Magic, Mayhem… and Laughter? 15 Tales of Fantasy and Humor

Our teen librarian, Kelley, has some book recommendations for those who like their fantasy with a dash of humor.

 

While most folks may not head to fantasy novels for the laughs, there are lots of fantastical books out there that provide some escapism and comic relief at the same time. Here are fifteen delightfully funny fantasy books that shake up the genre– there are high fantasy parodies, taking on tropes of faux-medieval fantasy worlds, sometimes with a meta-fictional twist. Then there are satirical takes on urban fantasy and the paranormal, tongue-in-cheek updates of myths and fables, and books that are just plain funny and/or weird. So if you need a break from the darker end of the fantasy spectrum, consider one of these triumphs of fantastical humor and get ready to fall down a rabbit hole of laughter and wonder!

 

The Amulet of Samarkand by Jonathan Stroud . If you somehow missed out on reading the Bartimaeus Sequence when you were younger, now is the time to read it. If you read it as a kid, now is the time to read it again (and pick up on all the historical jokes that whizzed over your head the first time around). It all begins when a magician’s apprentice decides to skip ahead in his studies and secretly summon a 5,000-year-old djinni for his own purposes. Unfortunately for him, this djinni happens to be the snarkiest magical being the world has ever known, and he is none too happy to be working for a bratty kid. A novel of alternate history, magic, and sarcasm which successfully bridges the divide between children’s and adult fiction.

 

The Big Over Easy : a Nursery Crime by Jasper Fforde. Humpty Dumpty, a known ladies’ man, has been found dead next to a wall. Did he fall… or was he pushed? It’s up to Inspector Jack Spratt, head of the Nursery Crime Division, and his partner, Mary Mary, to find out all the dirty details. The Big Over Easy is brimming with wit and word-play, as well as clever references to pretty much every fairy tale or fable out there (and also there are aliens, somehow?). It’s a smart, literary, pun-laden riot, with a genuine mystery at its heart.

 

The Blacksmith Queen by G.A. Aiken. Keeley is a blacksmith who doesn’t pay much mind to the old king’s passing and a prophecy declaring that the new sovereign will be a queen to usurp the kingdom’s princes. War is good for her business. But she has to start caring when she discovers that the prophesied queen is her younger sister, and a band of mountain warriors are determined to see her on the throne. Powerful women, irreverent snark, and humor are layered into bloody battle scenes- it sounds unlikely but somehow the author pulls it off. Romance takes a back seat to the main storyline and the hilarious interactions between all of her characters- sit back and enjoy a sometimes gory, truly funny feminist romp that just screams girl power.

 

Carry On : the Rise and Fall of Simon Snow by Rainbow Rowell. Simon Snow and his roommate Baz are mortal enemies. Simon is the Chosen One, and Baz is evil, but they have their routines and when Baz goes missing, Simon is concerned. It’s their last year at the Watford School of Magicks, and Simon’s infuriating nemesis didn’t even bother to show up. Carry On is a ghost story, a love story and a mystery. It has just as much kissing and talking as you’d expect from a Rainbow Rowell story – but far, far more monsters.

 

Gideon the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir.  Set on an abandoned space station, Gideon is a sword-fighting cavalier sworn to protect her worst enemy as she uses necromancy to figure out how to win the emperor’s competition. The winners get immortal life, but it’s not an easy prize to obtain, especially when the murders begin. Gideon the Ninth is too funny to be straight horror, it’s a mix of science fiction and fantasy, and is much more gory than your average romance. It is gothic and irreverent- brilliantly original, messy and weird straight through with surprising depth and appeal.

 

Good Omens by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett.  Someone has misplaced the Antichrist. But, according to “The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch” the world is to end next Saturday. And only Aziraphale, a finicky angel, and Crowley, a chilled out demon, seem to have any problem with that. Comedic fantasy great Terry Pratchett teamed up with Neil Gaiman, another all-time master of the genre, to create top-notch apocalyptic humor. This book is laugh-out-loud funny, and it doesn’t skimp on the plot, either. Plus, not only is the situation a hilarious, horrifying mess, but the characters are some of the most memorable in any genre. (Check out the BBC series once you’ve read the book!)

