Where I’m Coming From 2: The Wherening

  • Humourous science fiction is a hard sell. Over the last 20 or 30 years, the genre has become increasingly conservative, both in content and style. I suspect that this has something to do with the oft discussed (at cons I’ve been to over the last few years) aging of science fiction’s readership, in part because older fans are more deeply set in their reading habits and less likely to read something out of the ordinary, in part because they are afraid that humourous science fiction will make fun of what they love. (That’s not true, but overcoming that fear is a major problem.) Most major genre publishers, aware of this resistance on the part of readers, won’t touch humourous science fiction with a ten foot unobtainium pole unless it is written by an author who has developed a following for serious science fiction. This puts those of us who only write humour in a Catch 22 situation.


    So silly.


    I used to write for a magazine called Creative Screenwriting. After 9/11, I received an email from the editor saying that he was considering a special issue devoted to the role of the artist in times of national crisis, and would be willing to consider contributions from any of his authors. I wrote an article called “Laughter is Always Appropriate” (which was published as part of the package of articles in the magazine). A lot of people insist that there are events that are too serious to be dealt with humourously. In the article, I explored the way laughter makes us feel (pretty great, actually: it releases endorphins, the body’s natural painkillers, into the brain), and argued that it may actually have evolved in human beings as a response to suffering. If this is true, the worse things in our lives get, we actually need more of it, not less.


    In retrospect, I think the title of the article is a bit hyperbolic: I would say that racist, sexist or other forms of humour that make fun of society’s powerless do more harm than good. I would also say that how the writer approaches a subject is important; being
    “on the side of the angels” (which is to say, being able to articulate what you’re saying with your humour and justifying the message that it gives) is the key.


    By and large, though, I have come to believe that the ability to make people laugh makes a positive contribution to the world. Life is hard. Anything that gives people relief from their daily difficulties is a good thing.


    Now I just have to convince those reticent science fiction readers.


    If you’re interested in reading “Laughter is Always Appropriate,” you can find it on my Web site at: http://www.lespagesauxfolles.ca/index.phtml?pg=30&chap=1088.

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