Reverence is 99 percent understanding and one percent irreverence. I might have just made up that axiom, but I stand by the math nonetheless. Regardless, few things are more enjoyable than a sci-fi or fantasy spoof that so perfectly skewers the genre it mimics that it threatens to become a genre classic in its own right.
We all know about The Princess Bride and The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, but here are some of our other favorites.
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Kill the Farm Boy, by Delilah S. Dawson and Kevin Hearne
Between them, Dawson (Phasma) and Hearne (A Plague of Giants) have logged a lot of miles in sci-fi and fantasy realms, and it shows in this raucous parody of Chosen One lore. Both slapstick and satiric, this fairy tale does exactly what it promises it will do: it kills the farm boy, the heretofore prophesied Chosen One. The quest continues, though, with a ragtag group that includes a wise-cracking, misanthropic goat; the Dark Lord who happens to be a cheese gourmand; a rabbit-girl bard; and a great warrior who sees the impracticality of her chain-mail bikini.
The Tough Guide to Fantasyland, by Diana Wynne Jones
Who better to rake genre tropes over the coals than one if its most experienced and beloved hands? In the guise of a travel guide, Jones takes you through a glossary of fantasy characters, settings, situations, and, yes, stews. It’s an encyclopedia as flat-out funny for readers as it is straight-up informative for writers. While it relies on a certain understanding of the fantasy genre, the entries themselves are characteristically charming and can be enjoyed on their own, or as a companion guide to your latest read.
Redshirts, by John Scalzi
You know what they say: today could be the last day of the rest of your life. Or, at least that’s what the unfortunate red-shirted personnel aboard the Universal Union Capital Ship Intrepid like to say, just before they’re sent on a sure-to-be-fatal away mission. Scalzi gives these doomed expendables time to shine in a story that’s as much about the act of storytelling as it is about anything else. Things get meta—real meta—but the struggle of these bit-players-turned-stars is universally accessible.
Hogfather, by Terry Pratchett
Few characters of myth have such a cultural hold as Santa Claus, the rosy-cheeked reverse-burglar. That figure is exactly who Pratchett lampoons in one of the finest entries in his Discworld multiverse (and that’s saying something). Death is forced to take the reins of Hogfather’s pig-drawn sleigh after the Hogfather is assassinated, stepping in to save Hogswatch and humanity by preserving the very idea of belief. In other hands, it would be heavy stuff, but here, it is genuinely heartwarming (and a little creepy).
The Last Adventure of Constance Verity, by A. Lee Martinez
Sometimes, having a fairy godmother really backfires. That is certainly the case for Constance Verity, blessed with (cursed by?) a life of being the world’s greatest adventurer. She’s got a history of adventuring filled with just about every genre trope and cliché you could imagine, and she’s on a mission to end it—by killing that darned godmother. This final quest puts the idea of destiny—and the monomyth—into its crosshairs with a wink and an absurdist sense of humor—Martinez’ specialties.
What spoofs do you love?