Comedy is a real bitch to write. When I asked G.J. Koch, author of Alexander Outland: Space Pirate to talk with me about her new novel she said, “Dying is easy, comedy is hard. In part because everyone can agree that the hero dying before he gets to marry the princess is tragic, but what makes me laugh and what makes you laugh can be very different things.”
I can identify. I try to be funny around here sometimes and my success rate is probably in the neighborhood of an Orson Scott Card keynote speech at the Democrat National Convention. I’m going to stop typing for a minute to give everyone a minute to recover from that hilarious image….
Interestingly, I feel like 2012 has a chance to be revitalizing year for comedic science fiction. As Koch points out, “For a long time, it seemed like Robert Lynn Asprin was the only one ‘writing funny’ and then Douglas Adams and Terry Pratchett arrived, and then Adams and Asprin died and it was only Pratchett out there. My world will be a little darker when we have no more of Pratchett’s Discworld series to read.” Some have dabbled — Lois McMaster Bujold at times in her Miles Vorkosigan series or Connie Willis in To Say Nothing of the Dog or Tom Holt in Snow White and the Seven Samurai, to name a few — but saying such titles are scattered and intermittent would be an understatement.
This summer appears to bring a shot in the arm to the flagging comedy market. Joined by John Scalzi’s Redshirts: A Novel of Three Codas and Rob Reid’s Year Zero, Koch’s novel is a cinematic space opera, blended with plenty of sexual innuendo and a dash of bathroom humor, told in a wry sarcastic voice.
Alexander Napoleon Outland, Nap to his friends, is the captain of Space Vessel 3369, or Sixty-Nine for short. He’s also a pirate, smuggler, and womanizer. His crew misfits includes a socially awkward engineer, a deposed ruler, a Sexbot copilot, and a bonkers-hot weapons chief who refuses to give it up. Into this picture of domestic bliss comes along an invisible band of space pirates trying to put a stranglehold on commerce of the legal and illegal variety. In true comedic form, shenanigans ensue.
Everything in Alexander Outland begins with Nap. He’s Koch’s first person narrator and moral center (If I asked Nap, I’m sure he’d rather be the center of a babe sandwich). Not the kind of man a woman would bring home to mom, he does hold a certain charm. “You don’t date a guy like Nap to give him a list of acceptable behaviors. You date a guy like Nap BECAUSE he’s a guy like Nap. We do love the bad boys, you know,” says Koch. Despite his irascible behavior Nap’s a do-gooder at heart, more sexually overt Han Solo, with a dash of Mal Reynolds completes the picture.
Telling the story from Nap’s perspective does result in the novel’s female characters being colored in a certain way. Slinky, the hard to get weapons chief, is Nap’s primary target for sexual conquest and responds amorously when he treats her possessively. Audrey, the sexbot created by Nap’s chief engineer, is programmed to serve in all ways. Or so Nap perceives it.
For the record, Koch doesn’t “consider the female characters to be sex objects, and they don’t consider themselves sex objects, either. If being smart, sexy, attractive, and capable makes a girl a sex object, then the same makes the men sex objects, too. So, in that light, Nap’s a sex object, as well, as are several of the other male characters. A book full of sex objects! (Get it now, before all that sex sells out!)”
She goes on to argue, “One man’s negative stereotype is another’s satiric take on a variety of tropes. Where you fall on that scale will determine whose humor you like and whose you don’t.” I find myself nodding. Too often critics talk about the character types and stories they want to see. Whether it’s done in service to a social agenda or mere preference, it would be more appropriate to acknowledge that the subject is no longer about the quality of the writing, or humor, but a rather different, albeit no less valuable, kind of discussion.
Some will notice that G.J. Koch looks like Gini Koch, of the Alien/Katherine “Kitty” Katt series from DAW Books. They are one in the same. For fans of that series, she offers, “the Alexander Outland series is actually funnier than the Alien series. There’s a focus on romance in both series, but the Outland series has no graphic sex at all, and the Alien series does. They’re different enough that it made sense to write and publish under another pen name, and Night Shade agreed.”
I worship the literary ground Terry Pratchett walks on, but most of my friends don’t find him funny at all. And yet he’s managed to have a fabulous career and carry on with his life and writing. He doesn’t need every single person to love his writing in order to be successful, and neither does anyone else.
I’m sure there were plenty of others doing humor in a variety of ways, but there’s always been less humor than drama in fiction as a whole, not just genre fiction, and there probably always will be. Writing humor is HARD, and despite what they’ll tell you, not everyone is funny. Some of us are, and out of those of us who do bring the funny, we’re all different and carrying on the Humor Torch, so to speak.
I think we have humor out there because no matter who you are, sometimes you want to laugh, and sometimes you need to laugh.
Last week my father-in-law found out he may have pancreatic cancer. It’s been a rough couple of weeks as my family comes to grips with what that means. Sometimes we need to laugh, a more appropriate choice of words than I imagined a month ago. Alexander Outland: Space Pirate couldn’t have come along at a better time for me. If anyone else has a need, I strongly suggest G.J. Koch as a remedy.
G.J. Koch writes science fiction. Not the hard stuff, though. Because that requires actual scientific knowledge or at least actual scientific research. Knowledge may be power and research may be cool, but they take time away from writing jokes, action, and romance, and being witty in the face of death is what it’s really all about. Check out G.J.’s rollicking Alexander Outland: Space Pirate series from Night Shade Books and reach G.J. at Space…the Funny Frontier (http://www.ginikoch.com/GJKbookstore.htm).
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