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MIND MELD: The Genre Stories That Tickle Our Funny Bones

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With the Kickstarter campaign under way for the fourth installment in the Unidentified Funny Objects anthology series, we thought it was the perfect opportunity to find out the answer to this question…

Q: What are your favorite funny genre short stories?

Alex Shvartsman

Alex Shvartsman is a writer and game designer. His adventures so far have included traveling to over 30 countries, playing a card game for a living, and building a successful business. Alex resides in Brooklyn, NY with his wife and son.

Since 2010, Alex sold over 60 short stories to a variety of magazines and anthologies. His fiction has appeared in such venues as the journal of Nature, Daily Science Fiction, InterGalactic Medicine Show, Galaxy’s Edge, and many others.

“Alex edits Unidentified Funny Objects — an annual anthology series of humorous science fiction and fantasy short stories. He’s also the editor of Coffee and Dark Expanse anthologies.

“Everybody kills Hitler on their first trip.”

I’ve been reading and appreciating humorous short fiction for a long time. Most of my favorites are classic, pulpy stories that often rely on clever and amusing resolutions to pull the story together. Fredric Brown, Robert Silverberg, Robert Sheckley, and Isaac Asimov were masters of the short story and of flash fiction (then commonly called the short-short), back in the 1950s and 1960s. I would be hard pressed to choose a single favorite from among their work. Yet it’s easy for me to point out my overall favorite funny story, and it’s the much more recent “Wikihistory” by Desmond Warzel, originally published at Abyss & Apex in 2007.

This wacky time travel flash is clever, erudite, and manages to coherently tell a story using a non-traditional narrative (in this case, a series of messages on an online forum). I’m reluctant to discuss it in greater detail because it’s such a short piece, but I strongly recommend that readers interested in humorous SF don’t miss this one.

As an editor of a humorous anthology series, I’ve been privileged to read (and publish) many authors I greatly admire: Mike Resnick, Esther Friesner, Gini Koch, Jody Lynn Nye to name a few who can reliably be counted on to tell a funny and entertaining story. But I’ve been also privileged to read some very funny work from the rising stars of the field (both for my anthologies and elsewhere). Some of the newer authors I highly recommend are Oliver Buckram, Matt Mikalatos and James Beamon.

Mike Resnick
Mike Resnick is, according to Locus, the all-time leading award winner for short fiction. He has 5 Hugos, a Nebula, and other major awards from the USA, France, Japan, Croatia, Catalinia, Poland and Spain. Mike is also the author of 75 novels, close to 300 works of short fiction, and three screenplays, and the editor of 41 anthologies. He’s currently the editor of Galaxy’s Edge magazine and the Stellar Guild line of books. Mike Resnick was the Guest of Honor at the 2012 Worldcon.

My favorite humorous stories are by the late Bob Sheckley, and once you start there’s almost no stopping. There’s “Street of Dreams, Feet of Clay” and “Cordle to Onion to Carrot” and “Shall We Have a Little Talk?” and “The Accountant” and “The Language of Love,” and the list goes on and on. He was simply in a class by himself.

Which isn’t to say he was our only humorist. Tom Gerencer broke into print with “Primordial Chili” and has been turning out one funny piece after another for the past 15 years.

Connie Willis has a score of them. Probably my favorite of hers is “The Soul Selects Its Own Society.”

Barry Malzberg isn’t known for his humor – an understatement – but “A Delightful Comedic Premise” is as funny as you could want.

Misty Lackey did one I love (and reprinted) titled “Aliens Ate My Pick-up.”

Ron Goulart has spent a career being funny; I think his funniest is “The Robot Who Came to Dinner.”

I’m especially fond of Janis Ian’s “Conversation With a Breeder,” at least partially because I’m the subject of it.

Henry Kuttner’s five Gallagher stories are certainly among the most amusing of their era.

Fred Brown wasn’t quite the wit Sheckley was, but he could be damned funny, and like Sheckley he wrote too damned many to list.

And if I can conclude with a personal plug, over the years I’ve sold over 50 Lucifer Jones stories and a dozen Harry the Book stories, and they amuse enough people that editors keep buying ’em.

