Wednesday, 12 May 2010

Short Fiction Wednesday

Comedy is something dear to my heart, and this week we have two funny stories.

From Futurismic comes Westminster Executive Solutions by Chris Nakashima-Brown and Bruce Sterling. I'm a huge Sterling fan, and I remember Nakashima-Brown from his previous appearance in Futurismic, so I had some idea what to expect here.

This irreverent Dystopian satire squeezes a lot of content into it's short space. The events unfold in a collage of chat room conversation, blog rants and police walkie-talkie chatter that strips away the artifice of story. It's like a modern day epistolary story, using incredibly close points of view that admit only what a character says, and you have to piece the story together from these different perspectives on events. The story's a lot of fun and the constitutional crisis it describes seemed deliciously timely.

Tom Holt's Brownian Emotion is a gentler sort of comedy, a sweet rom-com via Dr Who, maybe. Holt's name rang a bell, and a quick web search revealed he's the writer of a large number of comic novels with a fantastical tinge, so I was interested to see what he did here.

This is a fluffy bit of quantum nonsense that sees a hapless history lecturer in Oxford on his way ask his girlfriend to marry him, when he meets a woman who claims she broke his heart ten years ago. I won't give the twists and turns away, but I think you can see where this tale of lost love and rifts in the TimSpacFlux (“that's what we call it now”) is going. In contrast to the minimal characterisation in Westminster Executive Solutions, this one's full of character, depending on the likeable leads to engage us in the story and the mix of soap and romance.

I'm a big comedy fan, and SF is a genre that really lends itself to the funny. I grew up on a diet of cheap paper backs full of the stories of the great American SF humourists of the fifties and sixties, writers like Vonnegut, Dick, Harry Harrison, Robert Sheckley and Jack Vance. Combined with early exposure to Monty Python, this put my brain in perfect shape to receive 2000AD when it arrived, and it seemed to be instantly talking my language.

I prefer grim humour to the lighter types, I have to admit. My favourite writers all have a dark sense of humour, writers like Sterling, Steve Aylett, J G Ballard, Jack Vance, Greg Egan, Jon Courtney Grimwood and Alan Moore. Some of the signature works of SF have strong satirical elements Clockwork Orange, Brave New World, The Handmaid's Tale and even 1984 have an undercurrent of satire and even farce about them.

It seems to me that the lighter fair focuses on problems of reason and common sense, but I think the absurdity of life is impervious to reason. Life is nasty brutish and short, but you might as well stop and smell the schadenfreude. That's the sort of thing I like!

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