at his own blog, Blog Jvstin Style, Skiffy and Fanty, SFF Audio, Twitter, and many other places on the Internet!

5 Comments on [MIND MELD] Our Recent Faves from the Lighter Side of Genre

  1. For those who want to go a little – okay, maybe a lot – more old school, find some stories or novels by Keith Laumer, who displays both great imagination and a very funny side. Also, if you haven’t read anything by Christopher Anvil. Both are in print.

  2. Rene Sears // March 31, 2016 at 12:23 pm //

    I also want to add DC Bombshells, which is a 1940s alternate history comic book which features baseball heroine Batwoman, Wonder Woman and Aquawoman (“what a horrible name!”), and Zatanna and bunny John Constantine. BUNNY JOHN CONSTANTINE. It’s delightful.

  3. Ben Aaronovitch’s Rivers of London series. Multicultural hero, not your father’s London, Newtonian magic, milliYaps. Helps to have a Brit dictionary handy (thank goodness the American publishers left the slang alone).

  4. Thanks for the great lists. I’ve already started downloading some to my Kindle. Fun fantasy is what I like best of all!
    C.B. Pratt
    Author of the Eno the Thracian Series

  5. That Laura Pearlman flash fic story is awesome! Order of the Stick is a great find too.

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