~posted by David H.
Science fiction as a literary genre is often viewed as one of the more serious, so it can be surprising to many people that it has such a rich history of comic stories. Many of the authors from science fiction’s “Golden Age” wrote humorous science fiction tales, including L. Sprague de Camp, Isaac Asimov, & Fredric Brown. Frederick Pohl and C.L Kornbuth’s satirical novel The Space Merchants is widely considered one of the best early science fiction novels and the genre includes many memorably funny characters like Harry Harrison’s Stainless Steel Rat and Henry Kuttner’s drunken inventor Gallegher.
Perhaps the most well-known humorous science fiction series remains Douglas Adams’ The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy Trilogy. Based on a radio series Adams wrote in 1977, the first book was published in 1979, with four sequels written by Adams and a sixth book written by Eoin Colfer after Adams’ death. The Hitchhiker’s Guide follows the story of Arthur Dent, a British Everyman facing the destruction of his house by bulldozer, whose day becomes much stranger when the Earth is destroyed by a Vogon spaceship. Saved at the last minute by his friend, and unsuspected alien, Ford Prefect, Dent suddenly finds himself adrift in the cosmos with only a copy of the aforementioned guide for help. With unforgettable characters like the two-headed Zaphod Beeblbrox and Marvin the Paranoid Android, the Hitchhiker’s series has a wonderfully British sense of humor that combines Monty Python and Doctor Who into a wild series of adventures.
If there’s a current master of humorous science fiction, it’s probably author John Scalzi. All of Scalzi’s work features wonderful, witty dialogue and a lightness of tone that often belies the seriousness of his subjects. Even his comic novels feature moments of emotional depth and pathos that leave the reader with much to think about. His most recent novel, the Hugo Award winning Redshirts is a great example of this. Based on the popular belief about the classic Star Trek television series that states any crew member wearing a red shirt on a planetary mission is doomed, Redshirts takes the idea and expands it into a meta-commentary on the tropes and clichés of television science fiction. The book follows Ensign Andrew Dahl, newly assigned to the starship Intrepid, the flagship of the Universal Union. When it becomes painfully obvious that low ranking crew members on the ship are dying off at a rapid pace, deaths that occur whenever they’re assigned to missions with the ships famous senior officers, Andrew and his fellow Ensigns band together in an attempt to discover why. I won’t spoil the novel’s main twist here (though it isn’t that hard to figure out), but it’s what Scalzi does with this twist that makes the book so special. Ultimately, Redshirts is not only funny, but also moving, with characters that will have you rooting for them to beat the odds and somehow survive the deadliest ship in the galaxy.