The Cranky Old Reader

I'm a Goodreads refugee, looking for a new home. Old books for children, science fiction, fantasy, mysteries, and humor are my main areas of interest. I've little interest in books that were written after 1975 or so, and prefer books that are older still. There are, however, a few still-living authors that I respect.

Cosmic Laughter; Science Fiction for the Fun of It

Cosmic Laughter; Science Fiction for the Fun of It - Joe Haldeman, Terry Carr, Norman Spinrad, Henry Kuttner, Alfred Bester, Damon Knight, Thomas N. Scortia, Andrew J. Offutt And they say that science fiction can't be funny?Joe Haldeman proved them wrong in 1974 with Cosmic Laughter: Science Fiction for the Fun of It. It was a collection of nine stories by nine very funny authors. Unfortunately the book was not a great commercial success. It wasn't long before it was out of print, and in those days before the rise of the world wide web and online book searches, it was almost impossible to find a copy outside of a library. You wouldn't believe what I had to do to get my copy.But times change, and Cosmic Laughter eventually came back into print - which is good news for all fans of science fiction and humor.Some of the stories have gone on to become quite well known in the SF field. Others, unfortunately, have been forgotten. But that's a pity, because Haldeman demonstrated a rare sense of humor as a compiler.The stories:"A Slight Miscalculation" by Ben Bova. This is, in essence, a great joke worked into the form of a short SF story. A scientist discovers that a slight error can have surprising - and even earth-shaking - consequences."It's a Bird! It's a Plane!" by Norman Spinrad. The title gives the subject away, of course: a Man of Steel. Or rather, many of them; a Superman craze has taken over the world, and it's up to the hero-psychiatrist to save the day. Possibly the funniest story in the book."The Robots Are Here", by Terry Carr. A "dark" story of sorts, quite well-written. The dialog is particularly clever, and will stay with you. Even when I'd forgotten the story itself, the laughter-simulation of the robot stuck in my head. But I have to admit that I don't particularly like "downer" endings, so this is my least favorite story of the bunch."I of Newton" by Joe Haldeman. Another story which is, at its heart, a really funny joke - in this case a "pact with the Devil" joke, and a very clever one to boot. You may find yourself trying to tell it to your friends."The Men Who Murdered Mohammed" by Alfred Bester. A brilliant and funny time-travel story, with a unique take on the concept. Bester isn't noted for his humor, but here he displays a mastery of it."To Serve Man" by Damon Knight. This is the story which was made famous by The Twilight Zone, of course, and was later parodied on The Simpsons. I find it depressing (how not?), so it's not one of my favorites. But then, if you've already read or seen the punchline (and you almost certainly have), the story loses its strongest card: the element of surprise."The Bomb in the Bathtub", by Thomas N. Scortia. A light screwball comedy about an intelligent bomb that wants to blow up the universe (shades of Dark Star, anyone? But this story came first). The issue is complicated by the bomb's rather difficult and amusing personality. This feels like a series, and a very funny one - but I don't know if Scortia wrote any more of it."The Black Sorcerer of the Black Castle", by andrew j offut (or black-offut, as he puts it here). How many short stories have their own full-page glossary at the end? offut created the ultimate parody of the Conan stories, and it's...well, how many ways can I say "incredibly funny" in one review? This story is one of my favorites, and if you've ever read a Conan book, you will re-read this story (and laugh) more than once."Gallegher Plus" by Henry Kuttner. At last, a story that was part of a series - although unfortunately, a very hard one to find ([book: Robots Have No Tails] and [book: Proud Robot]). Kuttner's Galloway Gallagher series of shorts are about a genius inventor who is only a genius when he's drunk. When he sobers up, he forgets when, why, what, and how he came up with his inventions - and inevitably, trouble is the result. Gallagher's short conversation with his stomach has stuck in my mind for decades. "Gallegher Plus" is the longest story in the book, and certainly one of the funniest.I can't really express how funny Kuttner's Gallagher stories are. He's not as well remembered now as he should be, and it's a terrible pity that he died so young. It just occurred to me that Kuttner's Gallagher is not the only comic SF series protagonist who is a genius inventor in his subconscious, but not in his conscious mind. The same is true of Papa Schimmelhorn, the hero of Reginald (R.) Bretnor's Schimmelhorn stories ([book: Schimmelhorn File] and [book: Schimmelhorn's Gold]). There are many other funny science fiction writers, come to think of it; in retrospect, there could have been a whole series of Cosmic Laughters, featuring the humor of Fredric Brown, Ron Goulart, and Robert Sheckley (among others). But Cosmic Laughter is an excellent introduction to some of the funniest stories and authors in the fantasy and science fiction genre.

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