David Steffen
David Steffen writes fiction and code. He is the co-founder of the Submission Grinder, a reviewer for SF Signal, and the editor of Diabolical Plots which is now a publisher of original fiction–the first story is “Taste the Whip” by Andy Dudak. His fiction has been published in many great venues including Escape Pod and Daily Science Fiction.

FSF May 1958The one that comes to mind is an oldie: “Gorilla Suit” by John Shepley, published in F&SF way back in the May 1958 issue under editor Anthony Boucher. The protagonist of the story is a gorilla who lives at a zoo, but it’s clear from page one that this is no ordinary gorilla–it’s working on a crossword puzzle as the crowds watch. As it flips through the paper it sees a classified ad that says “a job for a man with a gorilla suit or a gorilla.” The gorilla muses over the ambiguous wording, whether the “or a gorilla” means a “man with a gorilla” or if a gorilla is also an acceptable applicant. Deciding it’s worth a shot, the gorilla heads across town to apply for the job.

The best humorists make their work look easy, but humor is hard. And humor that ages well is much, much harder–as social norms change and styles of humors with them, so it’s a special delight to read a story from more than fifty years ago that hasn’t lost any of its humorous edge. Unfortunately, I believe “Gorilla Suit” is not in print anywhere, and is still covered by copyright, so it’s very hard to find. I picked up a ’50s era “Best of F&SF” anthology at a library sale for fifty cents and this happened to be in there.

I feel like I should mention at least one story that readers can easily find.  I like to laugh, and I listen to hundreds of short stories in audio every year, so I could list any number of other stories.  If I had to pick just one, though, I’d say “The Shunned Trailer” by Esther Friesner that ran on Escape Pod in November 2013, a Lovecraft parody taking place in a modern rural setting, and read by the most perfectly suitable reader possible for it–Norm Sherman.

Aidan Doyle
Aidan Doyle is an Australian writer and computer programmer. He has visited more than 80 countries and his experiences include teaching English in Japan, interviewing ninjas in Bolivia and going ten-pin bowling in North Korea. His interactive fiction game, Bolivia by Night, features a talking Che Guevara T-shirt and the ghost of Klaus Barbie. His stories have been published in Lightspeed, Strange Horizons and Fireside and he has been shortlisted for Australia’s Aurealis Award. Website: http://www.aidandoyle.net. Twitter: @aidan_doyle

I have a preference for humor that is dark, clever and absurd. Much of the humor in novels and TV shows derives from character. Granny Weatherwax and George Costanza are funny no matter what they are doing. It’s harder to achieve this familiarity with character in short fiction. One of the advantages of short stories is that they can present unusual scenarios or ideas in which it would be difficult to sustain the humor in a longer work. A prime example of this is David Rakoff’s “Samsa and Seuss.” Upon turning into a cockroach, the protagonist of Kafka’s “The Metamorphosis” reaches out to Dr. Seuss for help.

(This American Life podcast the story here.)

Desmond Warzel’s much-loved “Wikihistory” is an example of a brilliant idea executed perfectly in the short story format. What really would happen if time travelers went back to kill Hitler and then bragged about it online? The story derives much of its humor from capturing the essence of the absurdity of many online arguments.

Similarly Lucy A. Snyder’s “Installing Linux on a Dead Badger: User’s Notes” is the kind of humor that works best as a short piece.

Karen Joy Fowler’s brilliant “The Faithful Companion at Forty” circumvents the problem of creating familiar characters in short fiction by building on existing characters from popular culture and adding her own insights. A long-suffering sidekick questions whether he has made the right life choices.

Terry Bisson’s “Bears Discover Fire” is perhaps not laugh out loud funny but the story is full of gentle and bittersweet whimsy. And bears!

Oliver Buckram’s “Half a Conversation, Overheard While Inside an Enormous Sentient Slug” is clever, funny and arguably the definitive murder mystery featuring a sentient slug.

Ken Scholes’ “Making My Entrance Again With My Usual Flair” is about a clown that gets mixed up in a government conspiracy. The story is full of wry observations, beginning with its opening line: “No one ever asks a clown at the end of his life what he really wanted to be when he grew up.”

