Beyond Bestsellers: Humorous Science Fiction & Fantasy

by Emily Z.

For those of you keeping score at home, this is our 10th Beyond Bestsellers month. If you’re just joining us, check out the Original Post explaining how to play along. We still love seeing your own personal lists of recommendations and encourage you to sign up so you can get notifications about this series.

In the merry month of May we are tackling the glorious mouthful known as Humorous Science Fiction and Fantasy. If you’re already a fan of science fiction and/or fantasy (or supernatural fiction or horror, which I am also including), congratulations, you’re halfway there! If you’re not as interested in those genres, I would still stick around.

Some science fiction has a reputation for being dire and dark:

–Aliens invade and take over the Earth.

–Humans accidentally create sentient, morally ambiguous robots which take over the Earth.

–Mutant zombies happen and it’s darned inconvenient when they take over the Earth.

Some fantasy novels can also come across as overly earnest and severely serious, what with the legendary wars between neighboring kingdoms or magical races, anti-social wizards, and exhausting quests for stuff that’s probably cursed anyway. I quite enjoy all of that, but it’s not everyone’s cup of tea (or Butterbeer or Raktajino) all of the time. That’s where the word “Humorous” comes in. 

The less serious side of speculative fiction (fiction that speculates on realities unlike our own) is a book-vacation for everyone, nerd or not. This sub-genre often pokes fun at the tropes of its more serious cousins or at least tries to cut the tension with quips, pratfalls, or witty dialogue. A few of these books are the guiltiest of pleasures, fully embracing the absurd, raunchy, or raunchily absurd. There’s also an up and coming community of gentler genre humor too, if that’s more your scene. The ultimate trick here is to find the funny books that suit your sense of humor as well as your interests.

Human humor is tricky to pin down (just ask a robot). It can be subtle, dry, dark, morbid, juvenile, blue, sarcastic, satirical, deadpan, crass, ironic, parodical, slapstickabsurd, surreal, punny, generally silly, and more. Then there’s comedies of error, comedies of manners, whatever this is, and farce. Readers also rarely agree on these categories. Don’t worry–there are lots of options–from gentle to gruesome and mildly amusing to hysterical—in the universe of funny science and fantasy fiction. Whatever your personal brand of humor, we hope you find something fantastically funny, scientifically silly, or even horrifically humorous by taking our quiz and exploring the book lists we’ve put together.

If you want to jump right in, there are also some digital titles available for immediate checkout all month long—absolutely no waiting!


And here’s a small cross-section of the kinds of books you can expect when all of speculative fiction gets a bit ridiculous:

If you have any favorite funny science fiction or fantasy (or horror or supernatural) books to share, please show them off in a list. Make sure the title starts with “Beyond Bestsellers: Humorous SFF” followed by your own title. Otherwise, we might not be able to find it. Seriously, we would love to see your funny sides!

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12 responses to “Beyond Bestsellers: Humorous Science Fiction & Fantasy”

  1. Jackie P. says:

    Someday, Emily, you are going to write a book. I am going to read that book.

  2. Lindsey A. says:

    I got fantasy humor. Who is surprised? NOT ME! Although I haven’t actually read anything on that list yet…

    The Lies of Locke Lamora has been on my TBR forever, though!

    I died over “A parrot, so I can wake up to the sound of screams every day.” That’s life with my cockatiel.

    • Emily Z says:

      Fantasy humor books are wily and rare (excluding Pratchett’s Discworld books and their cult following). I think that genre had it’s first heyday in the 90s and only now are the people who loved those books experiened enough to start writing their own. That’s my theory, at least. I have perhaps too many theories about this genre.

      My own little parrots were actually the inspiration for that question! They can get pretty loud for something so small.

  3. Erin L. says:

    I got gentler genre fiction etc. Trouble is none of the titles spark my interest for now. I need some encouragement I guess. Any one I should start with? I usually like straight fantasy or epic fantasy but I’ve enjoyed things like “Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy”. I get dry humor.

    • Emily Z says:

      Hmmmm, well if you haven’t read The Princess Bride yet (I didn’t read it until way after college, somehow), I might start there. After that, maybe Manly Hero from the more general fantasy humor list. Pratchett’s Discworld series is sort of the fantasy cousin to the Hitchhiker’s books in that they both lean toward the satirical and are rather British. If Mort doesn’t catch your eye, there are a lot of places to get started in that series (see: one of the flow charts I’ve used in the past) because the Discworld books are less linear and more like a tapestry of different threads. Let me know if these aren’t quite what you’re looking for and I’ll think some more. This is the kind of puzzle I love 🙂

      • Erin L. says:

        Thank you Emily. I love finding new authors and haven’t tried Pratchett yet. I have read The Princess Bride (and watched the movie a thousand times) and love it! I also love anything British in any genre. I’m currently reading “The Jane Austen Project” by Kathleen Flynn where time travelers from our future go back to 1815 on a mission to meet Jane Austen and steal an unpublished manuscript. Wonderful mix of my two favorite genres. Historical fiction and Sci-Fi.

      • Emily Z says:

        That sounds delightful–I love it when books mix genres.

      • Jackie P. says:

        I loved “The Jane Austen Project!” It was a quiet, fun, time-travel story with a side-helping of some lovely romance. I assume you’re also a Connie Willis fan, then? I think an argument could be made that her Crosstalk is humorous sci-fi. The basic premise is that in the future you can get an implant that will allow you to communicate telepathically with your partner – only for Briddey, instead of connecting with her boyfriend she’s connected to the weird guy who rarely leaves the basement at work. Erin, have you read A Natural History of Dragons by Marie Brennan? It’s a fun alt-history where the main character subverts gender roles in Victorian society to become a dragon naturalist.

  4. Erin L. says:

    Thanks Jackie, now I have even more to read! I love it. I have not read any of these yet so I better get going.

    • Erin L. says:

      Also, the Marie Brennan books sound like the Temeraire books which I loved. Are they?

      • Jackie P. says:

        Oh, I’m so glad you’ve read Temeraire, I thought about mentioning them, but I tend to suggest Novak all the time, so I held back. Yes, I think that if you like Temeraire, you may also like Brennan. I’d say that they are a bit more leisurely paced, and there aren’t battle scenes, but there is intrigue. Sadly, no dragon riding, either. At least not in the first book. They take more of a archaeology/paleontology/zoological approach to dragons. This also makes me think of, more akin to The Jane Austen Project, again, but Mary Robinette Kowal’s Shades of Milk & Honey, which is basically Jane Austen with subtle magic. She subverts the genre in a couple really great ways that if I explained would spoil things. Great on audio.

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