SF/F Humor Roundup

My first professional sale was a sword and sorcery piece about a magic dagger with a hilt carved in the shape of a rabbit.  And like rabbits, if you left this weapon alone with another dagger, you’d soon find yourself overflowing with cutlery.  It was a light, silly story that hopefully earned some laughs, but looking back, I had a rather peculiar reaction after the story came out.

I basically decided that selling “Blade of the Bunny” was nice and all, but now it was time to settle down and start writing real stories.  I still remember how excited I got the first time one of my stories made someone in my writing group cry.  This was writing!  I did it again with another story a while later, earning even more tears the second time around.  Go me!

I know I’m not alone in this.  Humor just doesn’t have the power of “real literature.”  Most of us appreciate a bit of silly escapism from time to time, but we certainly don’t take humor seriously.  When it comes time for award nominations and best of the year lists and anthologies, it’s rather unusual to see many humorous works make the cut.

I look back at that phase in my writing development, and I wonder when I learned it was more important to make people cry than it was to make them laugh.  That tears were the higher form of writing.  It took me years to get over that.  To decide I want to create laughter, and to hell with the rest.

Both grief and joy are important of course, and good stories use both.  But I feel like we often emphasize the serious at the expense of the silly.  Laughter is powerful stuff, and the world needs more of it.

To that end, I’ve begun a list of humorous SF/F works published in 2009.  I would love to see one or more of these stories make it onto the Nebula list for consideration, but more importantly, it’s a chance to share the books and stories that have made us laugh.  If you’re looking for a fun read, or if you have a suggestion for the list, please check it out:

http://www.jimchines.com/humor-2009/

My name’s Jim.  I write about bunny daggers and nose-picking goblins and muppet werewolves.  I’m damn proud of those stories, but it took me a long time to get there.

Where does it comes from, this sense of art that devalues the humorous?  Is it the perception that comedy is easy?  A lingering puritan sense that humor and frivolity are to be shunned?  Or maybe it’s that grown-ups are supposed to be serious, and giggle fits are for children?  What do you think?

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  1. 1. Adele

    I’m all for a giggle, bring on the Bunny Blades and Muppett Wolves. Some of my favourite and most re read books are ones that manage to slip in real emotion but also make me laugh coffee through my nose (Good Omens is one I go back to about once a year, like a reading reset button when I can’t seem to get into anything).

  2. 2. Jim C. Hines

    Good Omens is one of my favorite books of all time. Gaiman + Pratchett = pure magic.

  3. 3. Joe Iriarte

    I don’t think comedy is easy. I think it’s damned hard, and I’m not at all convinced I can pull it off in fiction. Kudos to those that can. I’ll definitely check your list out.

  4. 4. Megs

    I think the idea comes because seldom does humor change us. I like humor mixed in with my tears and the things that move me and change me. I think it’s because if it changes me in some way, then I feel it is more powerful. I like to read lighthearted humor. I seek it out. But I too never took it as seriously. Because it doesn’t make me grow.

  5. 5. Jim C. Hines

    Megs – Hm … I’ll have to think about that one. Not sure whether or not I agree, but it’s definitely worth further contemplation.

  6. 6. Elias McClellan

    I seldom attempt to clarify or correct anyone, (it’s all I can do to make sure I’m fully dressed when I leave out the house every morning) BUT, I think, inretrospect, M Adele has reconsidered and recognizes that laughter is the strongest, realest (?) emotion of all. Us macho, manly-men, realize this and that’s why we work on being macho, manly, and mainly avoid attempts at humor, like the plutonium.

    It’s sooooo hard to do funny, period, no qualifiers, exceptions, or buts. It’s even harder to do funny without devolving into a cheap Henny Youngman routine. I’m scared silly at the very idea.

    Speaking of lists… I keep a list of books I intend to read based on reviews I’ve read. If I had realized that “Goblin War” was on my list when you kindly extended your encouragement to me some weeks ago, I assure you I would’ve been much more sycophantic in my gratitude. I’m awaiting my copy from an online shopping service that doesn’t need anymore word of mouth. I look forward to reading your work.

  7. 7. Mac

    Comedy is far harder than drama, for me. I admire it when I find it, and it’s easier to go wrong with it. Good Omens made me laugh AND bawl like a baby…so, yeah. Humor needs more respect. :-)

  8. 8. Deborah Blake

    Humor, yay! (If I want to cry, all I have to do is turn on the news. It’s not that hard. Humor, on the other hand, is REALLY tough.)
    Thanks for making me laugh :-)

  9. 9. Adele

    Can I pop back in arecommend Triumff by Dan Abnett be added to your list. It a good story and quite funny in a sort of Blackaddery style.

  10. 10. Jim C. Hines

    @Adele – I’ve added Triumff to the list. Thanks!