Finally, when it comes to absurdist genre short fiction, Howard Waldrop has to get a mention. His “The Ugly Chickens explains that dodos might not have gone extinct; they just got mistaken for ugly chickens.

Tina Connolly
Tina Connolly is the Nebula-nominated author of the Ironskin trilogy from Tor Books. Her next book, Seriously Wicked, comes out May 5th from Tor Teen. Her stories have appeared in Women Destroy SF, Lightspeed, Tor.com, Strange Horizons, and more. Her narrations have appeared in audiobooks and podcasts including Podcastle, Pseudopod, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, and more. She runs the Parsec-winning flash fiction podcast Toasted Cake.

One of my first introductions to funny genre stories was the collection Smart Dragons, Foolish Elves (ed. Alan Dean Foster & Martin Harry Greenberg). I read and re-read this book when I was a teenager. It was my first introduction to Nina Kiriki Hoffman, due to her hilariously offbeat story “Savage Breasts” in that volume, and to Anthony Boucher (I tracked down The Compleat Werewolf).

A lot of the funny stories I’ve encountered recently are flash. I’ve scooped up a number of them to run on the Toasted Cake podcast. Flash is a really great place for humor—your story has to be neatly and tightly constructed, and flash is just the right length for a little sting in the tail.

Not playing favorites here, but a couple of Toasted Cake stories spring to mind that are also available for you to read online. One is David Steffen’s “This Is Your Problem Right Here” (first in Daily SF), which has a good solid golden age humor feel to it. Another is C. L. Holland’s “A Primary Function” (first in Every Day Fiction), which just makes me crack up anytime I even think about the premise to myself. I won’t spoil it for you; just go check it out.

A funny flash story I love that Norm snapped up for Drabblecast is Oliver Buckram’s “Half a Conversation, Overheard While Inside an Enormous Sentient Slug.” It first ran in F&SF, but you can also read it over at Drabblecast.

In the department of things I’m looking forward to, I have a copy of Alex Shvartsman’s humorous anthology UFO 3 sitting here on my bookshelf that I’m dying to get to. (Full disclosure: I have a story in it.) I’m running Caroline M. Yoachim’s flash story out of this volume, “Carla at the Off-Planet Tax Return Helpline,” on Toasted Cake in mid-April to coincide with tax season. So if you, too, are tired of figuring out how to file for your collective of “three hundred fifty-two conscious entities melded into one harmonious being for over five thousand years, and also Bob,” then listen to this story and it will all be made clear.

And lastly, in the full-length stories department, I just helped record one piece of an awesome full-cast story for Beneath Ceaseless Skies that’s going to run as a very special 150th episode this May. I am bound by oath not to say anymore, but it’s hilarious and you should all check it out.

Sam Bellotto Jr.
Sam Bellotto Jr. is currently editor of the online science fiction magazine Perihelion. He founded the magazine in 1967, when he was still a journalism student at Long Island University, along with classmate Eric M. Jones. It was a print magazine back then; but print was prohibitively expensive. Sam could not afford the publication and distribution costs so he put the magazine on hiatus while he pursued a 40-year career in journalism. After he retired, Sam realized that he had the opportunity to bring back Perihelion as a webzine. It resumed publication in November 2012.

I’ve been a fan of humorous science fiction since I began reading the genre, which was a long time ago. I can’t recall all the titles and authors. Most of the big names wrote humorous tales, too. Like Asimov, Clarke, Bradbury, Harrison. Keith Laumer’s “Retief” stories were always a favorite. I recall that Galaxy published more comedy than F&SF or Analog, but this may be my foggy perception only.

Douglas Adams’ Hitchhiker’s Guide came along when I was an adult.

These days, my penchant for good, funny science fiction is reflected in my online science fiction magazine, Perihelion, that I edit. Among the up-and-coming authors who do a terrific job writing with a humorous bent are Chet Gottfried and Tim McDaniel. We’ve published several stories by both of them. In the November 2013 issue we published “Chickenzilla” by Molly N. Moss, which is one of the funniest science fiction pieces I’ve ever run across. But I have a warped sense of humor.

