A few serious reasons why you should have more funny sci-fi books in your life
A lot of people I know struggle to see the funny side of space and sci-fi books. Maybe it’s because they’re afraid of aliens, or dark and distant planets. Perhaps they’ve never seen Elon Musk’s hair plugs up close. Yet when it comes to science fiction, many of us seem to think dark and serious books and films are ‘proper’ works of the imagination and anything set in space that contains jokes is a tentacle’s breadth from being Jar Jar Binks.
I’d challenge people to reconsider this and embrace funny science fiction – and this isn’t only because I write it. This is because, as the OG daddy of psychology, Sigmund Freud, pointed out, there’s little trivial about making someone laugh. Humour can do far more than bring us happiness (which is obviously important when we’re looking for our next read). Used in the right way it can also help us to confront and work through the things we repress in ourselves and stigmatise in others. As such it’s an immensely powerful tool for science fiction authors like me because it lets us manoeuvre readers into a place where we can explore dense and difficult ideas in a way that feels lighter than the atomic weight of helium.
This is what I set out to do when I started writing my Battlestar Suburbia series, the third of which, Sashay to the Centre of the Earth is out now. Yes, I wanted to use these books as a means of writing jokes about Internet culture and what might happen if smartphones ever worked our they were smarter than their owners. Yet I also wanted to explore how we, as people, struggle against and hopefully overcome forces like social inequality, environmental disaster and the threat of war. (If this is sounding a bit like the news, this was intentional).
I’m far from alone in this, however. For decades, authors of science fiction have used the way that laughter can also make us look at things differently to say something profound about the way we live now. And quite a few of them have also been far more successful than writers of so-called serious fiction in guessing the direction that the future might take.
So if you’re convinced that maybe it’s time to take put more funny science fiction on your TBR pile, here are a few suggestions that will make you think as much as they make you laugh.
Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy
Douglas Adams’ book follows Arthur Dent as he and the people around him search for the answer as to why the meaning of life was “42”. Yet as enjoyable as the plot is, the star of this novel is the book within the book.
As an infinite repository of knowledge (much of which is apocryphal) that you can hold in your hand the Hitchhiker’s Guide is an eerily accurate prediction of the Internet, right down the sense of possibility and panic it instils in every reader.
Philip K. Dick
We mainly know Philip K. Dick from the gorgeous but ultra-serious Bladerunner, which was adapted from his novel, Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep. But Dick’s humorous work is also entertaining, offering a roaring critique of how technology would strip us of power by offering convenience.
In this book, the hero is trapped in his own apartment by a ‘smart’ door who refuses to open until it gets paid three cents. It’s a frothy, often absurd read but, if you’ve ever stood there in the dark for minutes at a time pleading for Alexa to turn on the lights, you will also know that making a home smart just means giving Jeff Bezos the key to your front door.
Catherynne M. Valente
Pop music is a political business. Just ask all those people who upset K Pop fans on the Internet last year. Or the British public, who have sent everyone from Bonnie Tyler to Engelbert Humperdinck to bat for them at the Eurovision Song Contest only to limp home with little more than ‘nil’ points year after year.
In this book, Valente explores the healing power of art, the self-loathing that lies at the heart of every artist and the heady ridiculousness of geopolitics through the lens of an intergalactic song contest that may or may not be based loosely on Eurovision. Read it with Steps in your head and Brexit in your heart.
Neal Stephenson must be pissed. In this 1994 dystopia he was decades ahead of technology in imagining a world in which people increasingly lived most of their lives in a virtual online space as ‘meatspace’ outside descends into a hell of anarchy and hyper-capitalism. The name he gave to this world: the Metaverse.
I sincerely hope Mark Zuckerberg is paying Stephenson royalties for the embarrassment he’s causing, both to him and his work. In any event, however, this is a great book and well worth your time.
Chris McCrudden was born in South Shields (no, he doesn’t know Cheryl) and has been, at various points in his life, a butcher’s boy, a burlesque dancer and a hand model for a giant V for Victory sign on Canary Wharf. He now lives in London and, when not writing books, works in PR, so in many ways you could describe his life as a full-time fiction.
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