It takes a steady hand to write a science fiction story that’s exciting, interesting, and funny as hell.
Or maybe it’s just that people are funny, and no matter what you do with them, like putting them in tin cans going the speed of light or beyond, they’re going to do something ridiculous.
In the future, the rich can save time by doing things like taking a plane instead of a boat. If they save up enough time, they get an entire extra day of the week, called Pluterday. Regular Joes don’t even know about this extra day.
When a poor boy meets the girl of his dreams, she tells him to meet her on Pluterday, and, of course, he can’t make it. But he’s not going to let a thing like time get in his way.
This funny, social satire was originally released in Dutch in 1968 as Sam, of de Pluterdag, and ended up winning first prize at the European Science Fiction Convention.
The Martians have arrived! They’re not invading, but they’re jerks. Serious jerks. They’re so rude it drives more than one person insane. And they don’t leave. Ever.
“[O]ne of the most charming bits of SF-whimsy ever written [and] marvelous reading.”
— Richard A. Lupoff (SF author)
A jar containing the Universe’s DNA is lost on Earth, and two clueless backpackers decide to go after it. Unbeknownst to them, a motley crew from another realm is chasing them across the globe, with the fate of the whole Milky Way in the balance. There is also profanity and a number of boobs.
“[F]unny and well-drawn. This is a strong debut from a very imaginative writer.”
— Publishers Weekly
A human civil servant accidentally wins the Galactic Lottery and is transported halfway across the universe to accept it. He then learns that no one can get him home, since all real space-fairing species have a homing instinct that guides them to their native planet. He, as a human, does not have this instinct.
While he tries to get home, a predatory entity appears on Earth and chases him across the stars. The civil servant finds several Earths, but none of them are in the time or reality that he would prefer.
“In its style of humor—and even in some of the jokes—Dimension of Miracles is very obviously a precursor of Douglas Adams’ Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.”
— Neil Gaiman
Hal’s an upright sort of guy, and he won’t take jobs from gun runners, drug smugglers, or politicians. On the other hand, the finance company’s enforcer is on his trail, and he only has twenty-four hours to get his debt under control. Miss the deadline and he—and his ship—will go under. Way, way, under.
Faced with an impossible choice, Hal chooses an impossible job… and gains an impossibly annoying new co-pilot into the bargain.
“Fast, funny, quirky, enthralling comedy adventure; not just a genre parody but a well-made story in its own right.”
— Tom Holt
Dave drinks himself into a stupor on his 24th birthday in London, and wakes up on one of Saturn’s moons. He joins the Space Corps and boards the Red Dwarf, a spaceship as big as a small city, determined to return to Earth.
This book is a retelling of the narrative of the popular Red Dwarf television series, and was written by the show’s creators (Rob Grant + Doug Naylor = Grant Naylor).
The Stainless Steel Rat is not an actual metal space rodent, which disappointed me as a young reader. However, he is a futuristic con man, master thief, skilled liar, and all-round rascal.
Jim DiGriz is captured during one of his crimes and forced to work a boring, routine desk job as punishment. Unexpectedly, he discovers that someone is building a battleship, thinly disguised as an industrial vessel. In the peaceful League, no one has battleships anymore, so the builder of this one would be unstoppable. DiGriz’s hunt for the guilty party becomes a personal battle between himself and the beautiful but deadly Angelina, who is planning a coup on one of the feudal worlds. DiGriz’s dilemma is whether he will turn Angelina over to the Special Corps, or join with her, since he has (of course) fallen in love with her.
The Adventures of the Stainless Steel Rat contains three novels: The Stainless Steel Rat, The Stainless Steel Rat’s Revenge, and The Stainless Steel Rat Saves the World. They’re all fast-moving and funny.
Hounded by creditors and heckled by an uncooperative robot, binge-drinking inventor Galloway Gallagher must solve the mystery of his own machines before his dodgy financing and reckless lifestyle catch up with him.
Fun and zany in a 1950s sort of way, Robots Have No Tails is great whimsy, but definitely not hard science.
This book is a Star Trek book in the way that Galaxy Quest is a Star Trek movie: not in name, but only for legal reasons.
Andrew is a crew member on a starship, and wears a red shirt. He soon deduces that every Away Team includes one low-level crewman who is invariably killed.
Then Andrew stumbles on information that completely transforms his and his colleagues’ understanding of what the starship Intrepid really is . . . and offers them a crazy, high-risk chance to save their own lives.
“Scalzi takes apart the whole Star Trek universe and puts it back together far more plausibly–and a lot funnier too.”
— Lev Grossman
The Automatic Detective is a fast-paced mishmash of SF and hard-boiled detective story.
Even in Empire City, a town where weird science is the hope for tomorrow, it’s hard for a robot to make his way. It’s even harder for a robot named Mack Megaton, a hulking machine designed to bring mankind to its knees. But Mack’s not interested in world domination. He’s just a bot trying to get by, trying to demonstrate that he isn’t just an automated smashing machine, and to earn his citizenship in the process. It should be as easy as crushing a tank for Mack, but some bots just can’t catch a break.
When Mack’s neighbors are kidnapped, Mack sets off on a journey through the dark alleys and gleaming skyscrapers of Empire City. Along the way, he runs afoul of a talking gorilla, a brainy dame, a mutant lowlife, a little green mob boss, and the secret conspiracy at the heart of Empire’s founders—not to mention more trouble than he bargained for.
“Eccentric characters, all of whom are clever twists on stereotypes, populate a smart, rocket-fast read with a clever, twisty plot that comes to a satisfying conclusion.”
