Funny SF/F books

My friend Theron was mentioning this weekend that he had given his young son The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy to read, and the boy just devoured it.  As all of us geeks on the conversation were congratulating him, this made me think of other funny fantasy and science fiction books to read.

My picks:

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy - coverThe rest of the Hitchhiker’s Guide series by Douglas Adams, of course, with the adventures of Arthur Dent and Ford Prefect through the galaxy after the demolition of Earth.  Featuring unforgettable characters such as Marvin the depressed android, Zaphod Beeblebrox, Trillian, and of course a bowl of petunias.  The first three books made me laugh more than the last two or Adams’ other series built around Dirk Gently’s detective agency.

The Stainless Steel Rat - coverThe adventures of the Stainless Steel Rat by Harry Harrison: the tales of master con-man Slippery Jim DiGriz and his dangerous family, including his beloved Angelina.  The series goes on for eleven books, some of which are more devoted to space opera adventures and others which are frankly comedic.  Like many series, it loses a bit of steam in the long run, but still good easy reads on a plane or bus trip.

Phule's CompanyThe Phule’s Company series by Robert Lynn Asprin, telling the adventures of Willard Phule, a.k.a. Captain Jester, and his inept but surprisingly successful mercenary company.  Meet the soldiers of Captain Willard Phule’s Company–a handful of military rejects able to do more damage before 9 A.M. than most people do all day. Threatened by an alien enemy, Earth’s military sends Phule and his soldiers to a distant planet. But now, the aliens have chosen a new target of war… Phule’s Company.

Another Fine Myth - coverThe Myth-Adventures books, also by Robert Asprin, featuring the adventures of Skeeve, a young gifted but untrained magician’s apprentice, and his friend the demon Aahz.  I greatly enjoyed the first few books in this series (there are nineteen!) but I started losing interest as Skeeve mastered his magical abilities and became just too powerful.

Bimbos of the Death Sun - cover Zombies of the Gene Pool - coverBimbos of the Death Sun and its sequel Zombies of the Gene Pool, both by Sharyn McCrumb, two hilarious mysteries featuring Jay O. Mega and poking loving fun at science fiction and fantasy authors, fandom, and conventions.  Everything nerdy or geeky makes it in, from cosplay to fanzines, and from role-playing games to Trekkies.

The Warslayer - coverThe Warslayer: The Incredibly True Adventures of Vixen the Slayer, the Beginning, by Rosemary Edghill: A sort of fantasy version of Galaxy Quest, where actress Gloria “Glory” McArdle, star in a Xena- or Buffy-esque fantasy television show, is confused with her fictional character Vixen the Slayer and whisked off to another dimension to be a champion against Evil.

Agent to the Stars - coverAgent to the Stars by John Scalzi is available free online: aliens come to visit Earth but decide that to ease first contact, they need to hire an agent — a press relation, booking kind of agent, that is.  Scalzi has published other humourous novels and short stories including Red Shirts and Fuzzy Nation, which I have not yet read, as well as his more serious books.

How Much for Just the Planet - coverHow Much for Just the Planet, by John M. Ford, set in the classic Star Trek universe and hilariously funny for those who are fond of the original television series.  The crews of the Enterprise and rival Klingon ship vie to establish an alliance with the unaligned planet of Direidi, which recent surveys have discovered is rich in dilithium crystals.  But the inhabitants are not fond of being the football in this game and have their own non-violent way to deal with diplomatic pressure.  Funniest Trek thing written since “The Trouble with Tribbles” and until “Trials and Tribble-ations.”

Not so funny to me, but others enjoy them:

The endless Xanth series by Pierce Anthony.  I read over a dozen of them, figuring that I was just not “getting” the joke, until I decided that no, it was just very heavy-handed puns and slapstick with a good side order of misogyny.

The even more enormous Discworld series by Terry Pratchett.  Light-hearted and amusing, but not enough to get more than smiles from me.  I rather like the British television versions of some of the books, though.