I find it a bit curious that there isn’t much more humorous science fiction being published these days. I’ve even noticed that on some webzine’s submission pages, funny stories are almost prohibited. Seems more than odd to me. Back in the day, when I attended science fiction conventions regularly and they weren’t overtaken by the cosplay crowd, science fiction enthusiasts had an exceptional sense of humor in addition to their sense of wonder.

But I’m getting old and grouchy.

Gini Koch
Gini Koch writes the fast, fresh, and funny Alien/Katherine “Kitty” Katt series for DAW Books, the Necropolis Enforcement Files series, and the Martian Alliance Chronicles series. She’s also made the most of multiple personality disorder by writing in all lengths and under a variety of pen names – including G.J. Koch, Anita Ensal, Jemma Chase, A.E. Stanton, and J.C. Koch – and in a variety of genres – including Science Fiction, Fantasy, Paranormal, Urban Fantasy, Horror, Mystery, and Suspense. Buy her books – her meds don’t come free, you know. Reach her via www.ginikoch.com.

Every time someone asks me for favorites in a specific category my mind tends to cough up one name and then go blank. And this time is no exception. So thanks for that.

This question is a tough one for me in other ways, too. I read a lot of humor shorts, but very few of them are in science fiction, fantasy, or horror. In those genres, I tend to read and adore funny novels (like Robert Lynn Asprin’s Myth series, Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series, Douglas Adams’ Hitchhiker’s Guide series, and Good Omens by Pratchett and Neil Gaiman). And while P.J. O’Rourke writes about politics and government frequently – and that certainly qualifies as horror – he’s not a genre writer.

However – and this is going to sound like just so much sucking up, but it’s honestly not – the Unidentified Funny Objects editor, Alex Shvartsman, has a short story collection, Explaining Cthulhu to Grandma and Other Stories, that has some truly hilarious shorts in it, and they cover all three genres. Not every story in the collection is funny, but the funny ones are really funny. “Explaining Cthulhu to Grandma,” “The Tinker Bell Problem,” “High Tech Fairies and the Pandora Perplexity,” and “How the Earth Narrowly Escaped an Invasion From Space” make me giggle every time I read them.

I also always found Isaac Asimov’s Black Widowers mysteries to be funny, just because no matter how brilliant the Black Widowers think they are, it’s their waiter, Henry, who solves the mysteries every time. And Larry Niven’s “Man of Steel, Woman of Kleenex” is both funny and a piece that influenced a tremendous number of writers who created stories both serious and funny based on aspects of Niven’s original musings.

I’m sure that Robert Silverberg, whose writing I adore, wrote some short funny stuff over the years, but I cannot come up with any titles, so I am a total fangirl fail on that front. Same again for L.E. Modesitt, Jr. (As soon as I turn this in, of course, every title of every funny SF/F/H piece I’ve ever read will come flowing back to me. But those are the risks one takes when one accepts a Mind Meld invitation.)

Of course, I also think every story in the Unidentified Funny Objects 3 anthology is hilarious (and not only because I’ve got a story in it, but yeah, that’s a good reason) – and hey, one of those stories is “Company Store” by Robert Silverberg, so I’m not a total fangirl fail after all – and I know it’ll be the same for UFO 4. When the editor is funny, it’s a given that the stories said editor takes are going to be funny, too.

Cat Rambo
Cat Rambo lives, writes, and edits in the Pacific Northwest. Her work has appeared in such places as Asimov’sWeird Tales, and Strange Horizons. She was the fiction editor of award-winning Fantasy Magazine (http://www.fantasy-magazine.com).

I don’t write many funny stories myself, because humor is a difficult art form, and so painful when done badly. The bar’s been set pretty high already, and one of the people doing that has been Spider Robinson in his Callahan’s Crosstime Saloon series.

The books hit me at one of those ages where you’re being shaped by what you read — the early teens — and I know they changed me for the better with the ideas they exposed me to, which were not common in northern Indiana at the time. Some of my belief in the innate kindness of human beings, in the generosity of strangers, and the power of love to redeem mistakes comes from reading those stories.

They’re full of puns and shaggy dog stories, jokes constructed lovingly, brilliantly, delivered for maximum howl — just before they launch you into a story that talks about human beings, and pain, and how humor helps us hold it all together. It’s a kind humor, not a mean one that relies on the effect of throwing linguistic poo at the star-bellied sneetches, and that is something increasingly less common nowadays, or so it sometimes seems.

