Jednakże oprócz malutkiej karteczki w trocinach ze słowami «To my, trociny», nie znaleziono nic.
December 28, 2010 6:48 PM   Subscribe

(BookFilter): Sci-fi picaresques.

Please suggest books (but possibly also graphic novels or even animated works) that share the qualities I attempt to describe below. Very roughly, I'm looking for satirical or picaresque science fiction, minus the science and most of the fiction. I find it a bit difficult to describe the subgenre definitively, most likely because I don't think it's a very coherent entity, so here are three touchstones:
  • Stanisław Lem's comic short stories: The Star Diaries, Mortal Engines, Cyberiad, and so on.
  • Kit Roebuck's intermittent webcomic Nine Planets Without Intelligent Life
  • as a distant third, Futurama
All three rely on stock pulp sci-fi conventions: rocketships with pointy fins, planet-hopping, robots, weird aliens, time paradoxes, etc. On a deeper level, I'm looking for works wherein the author is relatively uninterested in developing dynamic characters or building a "sense of wonder." The sci-fi trappings are not the point, but just the facade for satirical lampooning of human failings. Bonus if there are occasional glaring inconsistencies in the sci-fi framing device used for comic effect, such as robots eating food or using interplanetary public transit. Occasional slapstick humor is neither a requirement nor a detriment. Douglas Adams is perhaps a little too overtly wacky, but definitely in the right direction. I suspect stuff I'm looking for is more European than American and relatively old. Something tells me there are stories by Robert Sheckley that might fit the bill.

What I am probably not looking for: extended social parables that use the sci-fi form, such as Doris Lessing's Canopus in Argos or Ursula LeGuin's Hainish cycle. Although these books share the quality of being only incidentally or tangentially sci-fi, they use its tropes for the sake of thought experiments rather than something less earnest and more pointed. I am also definitely not looking for space dramas on the SyFy channel.

I welcome your recommendations.
posted by Nomyte to Society & Culture (17 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Keith Laumer's Retief books might fit that bill. They lampoon arrogance and stupidity in the Diplomatic Corp.
posted by dws at 6:51 PM on December 28, 2010

Kurt Vonnegut's Breakfast of Champions and Slaughterhouse Five? Most Vonnegut, actually...
posted by Crane Shot at 7:12 PM on December 28, 2010

How much Terry Pratchett have you read? Most of his books are the Discworld books, which are kind of a fantasy rather than scifi take on the direction you're talking about (and they get a bit more like that as the series goes on - the early ones are closer to just being parodies), but he's done some scifi too.
posted by -harlequin- at 7:22 PM on December 28, 2010

Our own jscalzi's The Android's Dream may be what you're looking for.
posted by fairytale of los angeles at 7:27 PM on December 28, 2010

Best answer: I'm looking forward to seeing what other answers this question gets, but my suspicion is that you'll find more of what you're looking for (and what you're liking in Lem) outside the conventional boundaries of the sci-fi genre than within it. Invisible Cities definitely fits, and you should take a long look around the rest of Calvino's work as well. The Little Prince might be interesting in this context, as could Nabokov's Ada. You said you didn't want Lessing, but The Sentimental Agents might work here too; it's much more acid-tongued and satirical than the other "Canopus in Argos" books. Take a look at Kelly Link's short stories for recent work that might fit your tastes.
posted by RogerB at 7:50 PM on December 28, 2010

I'm not sure if some of Jack Vance's work might fit the bill, but he's well worth reading in any case. I'm thinking of the Dying Earth stuff, but really, almost anything sort of has that flavor.