 

The Hike by Drew Magary.  An epic fantasy adventure with a simple premise: a guy gets lost in the woods. But getting lost turns into a journey across a strange world populated with hungry giantesses, witheringly sarcastic crabs, dog-men, and dwarves. In short, things get very, very weird. One of the strangest and funniest fantasy sagas unlike any you’ve read before- weaving elements of folktales and video games into a riveting, unforgettable tale of what a man will endure to return to his family.

 

The House in the Cerulean Sea by TJ Klune. Linus Baker works in the Department in Charge of Magical Youth, and his latest assignment is rather odd: He must travel to Arthur Parnassus’s orphanage and evaluate six children to determine what the chances are that they’ll bring about the end of the world. But when Linus arrives, it’s clear that Arthur is safeguarding some pretty big secrets about these children, and will do whatever it takes to keep them safe. A balance of crazy humor, a keen sense of storytelling, and a gentle romance infuses this tale of found family, the importance of kindness and the courage to speak up for those who need it most.

 

Kings of the Wyld by Nicholas Eames.  Clay Cooper and his band were once the best of the best, the most feared and renowned crew of mercenaries this side of the Heartwyld. Their glory days long past, the mercs have grown apart and grown old, fat, drunk, or a combination of the three. Then an ex-bandmate turns up at Clay’s door with a plea for help–the kind of mission that only the very brave or the very stupid would sign up for. It’s time to get the band back together! A comedy, an adventure tale, a consideration on growing older, and rock ‘n roll all rolled into a fantastically original romp of a book.

 

The Princess Bride by William Goldman.  Rich in character and satire, the novel is set in 1941 and framed cleverly as an “abridged” retelling of a centuries-old tale set in the fabled country of Florin that’s home to “Beasts of all natures and descriptions. Pain. Death. Brave men. Coward men. Strongest men. Chases. Escapes. Lies. Truths. Passions.” This is one of the most unique books you will ever read: a cynical, ironic, hysterical, and somehow stunningly romantic fantasy novel (and don’t miss out on watching the movie!).

 

Small Gods by Terry Pratchett. Terry Pratchett is the master of the fantasy humor genre, so it’s hard to go wrong with any book from his Discworld series. The Discworld is, of course, a flat disc balanced on the backs of four elephants which are standing on the back of a giant turtle, and it’s populated with some of the funniest oddballs that fantasy has to offer. Small Gods is not the first book in the series, but it’s a stand-alone novel set in the Discworld, and it’s got some of Pratchett’s absolute sharpest wit. The Great God Om has run into a bit of a problem: How do you go about being a god if no one believes in you?

 

Sorcerer to the Crown by Zen Cho.  In Zen Cho’s witty debut novel, Zacharias Wythe is the Sorcerer Royal of the Unnatural Philosophers, tasked with overseeing that all magic in England is kept in balance. But when magic drains away, he goes to the edges of fairyland to discover the cause–and meets a young woman with formidable powers that he won’t soon forget. A wonderful and charming book that combines regency romance and fantasy while at the same time exploring some of the problematic aspects of those genres in regards to race and gender. It examines the relationship between politics and power all the while managing to remain light, delightful, endearing, and funny.

 

Soulless by Gail Carriger.  All of Gail Carriger’s Victorian steampunk novels populated with vampires and werewolves are hysterically funny, but you might as well start out with her debut novel and the first in the Parasol Protectorate series. Lady Alexia Tarrabotti is a spinster, and she’s soulless- her touch renders an immortal mortal. For that reason she’s feared, but when someone tries to kill her, she must work with a brooding werewolf earl in order to get to the bottom of the mystery. Light-hearted and fast-paced, Soulless is a mix of historical fantasy and paranormal romance with a touch of screwball comedy you won’t want to put down.

