Mort (Discworld IV) – Terry Pratchett

Mort is a smart teenager who doesn’t quite fit in on the family farm. His father takes him to the job fair to find him an apprenticeship. He is finally selected, by Death, the Grim Reaper. Mort learns how to help the dead pass to the other side, how to walk through walls, and other useful skills. He gets to know Death’s daughter (adopted) and the butler. Then Death takes a break for night and Mort does something ill-advised, because, as teenagers are wont to do, he becomes infatuated.

From the very clever premise stems a story about growing into your own self. Mort goes from subservient apprentice shoveling horse dung to young man of principle and action. Disguised behind Mr. Pratchett’s smoothly ironic, deadpan style and many, many hilarious situations is an insightful treatise on the nature of life, death and personal development. The scenes when Death tries out various human activities like fishing or attending a job interview are laugh-out-loud funny, cleverly exposing how most things that humans do are, in fact, quite silly in one way or another.

The Colour of Magic (Discworld I) – Terry Pratchett

On the Discworld, which is a disc-shaped world sat on four gargantuan elephants, which in turn stand on the back of a titanic turtle sculling through the cosmos, the failed magician Rincewind and the tourist Twoflower meet. Shenanigans ensue, some involving sapient luggage.

Mr. Pratchett’s first Discworld novel starts somewhat slowly, but builds a decent head of steam by the end. The plot is not much more than a series of humorous events connected by the desire to make stuff happen to the hapless Rincewind and the clueless Twoflower, and in some strange way it works.

The Rats, The Bats & The Ugly (Rats, Bats & Vats #2) by Eric Flint & Dave Freer

TheRatsTheBatsandTheUglyThe second book in the series picks up directly where book one left off. Chip and Fitz are unfairly accused, Virginia is drugged and hidden. The Korozhet are known by our heroes to be the enemy, but they hold all the cards.

The first half of this book, while necessary, is not really that much fun and humor. And that is a problem. Without fun, this series is too absurd to be really good. Thankfully, the second half more than makes up for it. A good read assuming you’ve read the first book.

3½Rosbochs

 

Rats, Bats & Vats (Rats, Bats & Vats #1) – Eric Flint & Dave Freer

RatsBatsandVatsOn the colony planet of Harmony and Reason, the colony’s shareholders are an entitled and elitist upper class, while the rest of the population is poor and indebted. Most of the lower class is made up of “Vats”, vat-grown humans based on genetic material brought from Earth. To make matters worse, insectoid/arachnid aliens have invaded, and the incompetent shareholder military leadership is doing poorly. With the aid of alien technology, the humans “uplift” rats and bats to help fight the war. The bats are flying sappers with Irish accents and strong political views. The rats are nymphomaniac drunks acting as infantry. The action centers on a group of grunts who find themselves stuck behind enemy lines.

Despite the completely absurd premise, or perhaps because of it, this was quite a fun book. It is written with tongue firmly in cheek and humor firmly in the gutter. I enjoyed the misadventures of this one particular group of misfits, replete with constant inter-species sniping and a bitterly resigned attitude towards the idiocy of the brass.

3½Rosbochs

Pyramid Power (Pyramid II) – Eric Flint & David Freer

PyramidPowerThe sequel to Pyramid Scheme takes place shortly after the first book. Our heroes are adapting to life on Earth, or back on Earth as the case may be, when agents from the newly constituted Pyramid Security Agency (PSA) decide to start operations in the mythworlds. Needless to say, things quickly go awry. The PSA embodies all the worst about hastily created government agencies, and is a clear reference to the Homeland Security Agency as a kneejerk reaction to 9/11. Our heroes find themselves not back in mythical Greece or Egypt, but in the Norse world of myth, populated by such classics as Thor, Odin and Loki.

Just like the previous book, this one is written with tongue quite firmly in cheek. Awful puns and funny situations are de rigueur. Sadly the story itself is somewhat muddled, and I had a hard time following the twists and turns, many of which took place off-screen and were then presented as faits accomplis.

2½Rosbochs

Zodiac – Neal Stephenson

This novel is about an “ecoterrorist” named Sangamon Taylor and his weird and wonderful adventures. Laugh-out-loud funny and with some fabulous jabs at large corporations. Highly recommended.

The Android’s Dream – John Scalzi

Earth is very low on the pecking order of the galactic stage. Our closest associates are the Nidu, who are pretty much low-lives themselves. After a diplomatic incident caused by a disgruntled and vengeful State Department employee, the Nidu have Earth in their sights in a Machiavellian scheme involving a coup d’état and a sheep. The sheep, a very special breed, is to be used for the Nidu succession ceremony. Enter Harry Creek, war veteran and problem solver, who now has to find the sheep and keep it and himself alive while being chased by both the Nidu and the Department of Defense, the latter having its own plans.

Confused yet? I was. The first hundred pages introduce a plethora of characters, motivations and subplots. It is almost overwhelming. Thankfully, Scalzi’s trademark humor is out in force. Once the plot gets going the numerous twists and turns have you guessing, but the fun never stops. It is an action comedy, and a very good one. With a dry wit and a well-tuned sense of the absurd and the cliché, Scalzi deftly maneuvers the story to a momentous, unexpected and hilarious conclusion.

Pyramid Scheme (Pyramid #1) – Eric Flint & Dave Freer

A mysterious pyramid appears in the University of Chicago Library. It starts “snatching” people at random. Almost all return within a few hours, dead or nearly so. Then a larger group is snatched. They end up in a mythical version of ancient Greece.