Fiasco: The Kai Tak Job, continued

rocket-propelled grenadesLast weekend we played the “HK TPK” playset by Corey Reid, John Rogers, and Gareth-Michael Skarka for Jason Morningstar’s game Fiasco (Bully Pulpit Games).  The game is intended to tell tales of things gone wrong, largely in the style of the Cohen Brothers’ movies; the playset simulates Hong Kong action movies.

We made it to the Tilt, and I took some very short notes.  I had hoped to transcribe them to narrative form, but I don’t think I’ll have the time and we’re playing the next portion tonight, so here they are.  I had already posted the setup and intro, but some of it is included again in the first two scenes here.

I can’t wait to see how our “stupid plan executed to perfection” turns out. Continue reading “Fiasco: The Kai Tak Job, continued”

Pyromaniacs and Paladins: A Damon Sainte, P.I. Adventure

A little over a week ago, we had friends over and played another episode of the adventures of Damon Sainte, P.I., an ensemble cast setting my husband wrote for the game Bloodshadows from West End Games.  I’m a bit late with this recap but I finally found my misplaced notebook.  The previous episode was posted here.  Our player characters this time were Damon Sainte himself (Paul), Cat the former pit fighter and current casino owner (Maureen again, like in last episode), Granite the gargoyle (Steve P.), and Ubaid the talking cat (me).  Character backgrounds are found here.


An hour or so after sundown in Galitia, three thugs with glowing, clearly magical submachine guns burst into the front door of the Cat’s Claw Casino.  Granite, on the lookout as usual, barely had time to yell a warning.  Cat rushed in from her office to intervene, and Granite flew down to help her.  The patrons ran in terror, the thugs peppered the casino with bullets, it was pandemonium.

Upstairs in Damon’s office, Ubaid dove under Damon’s couch then used his magic to reappear in the back alley behind the Cat’s Claw.  A fourth thug was there, lobbing an incendiary bomb towards the open back door, but Ubaid managed to confuse the thug and spoil his aim so the fire bomb splashed harmlessly onto a brick wall in the alley.

Damon, rushing out of his office, discovered that a first bomb had already set the upper floor on fire.  Continue reading “Pyromaniacs and Paladins: A Damon Sainte, P.I. Adventure”

Movie night for Fiasco: HK TPK

As part of getting in the mood for our Fiasco: HK TPK game, we have been watching a bunch of Hong Kong action movies as well as movies closely emulating the genre.  This week we watched two that pair off pretty well: John Woo’s Once A Thief (1991) and Dong-Hoon Choi’s The Thieves (2012).

Both of them are heist movies, so in terms of playing a a game version, all the comments I made in my earlier series on Heist Jobs in Games and Fiction would apply.

Once A Thief (1991)Once A Thief stars Chow Yun-Fat, Leslie Cheung, and Cherie Chung as Joey, Jim and Cherie, a trio of art thieves who were raised together by the Hong Kong answer to Fagin, the sinister Chow (played by Kenneth Tsang), a master criminal and fence.  The three want to get out from the business and from under”Dad’s” thumb, so of course they run afoul of him.

The movie unfolds in a light tone compared to most John Woo movies, with romance and humour as well as action.  The first half or so is spent establishing characters and relationships, and showing us how the team works.  By the time we get to the first “tilt”, however, a big job falls apart when the thieves are double-crossed, resulting in a blood bath, and one of the thieves ends up in a wheelchair.

The second half, the job-to-end-all jobs, gets a little edgier treatment, suggesting sadness and a hint of desperation under the banter of the main characters.  The action also ramps up, to my satisfaction.  Points for the action scenes in a wheelchair, and the whole wheelchair-fu idea; it was well done and novel.  The second half also leads to a spectacular, over-the-top final battle with lots of destruction, and a not unexpected, but well executed second “tilt.”  In Fiasco terms, I’d say that it uses the soft “Aftermath” table from The Fiasco Companion.

