The late, great Douglas Adams would’ve turned 61 this week. For many of us The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy remains a seminal work combining speculative fiction and laugh-out-loud funny. And sadly, few have tried to take up Adams’ mantle to bring humor to the genre.
Sure, there have been some. Good Omens is an all-time favorite of mine, and I thoroughly enjoyed John Scalzi’s Redshirts as well. The mix of humor and pathos in these works is truly inspirational.
I can’t really point to many other works I’ve read that have achieved what these books accomplished. And I think it’s because, in the end, funny is hard. But we could stand to use a bit more humor in the genre today. I mean, really…lighten up, people!
This isn’t a call for more outright comedic books in SF/F, per se, though that would be awesome. Instead, I wouldn’t mind seeing a few more lighthearted moments in otherwise straight-forward genre works. I’ve found that so many books delve very deeply into their settings and their life-and-death plots, forgetting that, in so many cases, humor is very humanizing.
My novel, The Daedalus Incident, isn’t a comedy. (At least, not intentionally – it really hasn’t been reviewed much yet, so the unintentional comedy remains unexplored, I suppose.) But I did try to weave some moments in there where the characters can show that, yes, they can laugh and joke, even under duress.
That’s not to say they’re whipping out one-liners at every turn. The stakes are high, and the heroes have to rise to the occasion. Yet those who lead people through difficult times know that a well-placed bit of humor can do a lot to rally the troops or let off steam. It’s what people do. Without humor, the writer risks making his or her characters one-dimensional.
Readers need a break, too. There’s absolutely a place for an unsparingly dark and driven tale, one that keeps the reader on the edge of his or her seat from page one. But with that, you run the risk of throwing too much at the reader, making the work perhaps a bit more difficult that it needs to be.
Look at The Dark Knight Rises. My God, that was hard. Grim doesn’t even begin to describe it. Even its predecessor, The Dark Knight, had moments of levity; sure, it was gallows humor and often disturbing, but at least it broke things up somewhat. But TDKR was unrelenting. I honestly didn’t like it as much as the others.
On the flip side, you can’t be all things to all people either. To keep with the movie motif, look at Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace. There’s a reason we hate Jar-Jar Binks with the white-hot passion of a billion supernovae. The comic relief was too much there, and was neither comical nor a relief.
So, it’s a balance, one driven by both the tone of the work and the needs of the story. But I’ll maintain that even in the midst of the worst dystopia or the most insane world-threatening crisis, characters – and readers – could learn to take a moment and laugh. Sometimes, it’s all you can do.
Michael J. Martinez is the author of The Daedalus Incident, coming out May 7. His wife maintains they remain married because of his sense of humor…and the fact that she can’t make coffee as well as he can, thus requiring her to keep him around. When not making books, jokes or coffee, he blogs at www.michaeljmartinez.net and is on Twitter at @mikemartinez72.Read More...