I want to talk about a particular one, “The Time-Traveler.” It’s a simple story, and it starts on Punday Night, “a weekly attraction” involving, as you might suspect, an onslaught of puns. And then in the middle of it comes our time-traveler. Certainly not the only one that the saloon will see over the course of time, but an unusual one, someone who has moved ten years not by virtue of technology but because he’s been imprisoned. As you can see, it’s not entirely an F&SF story, but that’s one of the nice things about Callahan’s — it serves all types.

It’s a lovely story of despair and redemption, and that redemption comes from humor. From a willingness to use it to transmute pain:

The little minister looked at him for a long spell, and then he began to laugh. It was a different kind of laugh than we’d heard from him before: it had no ragged edges and no despair in it. It was a full, deep belly-laugh, and instead of grating on our nerves like a knife on piano wire it made us feel warm and proud and relieved. Kind of a tribute to our act.

To me, that’s what good humor does — reminds us that we’re all in this together, and that humor can heal, as long as it’s kind. If you haven’t read the series, I highly recommend the stories. They are wonderful and funny and oh so very human.

Jim C. Hines
Jim C. Hines is the author of eleven fantasy novels, including the Magic ex Libris series, the Princess series of fairy tale retellings, the humorous Goblin Quest trilogy, and the Fable Legends tie-in Blood of Heroes. He’s an active blogger, and won the 2012 Hugo Award for Best Fan Writer. He lives in mid-Michigan with his family.

One of my all time favorites is Terry Bisson’s “They’re Made Out of Meat.” In some ways, it’s a very simple story. Short, with nothing but dialogue between a couple of aliens trying to understand how meat-based intelligence could possibly exist, and yet it has a wonderfully powerful punch at the end. It’s clever and perfectly crafted for what it is.

Going a little broader, I’ve always loved Esther Friesner’s Chicks in Chainmail series. Some of the stories in each anthology are stronger than others, but they all involve a fun, good-humored takedown of the old bikini-armored warrior woman trope. Contributors have included Jody Lynn Nye, Roger Zelazny, Harry Turtledove, Elizabeth Moon, Wen Spencer, and more. Very much worth checking out.

It might be pushing the definitions a bit, but I’ve also been a long-time fan of the web comic The Order of the Stick. It’s a send-up of Dungeons and Dragons, and is slowly closing in on its 1000th strip. The creator isn’t updating as often these days, unfortunately. But many of the individual strips and storylines are alternately brilliant, hilarious, and at times even touching. (Though, because my sense of humor is stuck at age 12, strip 418 will always be one of my favorites.)

Deborah Walker
Deborah Walker grew up in the most English town in the country, but she soon high-tailed it down to London, where she now lives with her partner, Chris, and her two young children. Find Deborah in the British Museum trawling the past for future inspiration or on her blog. Her stories have appeared in Nature’s Futures, Cosmos, Daily Science Fiction and The Year’s Best SF 18 and have been translated into a dozen languages.

Reading rarely makes me laugh out loud, not like a film or a TV show. Reading doesn’t make me cry, either. Perhaps I’m hard. But I love reading funny stories. Funny can be a lot of things: it can challenge taboos; satirise, flensing to the bone; it can even make you smile.

These are my favourite funny stories of recent times:

A Letter From Your Mother” by Sylvia Spruck Wrigley Daily Science Fiction. 2014.

The Wanderers” by Bonnie Jo Stufflebeam. Clarkesworld. 2013

Space Travel Loses Its Allure When You’ve Lost Your Moon Cup” by Sylvia Spruck Wrigley. Crossed Genres  2014

A Letter From Your Mother” is the first letter in the Postmark Andromeda series published by Daily Science Fiction.

Just how far do you have to travel to get away from an overbearing mother? This story is a letter from Mom to her space-faring daughter. It’s a letter of man-catching advice with gems like: “Choose your undergarments carefully; think how they’ll look if you die. Don’t wear the bright red lipstick; it makes you look trampy. (Will there be an on-board beauty parlor?) Wear a happy and confident smile no matter what the circumstances. Look after your feet.”