 

To Say Nothing of the Dog : or How We Found the Bishop’s Bird Stump at Last by Connie Willis. The invention of the time machine has opened up the past to historians in a way that their forebears could only dream of. There are rules, though: You aren’t supposed to bring anything back with you from the past- least of all a cat. Now an overworked Oxford Don has to return to the 19th century to set things right. A comedic frolic through an unpredictable world of mystery, love, and time travel.

 

Welcome to Night Vale : a Novel by Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor.  Located in a nameless desert somewhere in the great American Southwest, Night Vale is a small town where ghosts, angels, aliens, and government conspiracies are all commonplace parts of everyday life. Whether you’re a fan of the strange and upsetting Welcome to Night Vale podcast or you’re new to Night Vale and its quaint desert conspiracies, it’s never a bad time to visit Night Vale. As their tourism board says, “We’ll show you the fun in a handful of dust!” Night Vale is the hysterical, paranormal Gothic novel you never knew you were looking for (but it’s most certainly been looking for you).

A Lighthearted Romp Through the Spaceways

Our Teen Librarian, Kelley, shares some of her favorite sci-fi:

Recently I rediscovered a book that I loved long ago: The Witches of Karres by James H. Schmitz. I enjoyed it just as much, if not more than before. The book is a rarity among older science fiction, it doesn’t show its age with ridiculous predictions or stilted dialog and literally feels as if it could’ve been written yesterday. Partly, I believe that this is because it is as much a fantasy book as a science fiction book, but mostly it’s because the author’s writing is funny, imaginative, and clever, and his characters are delightfully quirky and likeable.

Between the 1940s and the 1970s Schmitz wrote a large number of short stories and several, fairly short, novels. His fiction is characteristically light-hearted, fast-paced, amusing and entertaining. It straddles the SF/fantasy genres, can be equally enjoyed by adults and younger readers, and (very unusual for the time and genre) features female characters who are every bit as strong and interesting as the men. This spurred me on to read more of Schmitz’s work, happily most of which are again available, both digitally and in hard copy, and a lot of it is available online for free.  I read all of it- Eternal Frontier, the Agent of Vega story sequence, all of his series set in the “Hub”, and all of the numerous independent tales. Twelve of his stories are available from Project Gutenberg , and more are available from Free Speculative Fiction Online (including the entire full-length novel The Witches of Karres). I loved them all, but I still love Witches best.

The Witches of Karres was originally a novelette published in the December 1949 issue of Astounding Science Fiction. Schmitz expanded the novelette into a novel in 1966, and it is unusual in being relatively long. As is common with this author, it is set in a far-flung future in which humanity has spread across many planets in a substantial part of the galaxy. The story is about Captain Pausert, an amiable, well-intentioned, but inexperienced young space ship captain who finds himself increasingly embroiled in wild adventures when he rescues a young female slave from an abusive owner. Events snowball from there, and he soon finds that he has purchased three young sisters. But these are no ordinary girls; they are from Karres, the witch world, and skilled in manipulating klatha – the universal force which powers witchcraft. This is the start of a whole series of adventures in which Pausert and his feisty and formidable young allies face multiple threats and problems as a result of attracting the attention of some powerful and dangerous organizations, with the survival of civilization being ultimately at stake.

And- if you found Witches as utterly funny and charming as I did, you are in luck! The story has been continued by other authors (but are not unfortunately available online for free). The Wizard of Karres, by Mercedes Lackey, Eric Flint and Dave Freer, The Sorceress of Karres by Eric Flint and Dave Freer, and (forthcoming) The Shaman of Karres also by Eric Flint and Dave Freer are direct sequels but were written long after James Schmitz’s death in 1981, the first being published in 2004. The authors make a good job of matching Schmitz’s light and amusing writing style and they pack in enough new ideas to keep readers involved and entertained. These stories are not quite as terrific as the original, of course, but still great fun, as are all the James H. Schmitz stories linked above. I hope you enjoy them as much as I do!

