Monday, July 10, 2006

It's No Laughing Matter: Humor in SFR

Sometimes, when I read blog comments or reviews posted about my books or other SFR works on the internet, I have this overwhelming urge to reach through my computer's monitor and throttle the poster on the other end.

Why? Because he (and I'm not being sexist here; it's usually a he) just doesn't get it; just doesn't get the fact that a good percentage of my prose is deliberately tongue-in-cheek. Humorous. Space Opera. A romp. Campy. Fun.

Now, if no one got it, I'd unplug the keyboard, dust off my badge and gun, and go back to searching the back alleys for missing persons and deadbeat dads. But most of the readers get it. So it's not those I'm scratching my head over. It's the ones who quote out sentences or paragraphs from my novels as 'proof' the books aren't worthy of consideration in the speculative fiction field. Mostly they're sections where one of the protagonists is tallying up the physical merits of the other AND doing so in a light-hearted way.

That light-heartedness, that twist of the phrase, that nudge-nudge-wink-wink aspect seems to totally escape certain SF bloggers/reviewers.

Don't these people EVER JOKE AROUND?

And it's not just my work. I remember seeing similar comments about Rowena's totally delightful and fully hysterical FORCED MATE--a book which had me chortling out loud when I read it. Yes, it was on an SF site or blog and the fact that Rowena was parodying and poking fun at the romance genre in prose went--zip!--right over these people's heads. They read every word as if it were gospel. And had the usual negative knee-jerk reaction to it.

Why must science fiction be so damn, bloody serious or it's not SF? Why must each page drip--not only with blood--but angst? Why is being obtuse preferable to being funny?

I happen to love Peter David's Captain Calhoun books for the Star Trek (r) series. Now, there's some funny shit. But why is it when a female author--under the cross-genre heading of SFR--writes the same way, it's panned and damned? (And please don't tell me it's because the science is correct--there's nothing scientifically accurate about Peter David's "dogs of war" characters who ARE dogs running on all fours and yet function as humanoids...or the character who's an overgrown brick wall...). I mean, I LOVED Mel Brooks' SPACE BALLS.

When you lose the ability to have a good giggle at yourself (or your characters), IMHO you're losing something very important. SF is the venue of IDEAS not angst or worse, not intellectual snobbery.

So the question then becomes: if a character giggles in space, will anyone hear it?

I await your erudite and thoughtful input.

Hugs all, ~Linnea


  1. Anonymous1:00 PM EDT

    Ahhhh, Captain. I s'pose just as there are die-hard romance readers who wouldn't dream of reading outside the genre, there will also be readers from hither and yon who don't get "it." My step-father-in-law refuses to read any books written by any women except Agatha Christie.

    His favorite book (scifi fantasy - OLD) starts out with a shipboard massacre, decapitated heads, literally being rolled around like bowling balls knocking down their kith and kin - the enemy. I got the giggles alright, but not in the way YOU'RE relating to. I'm WAY too VISUAL a reader. No, I never got beyond the first chapter. LOL!

    Quirks and foibles. To each their own...I guess.

    That said, however, for every reader who pooh-pooh's ANY variety of romance-flavored novel regardless of humor or not, sex or not, and all of the other or's and or not''s their loss, in my not so humble opinion. *eg*

    Granted, romance novels are at the top of my list because I prefer a happy ending over any other, but I do read outside the genre. And, what do you think I find in a lot of those books? Off-beat humor, and sex. NOT romance. Just sex for the sake of having sex. And sometimes the killing off of a main character. *major gasp!* I was devastated at the end of LONESOME DOVE by Larry McMurtry, but went on to read the whole series because his writing is exceptional - to me, anyway - and the series went backwards - YAY!

    Um...what was the question, again? *hanging head* ; )


  2. Anonymous5:20 PM EDT

    I'm doing a writing course where the reading list was all literature. Only one book 'Sacred Country' had any humour in it, and it wasn't exactly 'laugh out loud' funny. Why do all the snobs think that something good has to be dreary and deadly serious? I love humour in books, and I especially love black humour. It can be so effective and can really lift a book and make the darker bits seem darker but at the same time funny. Humour takes real skill. Humour is always harder to effectively pull off than 'serious' drama.

