Space Farce: Humorous Fiction Set Among the Stars

by Emily Z.

Background image courtesy of NASA Image and Video Library.

What is it about outer space and its inhabitants that drives some to take it so seriously (or “Sirius-ly”)? The inherent lack of oxygen? The suffocating silence of its infinite expanse? That Ridley Scott film? That other Ridley Scott film? Space can be a happy place. Or, at the very least, there is enough room in the immensity of the galaxy for violent, amoral aliens and sassy robots. Once upon a time we had space nonsense in abundance: Spaceballs,  Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (book, film, and TV mini-series), FarscapeRed DwarfThe Fifth ElementFireflyMystery Science Theater 3000FuturamaGalaxy Quest, etc. Then, for a while, all outer space wanted to do was kill us on barren planets or on abandoned experimental space craft.

I believe we can find a balance between these two forces. For every Gravity we can also have a Guardians of the Galaxy. Speaking of which, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2  just came out in theaters last week. On top of that, Mystery Science Theater 3000 was enthusiastically raised from the grave by Kickstarter fans in April. Cosmos-based comedy is practically having a renaissance.

What about the books though? I’ll admit that the space farce genre is taking a bit longer to make itself known, partly because it lives in the shadow of the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series. Where do you go then if you feel like having an absurd space adventure but don’t necessarily feel like re-reading the the G. books, Redshirts, or the Saga graphic novels for the 8th time?

You go to the library.

If You Liked Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

The Sheriff of Yrnameer by Michael Rubens
Jaded anti-hero and fantastic liar Cole is having the worst stretch of days known to Mankind. He owes a powerful alien creature an astonishing sum of credits and if he doesn’t pay up soon (like, in the next few seconds) something truly disgusting is going to happen to his head and then he’ll die. On top of that his crew is betraying him, the police are after him, and there’s some cannibalism shenanigans afoot. One might consider this book a Black Comedy in that it’s entirely goofy, but there’s also violence and mayhem. It still has a good-ish heart. Cole and an inexplicably motley group of space weirdos with completely incompatible goals end up together, fighting to save a bunch of orphans and a place called Yrnameer (which may or may not exist).


Year Zero by Robert Reid
According to the vast majority of enlightened extraterrestrial life, Humans are terrible, bumbling throwbacks in all but one respect: our music. Apparently, incalculable alien species have been listening to our music for decades without our knowledge or permission. They’ve been pirating and illegally redistributing everything from Lady Gaga to the Welcome Back Kotter end credits tune and now they’re afraid we’ll use our second-best talent (litigation) to sue them for all eternity. Enter Nick Carter (no relation to the Backstreet Boys), a reasonably competent media copyright lawyer. He is inexplicably humanity’s last hope to broker intergalactic peace. If he fails, Earth and all it’s inhabitants might just have a little “accident”. You can’t sue anyone if you’re extinct, right?

While all are welcome to experience this book in any manner they wish, I highly recommend the digital audiobook which is pitch-perfectly narrated by comedian John Hodgeman.

If You Liked Redshirts

Mechanical Failure by Joe Zieja
Rogers has happily retired from his futuristic military career. Despite being stationed in space, his entire tour of duty was pretty uneventful given the 200+ years of interplanetary peace. Now he’s ready to settle into a nice, easy life of tricking space pirates out of their money. After a major scam goes majorly wrong, Rogers ends up not relegated to an intergalactic penal planet, but re-enlisted. The frat-house military-industrial complex he once enjoyed has changed though. Rules exist, the booze is gone, and there are a lot more infuriating, incompetent robots. On top of that there’s a …war coming? Rogers is going to have to find the underlying cause of all this if he wants to survive to re-retire. If he’s lucky, maybe he’ll also make it with the ferocious and gigantic female Marine Captain known as The Viking.

Zieja himself is a veteran of the US Air Force, so this send-up of the military is done with love. He’s also a voice-actor (and motion cap actor, parkour enthusiast, and all-around ninja) so you know he narrated his own audiobook. The sequel in this planned trilogy should be out in October of this year.