If you enjoy The Witches of Karres, here are some other titles from our downloadable audiobook collection you might like:

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The Amazing Short Stories of Ted Chiang

Our sci-fi guy, Harold, has an author recommendation for you:

If I could only recommend one science fiction author to read this year, it would be Ted Chiang. Though Chiang has written only 14 of short stories and one novella, his works have been critically acclaimed. His short story collections are Exhalation and Stories of Your Life.

Chiang has been the recipent  of four Nebula awards, four Hugo awards, and won the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer (for his short story, “Babylon”).  His short story, “Story of Your Life,” was the basis of the film Arrival (2016). Exhalation was a Goodreads Choice Award in 2019. The New York Times named Exhalation one of the 10 Best Books of 2019. That’s a lot of awards that are, in my opinion, well deserved!

Chiang’s works are hard to describe since they are not conventional science fiction, per se. It’s a subtle distinction, but they are more fiction based on science than science fiction. President Obama, via Facebook, said that they are “a collection of short stories that will make you think, grapple with big questions, and feel more human. The best kind of science fiction.”

These are precisely articulated, well-crafted and thought-provoking stories. There are no rocket ships or cosmic battles. Instead, they expand upon and extend science, and technology that exists today. Two of my favorites from Exhalation are “Babylon”, a re-work of the Tower of Babel story, and “Merchant and the Alchemist’s Gate”,  about a merchant in ancient Persia who can travel through time to correct past mistakes.

Exhalation  and Stories of Your Life are available at the Cheshire Public Library as printed books.  Exhalation is also available as an ebook, and Stories of Your Life is also available as a downloadable audiobook. They are well worth reading. The film, Arrival, based on Chang’s “Story of Your Life”, is available on DVD and Blu-Ray.

Susan’s Best Reads of 2019

I don’t read as much as I wish I could; I just don’t have time at the moment. It doesn’t help that I wind up with sometimes 600 page books in my hands, and those take longer.  I never know what I’ll read next, and I read a bunch of good ones last year. Here are some of my favorites:

One of the two best books I read this year, I’ve already blogged about: Creativity, Inc, by Ed Catmull, was amazing. Not just a history of Pixar films, it’s also the best darned, most entertaining book on business and employee management you will read. Pixar is a 5-star company for a reason.

The second of my Best Reads this year is The Man from the Train: The Solving of a Century-Old Serial Killer Mystery by Bill James and Rachel McCarthy James.  From approximately 1898 to 1912, a serial killer traversed the US by train – coming through New Haven’s Union Station on the way – with an MO of bludgeoning his victims with the back of an axe. Because of communications at the time, few people were able to connect the murders. James painstakingly, with the utmost detail, traces the dozens of murders and examines them, deciding if they were likely by the same killer or not, and why. He traces the paths through the states and the seasons, chasing the trail to a man who was most likely the killer. By the time he’s done, you are convinced and amazed. I could not stop reading this book. I read it while waiting for the school bus. I read it while cooking. I would have read it in the shower if I could have. If you love a mystery, if you love history, if you love crime stories, this book is a must.

I’m only 30 years late in reading Neuromancer, the Hugo-winning cyberpunk novel by William Gibson. I can see why it is held as one of the greatest novels of our time. Gibson predicts and writes about today’s modern computers and internet and gaming – long before they existed. The scenarios he describes are both familiar and futuristic at the same time. While not only visionary, it’s written in  a flawless style and with realistic, interesting characters. If you loved Ready Player One or The Matrix (which has to have been influenced by this book), you will love Neuromancer.

If you’re aware of social and racial issues, I strongly recommend Survival Math, by Mitchell S. Jackson. A professor of writing, in achingly beautiful prose worthy of Martin Luther King Jr., with the voice of a preacher without being preachy, Johnson breaks down the issues faced in his own family, examining how he came to where he is, how racism played into it without even being visible, and how despite all the odds, it’s possible to thrive. He covers harsh topics without flinching. The book is brilliant, spellbinding, and a superb read from a voice that soars with truth.

