Look, we love science fiction and fantasy. They’re right up there in our blog logo! Dragons, spaceships, swords, sorcery, lasers, aliens: love ’em. But even we can admit that sometimes, the genres could stand to be taken down a peg or two, which is why we’re thankful that SF/F parodies exist—and are often quite entertaining. And since no one bothers to parody something unsuccessful, parodies targeted at the biggest books and franchises in the genre actually do more to reinforce the greatness of their inspirations even as they take them to the mat. Here are seven SF/F parody novels every fan should read, if only because we’re the only one who willl get the jokes. Words!
Bored of the Rings, by Harvard Lampoon
The Ur-Example of the Epic Fantasy Parody, this 1969 work of inestimable genius has been in print continuously since publication, largely because it’s hilarious, and also because its inspiration—Tolkien’s weighty Lord of the Rings—remains so immensely popular. Filled with ridiculous silly names (Frito Bugger being perhaps the least of them), this “classic” savagely punctures Tolkien’s conceits, making it a treat for anyone who actually misses Tom Bombadil when they watch Peter Jackson’s adaptations.
Redshirts, by John Scalzi
Some people don’t consider Scalzi’s hilarious novel to be a parody, but it is—it’s just a parody that also stands on its own. Playing with the repeated tropes of the old Star Trek universe—especially the fact that unnamed, red shirt-wearing crew members were routinely doomed to death while the main characters (in their blue and gold shirts) always survived, Scalzi pokes gentle fun at his inspiration while spinning a larger tale that can be taken as a parody of the creative process itself. However you view it, the book ultimately resolves into a sci-fi story you can enjoy even if you don’t get the meta jokes.
The Colour of Magic, by Terry Pratchett
Although the Discworld series eventually grew into an uproarious universe of its own, one arguably as ripe for parody as the epic fantasies it mocked in its early days, there’s little doubt The Colour of Magic was initially intended as a parody of the second wave of epics inspired by Lord of the Rings; Pratchett himself admitted he set out “… to do for the classical fantasy universe what Blazing Saddles did for Westerns.” Any bookthat includes a nonagenarian warrior named “Cohen the Barbarian” cannot be anything but a parody in some sense.
Star Warped, by Adam Roberts
Adam Roberts, under his pen name A3R Roberts, has evolved into the current King of SF/F Parodies, having turned out several highly-regarded mock-epics in the last few years. His takedown of Star Wars remains a classic, if only for the brilliance of his characters names, from Princess Leper and Yodella (who yodels his opaque wisdom), to the Woozie Masticate Tobacco, who is asleep through most of the story, because Woozies hibernate most of the year. Hilarious for everyone, but especially funny for anyone who thinks the Star Wars could stand to dial it down a notch or two.
A Game of Groans, by George R.R. Washington
Considering A Song of Ice and Fire is typically thought of as Serious Business, the only way to go with a parody of the series is 100 percent in the opposite direction, and that’s what we have here. Written in a sloppy, brevity-above-all-else style that clashes perfectly with George R.R. Martin’s more, er, epic flourishes (and word count), this is classic parody, complete with dumb puns for names, adolescent humor, and total disrespect for its source material. Ideal for fans of Martin’s series, but these days that’s just about everybody.
The Steam-Driven Boy, by John Sladek
Sladek is sadly overlooked these days, but was a great writer of science fiction; his work was always tinged with a mocking tone and a dubious attitude towards anything the author personally despised, which included much of modern society. He detested bad science in the genre, and was famous for writing pitch-perfect parodies of other writers, much of which is contained in this fantastic anthology, including stories mocking Isaac Asimov, Cordwainer Smith, and J.G. Ballard, among many others. One of the rare parodists whose works are well-crafted, enjoyable stories on their own, his work is well worth exploring.
Bill, The Galactic Hero, by Harry Harrison
A parody of militaristic SF novels (especially Starship Troopers, which serves as a blow-by-blow plot template), Harrison wrote Bill to be an anti-war, anti-military, anti-conformity novel that was also hilarious—and mission accomplished, because it also works as a standalone (albeit ridiculous) story. Drugged and dragooned into Space Marine service, Bill, our hero, is initially a low-rank grunt who gains the mantle of heroism more or less by having his right arm blown off and passing out on top of controls, triggering an attack that wins the battle. Things go downhill from there. The book was successful enough to inspire sequels, though they were written by other authors. Stick with the original.
What SF/F series deserves to have the wind taken out of its sails?