Mom reveals that she’s added presents to her daughter’s luggage including champagne and a  black silk negligée for potentially romantic situations. Mom’s also removed the tranquilizer darts and the stun gun because surely the nice young soldiers will be able to defend her daughter.

The humour comes from Mom’s extreme character and the discordance between reality and Mom’s mind. Mom values only her daughter’s man-catching ability. In Mom’s mind, I’m sure she’s being a caring mother. To everyone else: eeek! Throw a dollop of passive-aggressiveness when Mom forgives her daughter for missing her birthday 172 times to the mother-knows-best advice and you have a very funny character story.

“The Wanderers” by Bonnie Jo Stufflebeam is a story of misunderstanding.  A family of aliens travel to Earth after viewing films broadcast into space. They enjoy Kill Bill, Saw and Vietnam and Columbine Massacre. They journey to Earth to meet humanity, a like-minded sentient folk. And, dissatisfied with their all too passive subjects, the aliens are looking for a new race to subjugate.

But what do you know, when they get to Earth, everyone’s missing. This is a post-apocalyptic Earth, a land of black sand under days of a burning sun, and freezing cold nights. Earth’s sky is full of crows and the human race is dead, reduced to small piles of ash.  The wanderers are would-be conquerors, but humanity has already succumbed to some terrible catastrophe.

The humour comes from the incongruity of the premise, and from the observations the aliens make as they explore Earth’s empty cities. They wander bewildered in extreme cultural dislocation: cars are beast machines and must be weapons, a couch with too many pillows is an unsolvable mystery.

Funny stories are often written with a matter-of-fact tone. “The Wanderers” is striking for its lyrical prose. This adds another layer of incongruity to the story. Bonnie’s lucid prose even manages to make me feel sorry for the would-be alien conquerors. The wanderers yearn so badly to consume and rule us that humanity’s absence feels very much like a betrayal.

My third recommendation is another story from Sylvia. Our embarrassing bodies have been amusing us for millennia, but it’s rare to read a funny spec story based on female biology. Even the title makes me smile: “Space Travel Loses Its Allure When You’ve Lost Your Moon Cup.”

Just what do you do when your moon cup gets sucked from your fingers down the relief tube and you’ve got another seven months of space travel to endure?

In additional to some very witty one-liners, the humour in this story comes from incongruity: the romance of space travel versus the very prosaic nature of our physicality. A year’s supply of toilet paper and tampons are too bulky for the hold, so wet wipes and moon cups for women spacefarers are a practical solution. When the main character becomes moon cupless, she decides to beg “straight-laced feminist” Sumina for menstruation-stopping birth control pills. Sumina and the tough-talking hero are very different characters, but what I particularly enjoyed was this story’s emotional layers. As it develops, the story reveals itself to be an exploration about intimacy, not only the intimacy of the female body, but the intimacy of women’s friendships.

And, as a special treat, I direct you to this incredibly not suitable for work podcast: http://ge.tt/6Aw3wdo1/v/0?c. This is a very short rap by the Marine Rapper, Rsionic, commissioned by Sylvia, based on her story. And it’s something that made me laugh out loud when I heard it.

Robert Lowell Russell
Robert Lowell Russell lives with his family in Ohio. He once aspired to be a history professor but found writing about the real world too constraining. Rob has had more than thirty stories published and likes to write about all sorts of things, frequently including action and humor in his work. Not satisfied with writing stories of questionable content for adults, he’s also working on a series of middle school books incorporating his love of mad scientists and not-so-super-heroes. For links to more of Rob’s work please visit http://robertlowellrussell.com/.

I have a confession to make. Though I write a lot of short stories, many of them humorous, I prefer reading novels to short fiction. Sadly, the world got a little less funny recently with the death of my favorite humorous writer, Terry Pratchett. But whether our worlds are round or flat, we writers can only pause long enough to wipe away a stray tear and offer Sir Terry a respectful tip of our wizard hats before we have to start plugging away again at our own work.

Without an ounce of shame or humility, I have to say that one my favorite humorous, short fiction writers is me, and that makes sense, because I know exactly what it is that I find funny and I always laugh at my own jokes (even when I’m only being polite). But if I only ever read what I wrote, I’d get good and sick of myself, which is why I find it such a joy to discover short stories by other writers.