    There is so much snobbery about I want to slap someone! I'm in Britain and we have something called 'The Booker Prize' where only the dreariest literature need apply. I think most people who buy any of the shortlisted books leave them on the coffee table so they can pretend they've read it!

    *"Genre?" the snobby reviewer splutters. "Good God, are you out of your mind? And a book written by a woman? Heaven Forbid!! It's enough they've got the vote. And Genre Romance written by a woman!!!" The snobby reviewer goes red as he has an apoplectic fit. His eyes would rather exploded than gaze on anything remotely funny. And as for a story that goes somewhere, characters that are sympathetic and likeable and a book you can actually read and understand.... Well, that would make it too easy. And enjoyable... He might actually have to crack his face...*


    Let's leave the snobs, the patronising and those who have no sense of humour to their own dreary devices and we'll go off and have the last laugh. (at their expense probably!) :-)


  3. As someone who has read and enjoyed (as well as written) some pretty grim stuff, I think some humor is essential. Most people laugh and joke, sometimes even in the most grim circumstances, so unrelenting humorlessness is not only boring but unrealistic. IMHO, of course. ;-) Levels of humor vary a lot from novel to novel, obviously, but even if you're writing a tragedy, some comic relief is hardly out of place--look at "Hamlet," just as an example.

    I wouldn't want to hang out with someone with no sense of humor in real life...why should the hours I'm spending reading a book be any different?

  4. I think part of the problem is, again, that dystopian everyone must die mindset in some traditional science fiction.

    Another part of the problem may be just ignorance about the other genre crossed in SFR. They don't read outside their genre, as Carla said, and maybe not even out of their sub-genre.

    And humor is always purely subjective. For example, I think this is one of the funniest jokes ever:

    Q: How many surrealists does it take to change a light bulb?

    A: Banana.

    This is why I write scary, not funny.

  5. Joyce said: I think part of the problem is, again, that dystopian everyone must die mindset in some traditional science fiction.

    And they can't die laughing?


    Sorry. You knew you had that coming. (Loved your joke, too.) ~Linnea

  6. Anonymous9:25 PM EDT

    Are they kidding? Wry humor is the very spice of genre fiction. It's my favorite part. Heck, if it wasn't for the lift from an occasional belly laugh, what would be the point of reading fiction at all. You might as well just pick up a news paper like this fellow over --*BOOM* Oh, son of a -- *looks at blaster like it's from Mars* What kinda doofus builds a blaster without a safety switch? Stupid, alien technology. Um, medic?

  7. I'm not sure why anyone would object to humor in any type of novel, but I'm going to guess that the detractors don't recognize it is as humor. They take everything 100% literally and they assume (wrongly) that the writer thinks (s)he has created some high art when in fact it's just the opposite.

    I don't flatter myself that I'm crafting masterpieces. There are writers who do, I know. Their stuff will be marveled at 100 years from now. Me, I'm just a chick with a keyboard and people in my head who won't shut up until I tell their stories. My job is to entertain. As long as I accomplish that, I don't much care how I get from point A to point B. The worst thing a book can do is bore me.

    And "Lit" novels frequently do.

  8. Hi,
    Just poking my head in to say I love light Sci-fi humor as much as the heavy angsty stuff. I guess it's extrememly lowbrow but I notice that no one here has mentioned Douglas Adams' Hitchhiker's Series. And what about Red Dwarf--both the books and the TV show? I adore the kind of book that makes me laugh out loud and I think it's an accomplisment in and of itself.
    I am taking a chance on my next Ellora's Cave book, For Her Pleasure, by deviating from my usual style and making it a Sci-fi erotic romatic comedy. Now *that's* a mix of genres. Anyway, I can tell you (and I'm sure Linnea can too) that writing funny is hard work! I hope the readers enjoy it but I had a hell of a good time writing it, just as I have a great time reading Sci-fi comedy or more subtle tongue in cheek stuff.
    Just my two cents! : ) Evangeline