-Publishers Weekly (starred review)
Great Britain, circa 1985: time travel is routine, cloning is a reality (dodos are the resurrected pet of choice), and literature is taken very, very seriously.
So when someone begins kidnapping characters from works of literature and plucks Jane Eyre from the pages of Brontë’s novel, Literary Detective Thursday Next is faced with the challenge of her career.
The Eyre Affair is more of a surreal mystery than straight science fiction, but it’s still a fun romp for SF fans.
“James Bond Meets Harry Potter in the Twilight Zone.”
— Publishers Weekly
Not all of these stories (there are over one hundred of them) are funny, but plenty are. Many of them are only a page in length, and range from a tongue-in-cheek tale of a young boy’s valiant effort to save the world to a dark tale of music and horror.
Pirx is a spaceship pilot, but he’s no hero. Seriously. He’s just a working guy thinking about himself, his prospects for advancement, and possibly not enough about the spaceship he’s flying.
Tales of Pirx the Pilot is funny in a slightly disturbing way because Pirx is so believable as a character. It’s hard to read it without nodding your head, thinking, “Yeah, that’s probably how space travel will happen.”
Satirical, surreal, and darkly funny, Slaughterhouse-Five is Vonnegut’s most important, i.e., influential, and popular work. One can argue that there are real aliens since the main character (in addition to the narrator) is an unreliable witness to his own life. One can also argue, “Who cares?” It’s a great story.
“There are almost no characters in this story, and almost no dramatic confrontations, because most of the people in it are so sick, and so much the listless playthings of enormous forces. One of the main effects of war, after all, is that people are discouraged from being characters…”
— Kurt Vonnegut
After finishing most books, I’ll put them down and think something like, “That was a good book,” or “The ending was terrible,” or “I’m hungry.”
But with The Ware Tetralogy, I put the big book down and wondered what the hell just happened to me.
My horizons got expanded in weird directions and there’s a little more odd joy in my life.
The four Ware novels (Software, Wetware, Freeware, and Realware) explore consciousness as an information pattern in a fearlessly absurd, awesomely readable way. All together, they’re a Dadaist cyberpunk tour de force that’ll make your brain feel like it’s in a bath of seltzer water. The books all move like a bat out of hell, are packed with enough ideas for forty normal science fictions books, and you can feel beat poetry in the background as you read them.
It’s easy to be a hero when you’re saving the entire world or galaxy or species. Which is why the hard-boiled detectives are the most heroic characters out there. They’re not out to ram the bad guy’s spaceship. More likely, they’re trying to find justice for a murdered little nobody, or get an intensely offensive (but innocent) man out of jail.
This dogged deathgrip on principle directs the actions of private detective Conrad Metcalfe in a bizarre future world populated by talking animals, drugs for all, and the most authoritative state I’ve ever come across. It’s dark, funny, fast-paced, clever, and chilling.
My wife hates it when I read this book because there are actually spiders all over the cover.
As I’m writing this, my heavy metal station on Pandora is screaming, “I WANNA GET PYSCHO!” which is perfect for this book, because This Book Is Full of Spiders: Seriously, Dude, Don’t Touch It gets seriously bizarre and creepy.
It’s also one of the funniest books I’ve ever read, and yes, I’m including Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy in that list.
Two reluctant and generally irresponsible heroes are aware of huge invisible spiders that live in people’s heads due to their earlier ingestion of a drug called Soy Sauce. While they try to stay out of trouble (the kids, not the spiders), Armageddon finds them anyway. Hilarity and horror ensue.
“[A] phantasmagoria of horror, humor–and even insight into the nature of paranoia, perception, and identity.”
―Publishers Weekly (starred review)
Ned Henry is badly in need of a rest. He’s been shuttling between the 21st century and the 1940s searching for a Victorian atrocity called the bishop’s bird stump. It’s part of a project to restore the famed Coventry Cathedral, destroyed in a Nazi air raid over a hundred years earlier.
But then Verity Kindle, a fellow time traveler, inadvertently brings back something from the past. Now Ned must jump back to the Victorian era to help Verity put things right—not only to save the project but to prevent altering history itself.
“Willis’ delectable romp through time from 2057 back to Victorian England, with a few side excursions into World War II and medieval Britain, will have readers happily glued to the pages.”
— Publishers Weekly
This is one of the funniest books written in the English language. It begins with the destruction of Earth, and things go downhill from there.
Do not read this book around other people, because you will annoy them by laughing so much.
It takes a special mind to combine Disney and cyberpunk, and author Cory Doctorow apparently has it (in his head, or in a jar, I don’t know the specifics).
Jules is a young man barely a century old. He’s lived long enough to see the cure for death and the end of scarcity, to learn ten languages and compose three symphonies…and to realize his boyhood dream of taking up residence in Disney World.
Disney World! The greatest artistic achievement of the long-ago twentieth century, currently in the keeping of a network of “ad-hocs” who keep the classic attractions running as they always have, enhanced with only the smallest high-tech touches.
Now, though, the “ad hocs” are under attack. A new group has taken over the Hall of the Presidents, and is replacing its venerable audioanimatronics with new, immersive direct-to-brain interfaces that give guests the illusion of being Washington, Lincoln, and all the others. For Jules, this is an attack on the artistic purity of Disney World itself.
Worse: it appears this new group has had Jules killed. This upsets him. (It’s only his fourth death and revival, after all.) Now it’s war!
“Jules’s narrative unfolds so smoothly that readers may forget that all this raging passion is over amusement park rides. Then they can ask what that shows about the novel’s supposedly mature, liberated characters. Doctorow has served up a nicely understated dish: meringue laced with caffeine.”