Science fiction stories have a bit of a reputation for veering off into the dark and serious. And yes, if you want to read about space opera and post-apocalyptic nightmares, you have plenty of options. But sci-fi books do not necessarily have to be all exploding planets and intergalactic politics (or at least, the exploding planets don't have to be entirely humorless). There are quite a few gems of sci-fi reading comedy out there, for when you just need a laugh. Especially if you want that laugh to involve martians and aliens, time travel, and/or humanoid cat people. (Yes, seriously)
There's something very fitting about funny science fiction. With a universe of possibilities before you, there are simply so many opportunities for silliness and hilarity. The vastness of space is just plain absurd, and these authors get it. Besides, while there are many wonderful sci-fi books that take themselves seriously, it's refreshing to read a slightly lighter take on space battles and the apocalypse. Maybe those invading aliens just kind of want to hang out? So if you need a break from exhaustive explanations of starship engines, check out some of the funnier things that speculative fiction has to offer.
1. The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams
DON'T PANIC—Earth's just been demolished to make way for a hyperspace bypass, leaving poor, put-upon Arthur Dent to hitchhike around the galaxy with his guidebook, his towel, and a number of outlandish alien companions. The Hitchhiker's Guide series is undoubtedly the greatest work of comedy sci-fi (and quite possibly the greatest work of comedy) ever written. Douglas Adams is not only one of the funniest writers to have ever visited the planet Earth, but one of the smartest and most inventive. Never again will you leave home without a towel.
2. How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe by Charles Yu
Charles Yu is a time-travel technician with a nonexistent but ontologically valid dog, on a quest through space-time to find his father, the vanished inventor of time-travel technology. Charles Yu (the author, that is) crafts a fantastically strange world known as Mirror Universe 31, located on the outskirts of fiction, where failed sci-fi protagonists slum it with sexbots and everyone's messing around with the timeline. It all makes for one intelligent, wickedly witty, and genuinely touching read.
3. From These Ashes by Fredric Brown
Fredric Brown's short stories are often only one or two pages long, but he can fit more strangeness into one sentence than most writers can in a whole novel. His shortest short story goes like this: "The last man on Earth sat alone in a room. There was a knock on the door..." There is simply no finer author for funny, frightening flash fiction of the weird and otherworldly variety. From These Ashes collects all of his short stories, from the hilarious to the horrifying, and it's guaranteed to make you wonder why more people haven't heard of Fredric Brown.
4. The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde
Thursday Next is a literary detective with a pet dodo and a time-traveling father, and it's up to her to find the kidnapper who's snatched Jane Eyre right out of Jane Eyre. Of course, she'll have to jump into the book and crack this case from the inside. The Eyre Affair is the first in a brilliant series that straddles the line between sci-fi, fantasy, and classical literature; it's a book for people who love books. And no one does cross-genre absurdist adventure comedy better than Jasper Fforde.
5. Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut
Billy Pilgrim was abducted by aliens from the planet Tralfamadore, and now he has become unstuck in time. So it goes. Slaughterhouse Five has earned a place on almost every list of must-read classics for a reason: Kurt Vonnegut is quite simply a virtuoso when it comes to writing about tragedy through the lens of humor (and aliens), because this book is just as funny as it is powerful. (And check out Cat's Cradle if you ever need a Vonnegut book that's just a tad more deadpan and bleak.)
6. Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency by Douglas Adams
OK, ok, I know that Douglas Adams is already on this list — but what am I supposed to do? Not include pizza-eating holistic detective Dirk Gently on a list of hilarious sci-fi books? If you've already read Hitchhiker's Guide , but you are still in desperate need of a humorous story about dead cats, pizza, and quantum mechanics, then this is the book for you.
7. Redshirts by John Scalzi
You know how on Star Trek, when they go down to the planet, and the guys in the red shirts always get killed? Just to prove that our real heroes are in actual danger? Well, John Scalzi has taken that sci-fi trope and run with it, creating a hysterical send up of Star Trek and everything like it. Because what happens when the redshirts start to pick up on the pattern? And realize that they might not want to be canon fodder anymore?
8. The Draco Tavern by Larry Niven
If your favorite part of Star Wars is the cantina scene, you must read this book at once. Because reading The Draco Tavern is as much like hanging at a bar with aliens as any book will ever be. Ordinary human bartender Rick Shumann runs a tavern out in Sibera, right near a spaceport, where all sorts of creatures congregate for all sorts of odd encounters. Larry Niven's collection of linked short stories are all funny, but they are also all brimming with original sci-fi concepts and strange new lifeforms. Read with the Star Wars cantina song playing on loop in the background for full effect.
9. The Automatic Detective by A. Lee Martinez
It's hard, being a huge and dangerous robot. Mack Megaton is a killing machine designed for world domination— but he really has no interest in conquering humanity. He's just trying to live his life in Empire City, but when his neighbors are kidnapped, he's dragged into a seedy, futuristic underworld of mutants and mob bosses. The film-noir-meets-The-Jetsons mystery novel you never knew you wanted.
10. Red Dwarf: Infinity Welcomes Careful Drivers by Grant Naylor
Yes, this is a book based on a TV show. But before you turn up your nose, give this motley crew a chance: Dave Lister, former janitor and current last human in the universe, Arnold Rimmer, uptight and deceased hologram, and The Cat, a highly evolved cat. It's a quick and easy read, but still a highly enjoyable space farce with some truly interesting ideas about the future of the human (and feline) race.
11. To Say Nothing of the Dog by Connie Willis
Ned Henry is tired of bouncing between the 1940s and the 21st century, searching for something called the "bishop's bird stump" in order to restore a destroyed cathedral. But of course, another time-traveler complicates everything by bringing something back from the past, and now the two of them must leap back into the Victorian Era to put things right before history alters itself beyond recognition. A highly comic time-traveling adventure, cleverly disguised as a Victorian novel, and all wrapped up in a romantic mystery.
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