  11. 11. Kelly McCullough

    You can toss in my latest, MythOS, should you like. I don’t know that it’s humor, but it is supposed to have a substantial compliment of same. The first chapter’s up @ http://www.kellymccullough.com/fiction.html along with the first chapters of the other three to date.

  12. 12. Jim C. Hines

    @Kelly – added. Thanks!

    One of the things I’ve run into with this list is trying to clarify what does and doesn’t qualify as a “humorous” book. Does it have to be a full-fledged, pun-packed Robert Asprin style book, or does a book that just happens to have substantial humor qualify too? For the moment, I’m going for inclusive rather than exclusive.

  13. 13. Eliza Wyatt

    Actually, I’ve found that I’ve always had an easier time making people cry. I wrote tragedies when I was fifteen that had grownups bawling (and trust me– that was crap writing). Giving someone something good and taking it away again seems easy.

    It’s the humor that I’m starting to value.

    I’m just finishing a project that I’ve spent the last two years on– a serious intrigue with a bittersweet ending (a little akin to Swan Lake). My best friend still hasn’t forgiven me. Now I’m changing it up with a light steampunk with lots of humor. I think the steampunk is just a better book– there is a lot of freedom when you don’t take yourself so seriously, and it can make for deeper, more heartfelt writing.

  14. 14. Andrew A. A.

    I was intrigued enough to respond to this and then I couldn’t get a handle on what I wanted to say. I started writing to another article on this site and had me one of those AH-HA! moments sparking my tiny brain.

    Tragedy and Comedy are the exact same thing, perhaps with a diferent set of rules — They are ways to deal with the misfortunes of others.

    Farces (which i don’t like) are pointing out the flaws of someone’s ideas. Slapstick is reactions to pain. Romantic comedies are really about the errors in starting new relationships. Etc. etc.

    Think about your villain insulting your protag… Could your protag use the exact same insult on the villain and wouldn’t that be a form of comedy?

    For me the crew of “jackass” are the perfect example of my likes and hatreds of misery and misfortune. When they make others look foolish, I find their sense of humor disgusting but when they hurt each other i find it funny. But Both situations could be turned on its head and be made into Tragedies, if people did not laugh at every stupid thing they did but cried instead.

    Its the way we look at the world. My Mother was forced out of her country in WW2 at the age of 16. She got captured put into a Displaced persons camp in Nazi territory and then was freed to end up in the United States a country of foreign Language and foreign ideologies… And she never once talked badly about any of her situations, more often she made humor of the entire thing.

    With all that in my head, I can say that I’ve never thought my comedy pieces had any difference to my more tragic scenes. Though I admit my 2nd book was with the idea of being “light” read and was comical in the way of Asprin’s “Myth Adventures”. But my third book was more Noir wit and crazed humor during tragic moments…

    Comical situations are easier for me to write But my true wish is to write a Happy scene that makes people cry! To me that is the ultimate in emotional/psychy humor.

  15. 15. jan

    OMG, that’s hilarious! glad to know there are people out there who are as silly as i am!
    i find myself feeling that way some days-that making someone cry is more important somehow. but then i sit down to write-starting out with a moody or dramatic scene-and before i know it my brain has found the humour in the situation and i change it. what can i say? i kill me.
    obviously, you kill you, too!
    so, “laugh it up, fuzzball!”

  16. 16. peacerenity

    a list of funny fantasy books and no jim butcher? :-(

  17. 17. Jim C. Hines

    @peacerenity – I listed all of the qualifying books and stories that were recommended to me.

  18. 18. Joan

    I just ran across this posting. Jim, I agree completely with you. The perception that ‘real’ writing should not contain excess humor is flat out wrong. Read (or re-read) Monty Walsh by Jack Shaefer (not Shane). You will laugh so hard you will dissolve into a giggling vortex, you’ll laugh at more forms of humor than you even knew existed. Then you will cry, cry like your mother, your dog and your best friend all died on the same day. When you wake up the next morning you will be washed clean. It is an extremely powerful cathartic (like a diarrhetic for your psyche). That is writing. I feel if I can write the tragedy in humor and the humor in tragedy while keeping each distinct… then maybe, just maybe I have some small skill. I fully support and endorse your campaign!

Author Information

Jim C. Hines

Jim C. Hines' latest book is THE SNOW QUEEN'S SHADOW, the fourth of his fantasy adventures that retell the old fairy tales with a Charlie's Angels twist. He's also the author of the humorous GOBLIN QUEST trilogy. Jim's short fiction has appeared in more than 40 magazines and anthologies, including Realms of Fantasy, Turn the Other Chick, and Sword & Sorceress XXI. Jim lives in Michigan with his wife and two children. He's currently hard at work on LIBRIOMANCER, the first book in a new fantasy series. Visit site.

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