Alternately, Bill the Galactic Hero by Harry Harrison.
posted by Guy_Inamonkeysuit at 7:53 PM on December 28, 2010

Jack Vance's _Planet of Adventure_.
posted by novalis_dt at 7:58 PM on December 28, 2010

Response by poster: RogerB: That is quite true. Most of the suggestions so far are more novel-like than I'd like, except possibly the Laumer. I am definitely not looking for genuine science fiction by genuine science fiction authors. Scalzi and Pratchett and Vonnegut are interested in building coherent fictional worlds with genuine characters, and I'm not looking for plotting or modern-style characterization. Eco and Saint-Exupéry are the right form (episodic, has a framing device, may use direct address), but the flavor of the contents is not quite right. "Slipstream" fiction (e.g., Kelly Link) may be the right sort of thing.

There is (was?) a strong strain of self-parody in the eminently ridiculous genre of high fantasy (before high fantasy became the only fantasy). Those books are fun, but not what I'm looking for here.

There also used to be a subgenre (or maybe just a small handful of authors?) who wrote not at all "hard SF" and not really "soft science fiction," but weird inter-genre books that don't fit neatly into today's categories. I'm thinking of people like Clifford Simak and R. A. Lafferty. These might have more bearing to my original question.

I'm also eager to see what else will come up.
posted by Nomyte at 8:11 PM on December 28, 2010

Response by poster: Guy_Inamonkeysuit: Having just suffered through all of Dying Earth, no. I did more or less like The Many Worlds of Magnus Ridolph, and it is close to what I'm looking for.
posted by Nomyte at 8:15 PM on December 28, 2010

Iain M. Banks. I cannot emphasize this enough. Oh wait, I will add an arrow!
posted by ErikaB at 8:20 PM on December 28, 2010

Best answer: Off the top of my head, how about ...
  • Alexei Panshin's Anthony Villiers series (almost certainly) and to a lesser extent, Walter Jon Williams's pastiches of them (the Drake Maijstral books)
  • Toby Frost's Isambard Smith series
  • Phil Foglio's Buck Godot comic
  • Nick Pollota & Phil Foglio's Illegal Aliens
  • John Sladek's Roderick books
  • Charles Yu's How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe

posted by Monsieur Caution at 9:14 PM on December 28, 2010

The Stainless Steel Rat books by Harry Harrison.
posted by infinitywaltz at 9:30 PM on December 28, 2010

BTW, I don't see Invisible Cities as a fit at all, but Cosmicomics, yes, very likely.
posted by Monsieur Caution at 10:10 PM on December 28, 2010

Best answer: You might want to read Template by Matthew Hughes. It's the story of a man born on a planet where everything in life is a zero-sum game, from which he escapes. As he fights his way across the galaxy, each planet he visits is based on a failing or foible of the human personality. On the protagonist's homeworld, everything is a transaction; on another world, money is vulgar but everyone is painfully aware of their social standing; on a third, the culture is based around passive-aggressive point-scoring. It's not quite unserious enough to be "picaresque" but it's definitely got that freewheeling satire thing going on.
posted by Harvey Kilobit at 11:39 PM on December 28, 2010

Harry Harrison's Bill the Galactic Hero, is a fun read.
posted by sammyo at 4:57 AM on December 29, 2010

Hitchiker's Guide to the Galaxy is the standard bearer here - science fiction tropes are just a glorious backdrop upon which Adams spatters human foibles and follies with gleeful abandon. Very silly and fun.

And give Scalzi another chance - Android's Dream is written with the square-jawed, steely-eyed, sober matter-of-factness of the greats of yesteryear at the height of their power - Heinlein, Niven, Anderson, Asimov - going so far as to mimic the gentle wackiness that passed as "humor" in those novels - and then you stop. Pause a moment. Then realize that an alien ambassador has been soberly and matter-of-factly farted to death, and it's all a farce on power politics that infest old-school SF. Brilliant.
posted by Slap*Happy at 6:34 AM on December 29, 2010

I wonder if you would find A. Lee Martinez’ The Automatic Detective to your liking.
posted by mumkin at 12:16 AM on April 4, 2011

« Older I want to print with my Zink from my Mac   |   Missing person at La Guardia? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.