Light Fantasy


I've been thinking that I need to give fantasy more of a try. I realized, in thinking about it, that I've read a lot of fantasy, but don't really consider myself a fantasy fan. I think part of the reason for that is that what I've read is almost entirely light or humorous fantasy, like Piers Anthony's Xanth series, Robert Asprin's Myth books, Craig Shaw Gardner's Saga of Ebenezum and Ballad of Wuntvor, and Terry Pratchett's Discworld. On the other hand, the science fiction reading I've done has been pretty much heavy throughout. I thus tend, unfairly, to consider fantasy to be much more light and frivolous. Also, I tend to have a somewhat skewed perspective on fantasy, if only because most of my encounters with it have been in the form of books that subtly or not-so-subtly poke fun at the genre and its conventions.

In thinking about this, a thought occurred to me: it seems like there are quite a few light or parodical fantasy series, many of them very long-running. Is there anything similar in the science fiction world? Have I missed the humorous SF literature, or is there just none to be found? The only one I can think of is the Phule series by Robert Asprin, who really did most of his work in fantasy and just dabbled a bit in SF. If this isn't observational error on my part, if there is indeed a paucity of light SF, the question then becomes: which genre is the aberration here? Is there something about fantasy that makes both its authors and its fans inclined to take it somewhat less seriously? Or is Science Fiction so caught up in its own importance that it feels it is something that should never be made fun of, ever?


The first two things to come to mind the the Hitchhiker's Guide books and Red Dwarf. Then a few scattered things drift in, like Kiln People by David Brin, which is undoubtedly genuine sci-fi but also chock full of silly puns.

Still it doesn't seem to add up to the volume of parodic fantasy that I know exists. I'm unsure whether to attribute it to my lesser familiarity with sci-fi than with fantasy, or to some inherent quality of the two genres.

Actually, a number of the other things that are coming to mind are books or series that try to combine fantasy and SF and wind up lampooning one or the other. Piers Anthony's Incarnations of Immortality and Adepts (what is that second series actually called?) books do that to some degree. I possess an interesting book called Black Trillium by Marion Zimmer Bradley and two other authors, which is a fantasy book in which the grand high magician prays to the spirits of AC Power to activate his magical devices. But then you have the Urth of the New Sun books by Gene Wolfe which are draggingly, mind-numbingly serious and take no humorous liberties with either genre. So I'm unsure where I'm going with this.

A typo in my first sentence. I'm ashamed.

Agh, how could I forget Hitchhiker's Guide?

It's interesting, though: Hitchhiker's Guide was science fiction written by a humorist coming from radio and television. Red Dwarf, obviously, was television in and of itself. Robert Asprin came at the Phule books from fantasy. The others you mention (except David Brin) come from fantasy or else merge their SF with Fantasy. (Side note: Apprentice Adept is the name you're looking for)

I feel like a lot of it has to do with Science Fiction taking itself too seriously. Fantasy authors sort of see that their whole thing is a bit silly, without higher pretentions. SF brings in a bunch of Speculative Fiction "this-is-a-very-serious-and-important-intellectual-exercise" baggage. If SF were still, as it was in the 30s, a lot of space opera, with flying saucers and phallic rocket ships, there'd be a lot more light Science Fiction. And of course, that outmoded brand of Science Fiction, particularly as it has been manifested in B Sci-Fi movies, has been parodied at length.

On the other hand, the more serious something is, the more it opens itself up to having fun poked at it. It's a lot harder to parody something that doesn't take itself seriously to begin with. So, in conclusion: I don't know what's up.

If I'm not very much mistaken, Red Dwarf the TV series was based on Red Dwarf the book. Am I very much mistaken?

My take is that fantasy is widely regarded as a thing for children. So either a) people writing in it don't think of their writing as a serious adult thing, or b) they have to distance themselves by writing parodies to show that no, ha ha, of course I'm not a 35-year-old really interested in fantasy, see, I just think it's funny, stop making fun of me. Science fiction, because, see, it's science and science is an adult thing, is allowed to take itself more seriously with less ridicule.

That's Infinity Welcomes Careful Drivers? I had thought, though I'm not entirely certain, that that was a novelization by the show's writer/creators of the first episodes. I'm not 100%, though.

Interesting. The book and the first two series of the TV show both have a date of 1989. I'd prefer to believe the book came first, only because it bolsters my point. But if you can figure out for sure, I'm agog to hear.

Wikipedia seems to back me up, to the degree that it is reliable. And now I need to get off this terminal and get to my contracts class!

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This page contains a single entry by Zach published on November 15, 2005 9:47 AM.

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