This romp through Greek myth (with a brief detour in Egyptian myth) by a haphazardly composed gang of modern humans is a great deal of fun. The concept is very clever and thankfully the authors don’t take the whole thing too seriously. Heroics, adventures and awful puns!

Mucho Caliente – Francesca Prescott

Not my usual fare, this ended up in my hands because it was written by my neighbor’s sister. It is a romantic comedy about a recently divorced woman who moves to Ibiza to get away from her boring ex-husband. On the flight, she happens to sit next to Emilio Caliente, latin pop superstar. The latter is running away from his annoying manager and her demands. Naturally, our heroine is a huge fan. Hilarity ensues as she keeps running into him, her ideal sex-god man.

I wasn’t expecting much, but this book is very funny. Very far from the bodice-bursting romance novel I thought I would have to slog through. In tone, it is like a good romantic comedy film. Light-hearted, with a neurotic protagonist and a whole host of misunderstandings, Freudian slips and missed connections. Prescott’s characters are well rounded and funny. They feel real and, just like real people, evoke love, loathing, annoyance and exasperation. The plot is perhaps a bit convoluted, and explicitly designed for maximum hilarity and heartbreak, but it works. Prescott manages not to stray beyond the line into “just plain silly”. A “light summer read”? Perhaps, but I still found myself rooting whole-heartedly for our heroine. And that doesn’t happen if I’m not engaged in a book.

The Flying Sorcerers – David Gerrold & Larry Niven

Shoogar is the greatest wizard his primitive village has ever known. Then a strange new wizard literally drops from the sky. Of course, they new wizard comes from a very advanced culture. Mayhem ensues.

There is a lot of humor in this book as magic meets technology. There are also many more or less good puns. I enjoyed it but it is far from a must read. The joke gets a bit old.

Diplomatic Act – Peter Jurasik & William H. Keith

The story is somewhat stereotypical. Aliens from an advanced federation have been secretly watching Earth. However, they don’t understand that fiction is fiction. They kidnap an actor who plays a great diplomat on a science fiction TV show since they think he can help them defuse a potential galactic war. Back on Earth, they replace him with an alien in disguise.

Peter Jurasik is more well known as the actor who played Londo Mollari on Babylon 5. William H. Keith is a prolific author who also writes Military SF under the pseudonym Ian Douglas. The novel is a cute piece, and frequently laugh out loud funny. The satire elements are dead on. The aliens are neither all powerful nor all knowing. In fact, they are prone to big errors of judgement. As such, the interaction with our hero, who is completely out of his element once abducted, works very well. It is obviously written for laughs, but there are some very clever twists to the story.

A Call to Arms – Alan Dean Foster

Book one of “The Damned”. A man is kidnapped by aliens, who are shocked to find that humans are so good at war and violence. All alien species are pretty useless at the stuff. Humans, though obviously and abomination and blablabla, will be a useful asset. Written with a great does of humor, but maybe I just didn’t get the joke. Yawn…

Jennifer Government – Max Barry

This starts off very well. It is a satire on globalization. The free market is everything and people change their last names to that of the company they work for. Take Mr. Hack Nike, for example. He is hired by the marketing department of Nije to stir up hype for a new line of trainers. The plan is for him to kill a couple of customers in order to give the product “street cred”. He subcontracts the job out to the Police. The government is weak and only handles crime. Jennifer Government is a government agent who used to work for an advertising agency. Definite Shades of “Snow Crash“.

This book is very clever in many ways, but disappoints in others. The story and characters are not much in themselves, but work pretty much only as vehicles for the author’s admittedly excellent satire. The novelty of the whole globalization run rampant idea wears off pretty soon, but it’s a fun, light-hearted read that kept me going until the end.

Good Omens – Terry Pratchett & Neil Gaiman

Probably the funniest book I have ever read. An angel and a demon, specifically the angel who guarded the gates of Eden and the demon who gave the apple to Eve, are now in charge of Great Britain. Over the millennia, they have pretty much decided that their lives will be a whole lot simpler if they stop fighting and instead fudge their reports to their respective superiors while getting on with living the good life. This all works fine until the Antichrist is due to be born. In England.

So funny it made my stomach ache from the laughter. The subtle, understated little English gems of humor are carefully woven into an engaging, and ultimately absurd (and absurdly good and funny) story. Does for me what Pratchett cannot do alone, which is to say suck me in and make me want to read it to the end.

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy – Douglas Adams

Until Adams’ untimely demise, this series kept expanding and expanding. I have read up to book four, that is The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy; The Restaurant at the End of The Universe; Life, the Universe, and Everything and finally So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish. While many SciFi fans see this as the be all and end all of satire, I seem to have missed most of their point. Granted, the series is  good, but not quite so ultimately engrossing that I feel the need to read it over and over again. To be quite honest, I find some of the parts quite sad, especially the repeated failures of Arthur Dent to find happiness. I think that this book reflects Britishness in a very unique way, mixing equal parts dry humor and melancholy. Having said all that, definitely read the first two parts. They ARE classics (and now I sound like an English teacher…) If nothing else, you’ll be able to keep up when other SciFi readers reference them.

Agent to the Stars – John Scalzi

A Hollywood agent (for actors that is) acquires a new client: an alien blob named Joshua. It seems the aliens want to contact humans, but their appearance (read:image) is not the greatest.

Scalzi’s debut novel shows off his trademark humor. Great dialogue, funny situations, interesting characters. It does bog down a bit by the end, but unfortunately that is also a Scalzi trademark. Well worth a read. This book is funny!