We got the DVD from Netflix and watched it with English subtitles; there are portions of dialogue in English and French in addition to Cantonese, which were clear enough that I was able to follow without help from the subtitles.

The Thieves (2012)The Thieves is presented in a very different register, much darker in tone and with more earthy, believable action scenes.  Nine specialists from two different teams, from South Korea and from Macau, come together for one big heist; the crown jewel of the theft will be a huge diamond, the coveted Tear of the Sun.  But each of the thieves has ambitions, dreams, rivalries, an agenda.  Add a greedy fence and a police sting, and we’re ready for a Fiasco.

The movie, in Hollywood terms, plays a lot like a cross of Ocean’s Eleven meets Reservoir Dogs, Leverage meets Heist.  It’s got the teams of skilled pros and the daring theft, mixed with greed, mistrust and revenge.  I liked that, unlike most Hollywood movies in this genre, we pretty much had gender parity (four women, five men on the team) and that the ages ranged from young punk to grizzled veteran for both women and men.

We watched this streaming on YouTube, the whole two hours and fifteen minutes or so.  It’s mostly in Korean but with parts of the dialogue in Cantonese, Mandarin, Japanese and English as it hops around from Seoul to Macau to Hong Kong.  With nine thieves plus secondary characters, many flashbacks, a complex plot, and a lot of scenes with dark lighting and only a glimpse of who is speaking, I found it challenging to follow.  This was complicated by the English subtitles that had to compete with Korean ones for all portions of the voice track not in Korean, and were not very well timed with the speech, leaving the viewer to figure out who said what in rapid-fire dialogue.  Still, I think I did pretty well keeping up, all things considered.

As a Fiasco game, it definitely would not pull any punches.  Many characters meet with a rough end…

Pop Culture Mythago Wood

Mythago Wood coverThe May book for my post-class reading group on Goodreads is Robert Holdstock’s Mythago Wood (1984). Holdstock met an untimely death from an E. coli infection after attending a science fiction convention in November 2009.  I tell you, this makes me even warier of con food!  It’s very sad that he died of such a seemingly stupid cause and well before his time.

As usual, I gather pop culture and offbeat resources to accompany our reading.   The first thing to note, however, is that for a book that had so much influence, and garnered so much acclaim, it generated relatively little pop culture derivatives, at least by name.  Moreover, it’s another of these books that is recent enough to be covered by copyright, but not enough to have received Internet popularity.

  • Robert Holdstock’s own official Website still exists and provides links to articles, reviews, news, and clips of his appearances before his death, as well as numerous tributes afterwards.
  • The Worlds Without End page for Mythago Wood offers a good number of links to reviews.
  • Holdstock himself on a bit of pop culture: “The Games We Play.”
  • Flickr user group: “Mythago Wood.”
  • Bran Ruz by Alain Deschamps and Claude Auclair, a standalone graphic novel telling legends of early Celtic Brittany and particularly of the lost city of Ys, is a good companion book.

There are, however, some fan-made mini-movies online, for example:

The book and subsequent series also produced musical influences:

  • Mythago Morris, a team of dancers, musicians and story tellers from Sussex (you’ll find a good number of clips of their shows on YouTube.)
  • The Latvian “post-metal” group SoundArcade released a song called “Mythago Fern” on the album “Moving The Great Hadron” (2012).
  • The Scottish death metal band which exists on-and-off, Mythago, with one album to date.
  • EDIT: The music of Ralph Vaughan Williams influenced Holdstock while he was writing the Mythago series.

And sports!

  • The University of Bristol Ultimate Frisbee Club calls itself the Mythago.

For those of us who enjoy role-playing games, I suggest the following:

  • Tim Gray’s Albion (Silver Branch Games): Celtic fantasy in a once and future Britain.  In addition, some of Tim’s other games like Legends Walk! and Arsenal of Heaven are also influenced by the mythic fantasy genre that Holdstock shaped.
  • In addition, several of the games listed when I wrote about the Grimm Brothers’ fairy tales could be good matches.