Oliver Buckram is probably my new favorite writer. The way he mixes the absurd seamlessly into the ordinary can lead to a lot of laugh-out-loud moments. It can be a bit harder to come by short stories if you don’t subscribe to the major speculative fiction magazines, so my list of Oliver’s work is by no means exhaustive, but I enjoyed his “Meow Meow Bang Bang,” “When Robot Mermaids Attack” and “Half a Conversation, Overheard While Inside an Enormous Sentient Slug.”

Alex Shvartsman’s “Explaining Cthulhu to Grandma” is also very funny and available in Alex’s short story collection of the same name. Alex is also making a big impact on the world of humorous short fiction as the editor of the Unidentified Funny Objects series. Anyone interested in a good chuckle should definitely check those out.

My most recent discovery is Megan Grey. Her “Tuesdays With Molakesh the Destroyer” was another funny mix of the ordinary and the absurd, along with a bittersweet finish. I also really enjoyed Mur Lafferty’s “PRODUCE 1:1-10.”

Though I’m a fan of some of the more well-known humorous short stories, such as Desmond Warzel’s “Wikihistory” and Terry Bisson’s “They’re Made Out of Meat,” my all-time favorite short story has to be Nathaniel Matthews Lee’s “I Kill Monsters.” While the story doesn’t have quite as many laugh-out-loud moments as some of the others I’ve noted, the story is so fist pumpingly, baseball bat smashingly awesome that it should be read out loud as often as possible by everyone, including small children and the elderly.

So that’s my list, with the caveat that it’s not intended to be exhaustive. Humor can be a funny thing (hah!). While we often agree about what is dramatic (e.g. life, death, love), we often disagree about what’s humorous, and that’s fine. I’m a laugh-out-loud, dude-getting-hit-in-the-groin-with-a-football kind of guy, but if that’s not the kind of thing that floats your boat, keep looking for that special writer who makes you smile.

Ferrett Steinmetz
After being bitten by a radioactive writing bug at the 2008 Clarion Writer’s Workshop, Ferrett Steinmetz’s debut urban fantasy FLEX, described as “A desperate father will do anything to heal his daughter in a novel where Breaking Bad meets Jim Butcher’s The Dresden Files,” hit bookstores on 3/3/15. It features a bureaucracy-obsessed magician who is in love with the DMV, a goth videogamemancer who tries not to go all Grand Theft Auto on people, and one of the weirder magic systems yet devised. He Tweeters at @ferretthimself, and blogs entirely too much about puns, politics, and polyamory at www.theferrett.com.

My favorite “Funny” sci-fi story is a weird one:

Kurt Vonnegut’s “Harrison Bergeron.”

It’s kind of hard to categorize that story as a humorous tale, because it deals with such tremendously dark themes.  A world where everyone has been made equal by handicapping the smart and the physically gifted! A rebellion against a dystopia, so thoroughly squashed! And it’s hard to laugh at it; many people would argue it’s not particularly funny, because it ends with a shooting.

But to me, that’s why I adore it so. A lot of the humorous stories that are in sci-fi? They don’t have any bite to them, and as such I chuckle once and I move on. I mean, I absolutely adored all of Asimov’s Ferdinand Feghoot stories – and if you’ve never heard his elaborate pun involving the lonely Foy and his two large hearts, well, you’ve not heard perhaps the most strained setup on the planet – but I know I read so many others of those ridiculous shaggy-dog tales and they came and went without a trace. I laughed, but there was nothing to anchor that laughter so that I remembered it as anything more than a LULZ and a page-flip to the next tale.

But “Harrison Bergeron” is everything I adore in humor – an absurd premise that Vonnegut rides tight to, all the way down.  He posits something absolutely insane, and plays it so straight-faced that you’re looking to and fro going, “…is this okay? Am I allowed to laugh?” And you’re not sure whether you are, and just when you decide that maybe you are, he stabs down, and then there’s a kicker that’s both funny and sad and true all at the same time.

Which is what good humor is supposed to do – it illuminates and enlightens. And he does it all in just over two thousand words. It’s an amazing act, and while there are funnier stories, it’s hard to find one that’s more meaningful.