If You Just Like Snarky Robots

All Systems Red by Martha Wells
When the humans of this distant future reality want to plan an interplanetary trip for any reason, be it research, mining, or a corporate retreat, they must hire a company that specializes in space adventures to facilitate it. It’s mandatory and very expensive but the company provides all necessary transport, shelter, food, medical supplies, tools, communication equipment, dossiers on the destination, and security. The quality of the aforementioned accouterments depends heavily on how much your group can pay. Regrettably, the intrepid team of scientists in All Systems Red are on a tight budget. When some of their most vital equipment starts to malfunction, they’re tempted to assume it’s just the nature of their bargain-basement tech. But what if it were something or someone more sinister? Sabotage? The only “person” they can ask is their company-provided security droid a.k.a. the SecUnit. This humanoid organic/machine hybrid is programmed by the company to obey all commands and answer all questions. Unfortunately, this SecUnit went ahead and disabled the software that governs its actions and is no longer behaving entirely as it should. It’s developing a personality. It’s clandestinely watching soap operas instead of reading mission briefs. It’s even given itself a secret nickname: Murderbot.

How do we know all this? Murderbot is also this novella’s sole narrator.

If You Don’t Usually Read Science Fiction

Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet by Becky Chambers
This book has a different breed of humor than the titles above. Where most of the other books in this list are either absurdist and slapstick or sarcastic and dry, L.W.S.A.P. is charming and sassy. There is cuddling. There is also some swearing and snark (especially at the expense of humans), but by and large it is a gentle read. There is plenty of space adventuring and some unique alien encounters, however the real action happens between the characters in the form of friendships, misunderstandings, and infatuations. A decent number of the characters are non-humanoid, sporting scales, feathers, fur, slime, and additional appendages, which always makes things more interesting. There’s also a sentient Artificial Intelligence system that may or may not have a crush on one of the main characters.

If your favorite part of Star Trek was learning about different alien cultures—the diplomacy, misunderstandings, and occasional intimacies—this book might be a good fit. If you prefer books about relationships and exploring differing values but don’t normally read science fiction, this could be your gateway to the genre. At its core, it is a road trip story that just happens to happen in space.

As always, if you have any other titles that fit this sub-genre I totally just made up, let me know in the comments you hoopy froods.



4 responses to “Space Farce: Humorous Fiction Set Among the Stars”

  1. Jocelyn says:

    I love so many of the tv shows and movies you mentioned, but was shocked to realize I’d only read one of these books. Apparently my scifi viewing runs the gamut from dark and serious to funny while I tend to read mostly dark and serious scifi novels. I’m going to have to give some of these a try!

  2. Emily Z says:

    Well now I want to know which one of them you read.
    Funny science fiction is an odd animal, for sure. There are tons more funny sci-fi films and shows than books now. The books are out there, but it feels like they have a “cult” following rather than outright popularity. Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy probably has the broadest following, possibly because it’s less about any hard scientific concepts than it is about mocking the absurdity and randomness of life, the universe, and everyting. I chalk the niche nature of sci-fi humor up to the subjective nature of humor itself. What is funny to one reader might be unbearably crass or even cringe-worthy to another. That’s part of why I wanted to include a few different flavors of humor in this list. Rubens and Zieja are fairly alike in their humor and tone. Reid is similar to them, but a little more gentle, I guess. Wells and Chambers are distinct from the rest and polar opposites of one another. I had fun reading them all though, just for different reasons.

  3. I really enjoyed the Chambers, and am looking forward to reading the sequel. And Mechanical Failure is definitely a comedy of errors set on a space station. And I HAVE to read All Systems Red – snarky robots? Written by a woman? Yes, please.

  4. Chickwheat says:

    Can’t wait to hear/read Year Zero and All Systems Red!

    I loved The Long Way—‘s mix of characters, humor, & heartache. The story unfolds bit by bit and completely absorbed me. The sequel A Closed and Common Orbit was even better!

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