Far more than I expected, I loved Total Recall, an older door-stop of a biography on Arnold Schwarzenegger. From his birth in a tiny town in Austria (which still has only 2500 people) to his divorce from Maria Shriver, Arnold is witty and candid and down to Earth. No matter what you think of his politics or his movies or his personal life, this book may be older, but it was highly entertaining. His best friend just died in September of this year.

Not my favorite, but worth mentioning because of its local importance, is Frog Hollow  by Susan Campbell. Campbell, a former reporter with the Hartford Courant, digs into the history of the notorious Frog Hollow section of Hartford, and through tireless research shows the former glory of the neighborhood as not only an important area in Colonial times, but once a major manufacturing center (in 1898, Pope automotive made half the cars in the US). I was hoping for a deep sociologic dissection of the issues, but instead Campbell gives us an upbeat view from street level about the good aspects of Hartford and the people who live there, not just the doom and gloom of ad-selling news clips.

Last but not least, I’ll throw in a kid’s series you probably missed; with 18 years between my last two kids, I certainly did, but my youngest is so hooked on the British easy reader series Urgency Emergency! by Dosh Archer, I wound up buying most of them. The series is so witty and enjoyable you don’t mind reading them over and over again. Doctor Glenda, Nurse Percy, and the Pengamedics, in predictable melodrama, assist the maladies of Humpty Dumpty, The Big Bad Wolf, the Itsy Bitsy Spider, and many more. They are a delight. The library has several of the stories; be sure to read them all!

Sci-Fi at the Movies

Harold our sci-fi-guy is going to the movies in today’s blog post!

Science fiction is an extremely popular film and video genre and the Library has a sizeable collection of sci-fi movies, videos, and television programs.

If the Force is with you, you can check out a film from the most successful film series of all times: George Lucas’ Star Wars. The library has every Star Wars movie on DVD.  My favorite is: Episode V, The Empire Strikes BackThe library also has a collection of Star Wars novels that have spun off from the films.

You can share in the voyages of the Starship Enterprise with Star Trek.  The library has many of the Star Trek movies and television shows in their catalog including one of the most acclaimed Star Trek films: Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.  I enjoy all of them, but one of my favorites is Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home. The library also has the complete first season of the new Star Trek Discovery Series along with a great collection of Star Trek books that span all the Star Trek television series and movies.

If more contemporary science fiction movies are more your style, there are some great ones on the shelves at the Cheshire Public Library. Some favorites:

Arrival debuted in 2016. It stars Amy Adams as a linguistic professor recruited by the U.S. Army to figure out how to communicate with intelligent aliens who have landed on earth. It is based on the 1998 short story Story of Your Life” by Ted Chiang that is available from the Library as a downloadable audio book. His book of short stories, Exhalation, is also well worth reading.

Ex Machina is a 2014 British science fiction film. IMDB.com says that it is about “A young programmer [who] is selected to participate in a ground-breaking experiment in synthetic intelligence by evaluating the human qualities of a highly advanced humanoid A.I.”

Gravity – This 2013 critically acclaimed film stars Sandra Bullock and George Clooney as American astronauts who are stranded in space because of a Shuttle accident and their attempt to return to Earth. It received 10 Oscar nominations and the Golden Globe Award for Best Director along with the 2013 Ray Bradbury Award.

The Martian – This 2015 film one of my favorites. Directed by Ridley Scott, it is a modern-day Robinson Crusoe story about an astronaut, played by Matt Damon, who is stranded on Mars and his efforts to survive. It is based on the book by Andy Weir that is also and available in print and as an audiobook at the library.

Here are some other great science fiction movies that are available at the CPL:

If you have some favorites that I have missed that are in the library’s collection, let me know and I will add them to a future blog.