(And if you really want to know the Foy joke, a bastardized version taken from my own sad memory is at http://www.michaelhanscom.com/eclecticism/2004/01/11/the-death-of-a-foy/.)

Jody Lynn Nye
Jody Lynn Nye lists her main career activity as “spoiling cats.” She lives near Chicago with her current cat, Jeremy, and husband, Bill. She has published 45 books, including The Ship Who Won with Anne McCaffrey, a humorous anthology about mothers, Don’t Forget Your Spacesuit, Dear!, and over 120 short stories. Her latest books are Myth-Quoted (Ace), Fortunes of the Imperium (Baen), and Best Wishes (Arc Manor).

A short story is a nearly perfect vehicle for a good laugh. Ideally, a joke should be brief. Setup, reel in the punter, then smack him/her with the punchline, and get away before he/she can hit back.

Nevertheless, we who read SF/fantasy want more than that. We want good world-building and a good plot on top of the humor. Those are not bedfellows who sleep well together. Still, some writers, many of whom I am proud to call my friends, have managed to calm down the slumber party and gotten some good yuks in.

For fantasy, you can do worse than to turn to the Chicks in Chainmail series of anthologies edited by Esther Friesner. In five volumes, very shortly to be six, you’ll find many, many takes on the combination laid down by Her Maj: women, armor and humor. One of my favorites was written by Elizabeth Moon, “And Ladies of the Club,” aka The Bronze Bra story, in which female fighters battle against an unfair tax on armored undergarments. (My own offering in this book was “The Growling,” the working title for which was “Armed and With PMS.”)

Humor also provides the reader with a safe place to explore a new idea without being afraid of it. Jewish literature is full of humor, most of it self-deprecating. If you go back a few decades, you’ll find a pair of anthologies named Wandering Stars, stories of Jewish science fiction. I loved William Tenn’s “On Venus, Have We Got a Rabbi!” It explores what it really means to be a Jew, and that does not necessarily include being human.

Funny also includes those uh-oh moments, when you reach for something and it isn’t there. In The Fleet series, edited by David Drake and Bill Fawcett, Bill’s own stories are wry tales about a quartermaster, Abe Meier, who throughout the first five books solved problems by using paint in various capacities. The stories are fun, but the last one, “Without Paint,” is my favorite.

Role reversals and spell misfires spur humor, too. I love Susan Sizemore’s “That God Won’t Hunt,” from Pharaoh Fantastic. Suddenly, the Pharaoh’s favorite dog and son are both acting strangely. Charming and funny.

No discussion of humorous fiction could be complete without a mention of my late writing partner, Robert Asprin. While he wrote few short stories, each is a gem. Alongside the shorts he wrote for Thieves’ World and Myth-Adventures, I’m also fond of “Wanted: Guardian” from the book Forever After, in which a couple of intrepid adventurers teach a dragon to play poker, with results none of them expected.

I could go on and on, but I’ll just add one more, of direct interest to the people interested in this Kickstarter. The editor of Unidentified Funny Objects, Alex Shvartsman, is an immensely talented writer. You should look up his personal collection, Explaining Cthulhu to Grandma. The title story is a bunch of fun, involving a young woman discovering that one of the items for sale in her grandmother’s antique shop contains an Elder God.

About James Aquilone (115 Articles)
James Aquilone is an editor and writer, mostly of the speculative ilk, from Staten Island, New York. His fiction has appeared in Nature’s Futures, Galaxy’s Edge, Flash Fiction Online, and Weird Tales Magazine, among many other publications. His nonfiction has appeared in SF Signal, Den of Geek, Shock Totem, and Hellnotes. He is a member of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America and the Horror Writers Association. Visit him at http://jamesaquilone.com

1 Comment on MIND MELD: The Genre Stories That Tickle Our Funny Bones

  1. Wow. I love this list, most of these I have read many times myself. I would add
    Sheckley’s AAA Ace Planetary Decontamination stories. Most of Eric Frank Russell’s work (especially Allamagoosa). Sturgeon, Sheckley, Fredric Brown, All who wrote stories a little bit Fantasy, a little bit SF.

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