Genre Friday – Comedic Fantasy

So You Want to Read Comedic Fantasy: Here’s Where to Start

Illustration: Paul Kidby/Orion Books

Fantasy fiction is serious business, until it isn’t. While we love our multi-volume doorstoppers and grimdark epics as much as the next reader, sometimes it’s fun to let loose and look for a laugh. Enter comedic fantasy.

Where fantasy began as a genre is certainly up for debate — one we’re not having now — but if you consider mythology a predecessor, then humor has been part of it since the beginning. Norse myth offers a tale of Thor dressing in drag to fool a frost giant into returning his stolen hammer Mjölnir. There’s also Anansi the spider, an African trickster spirit that cheerfully trolls anyone and anything it can. Those are just a couple of examples.

There are plenty of funny fairy and folk tales, too. Jack and the Beanstalk, Puss in Boots, and Goldilocks and the Three Bears, just to name a few. Of course, Shakespeare worked plenty of laughs into his own take on the fairy tale, “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.”

Heading into the modern era, fantasy fiction godfathers Lord Dunsany, and James Branch Cabell, wrote for chuckles, as did fantasy-adjacent authors like Jonathan Swift and Mark Twain. Plenty of old school fantasy writers did, too. Fritz Leiber’s stuff is full of chuckles, as is Fletcher Pratt’s.

There are plenty of contemporary fantasy writers who know their way around a joke, and if you’re looking for a laugh, then you’ve come to the right place. Here are our suggestions for the humor-hungry bookworm.

The cover of the book Kill the Farm BoyKill the Farm Boy
KEVIN HEARNE AND DELILAH S. DAWSON
Iron Druid Chronicles author Kevin Hearne and Star Wars: Phasma author Delilah S. Dawson’s Kill the Farm Boy is a take-no-prisoners comedy assault on the high fantasy genre, complete with a trash-talking goat, necromancer named Steve, and a Dark Lord who is a bit of a turophile — a cheese lover, that is. It isn’t out until July 17, but this should be a definite pre-order for the comedic fantasy fan.

 

The cover of the book The Color of MagicThe Color of Magic
TERRY PRATCHETT
Sir Terry was the 800 pound gorilla of comedic fantasy, and that’s not going to change any time soon. Few, if any, fantasy readers would argue with the contention that his Discworld series pretty much made the genre what it is in the modern age. What is arguable is where one should begin reading the series. According to some fans, you can jump in anywhere you like. Others point to this or that volume as being better points of entry. With all of that in mind, I’ll just point you toward the first book, The Color of Magic, and you can decide for yourself.

 

The cover of the book Another Fine MythAnother Fine Myth
ROBERT ASPRIN
Robert Asprin, like Sir Terry, was a giant in comedic fantasy. His Myth Adventures series started with a fairly formulaic trope — the bumbling wizard’s apprentice — and took it to some weird, weird places. Book one introduces the aforementioned apprentice, Skeeve, his fearsome-looking demon sidekick Aahz, and a host of other misfit characters you’ll come to know and love as much as I did. A note: the series seems to be out of print in dead tree, but the ebooks are still available.

 

The cover of the book The HikeThe Hike
DREW MAGARY
Drew Magary’s fantasy novel The Hike is one of the strangest and funniest contributions to the genre that I’ve read in the last few years. It’s the story of a guy whose short walk in the woods turns into an epic journey across a fantasy world populated with hungry giantesses, witheringly sarcastic crabs, dog-men, and dwarves — Oh God, the dwarves. I almost forgot. Dwarves.

 

The cover of the book The Princess BrideThe Princess Bride
WILLIAM GOLDMAN
You were expecting this one, weren’t you? Well, you should be — and with good reason. Goldman’s The Princess Bride is as heartwarming as it is funny, and the book is just as much a pleasure to experience as the movie based on it. (You’ve never seen “The Princess Bride”? Stop reading this now and go. Just go and watch it. I’ll wait.)

 

The cover of the book In the Company of OgresIn the Company of Ogres
A. LEE MARTINEZ
A. Lee Martinez has written a ton of funny stuff across half a dozen genres. In the Company of Ogres is his sharp, pointy stick in the eye of proper fantasy fiction. It’s about a guy — a guy who has trouble staying dead — who is put in charge of an oddball company of monsters, including, but not limited to, a two-headed ogre

 

The cover of the book The Tough Guide to FantasylandThe Tough Guide to Fantasyland
DIANA WYNNE JONES
The Tough Guide to Fantasy Land is your travel guide to the fantasy worlds of your favorite authors. Which ones? All of them! Jones parodic masterwork skewers the fantasy tropes that all of us know and love, from magic swords to dark lords. If you’ve ever lost a few hours at tvtropes.com, then this book is for you.

 

The cover of the book Bored of the RingsBored of the Rings
THE HARVARD LAMPOON
Bored of the Rings is a parody of J. R. R. Tolkien’s classic written by Henry N. Beard and Douglas C. Kenney, Harvard Lampoonstaffers who went on to launch the classic humor magazine (and movie production company) National Lampoon. Like the Lampoon itself, the humor of Bored of the Rings can be downright crude, but if your taste leans that way, then you’ll probably enjoy it. (No judgment!)

 

The cover of the book Kings of the WyldKings of the Wyld
NICHOLAS EAMES
In a world where adventuring parties are like rock bands, Clay Cooper and his rowdy crew of mercenaries were legends. Now they’re older, and out of shape, and married, and … well, they’re not kids anymore. But it’s time to get the band back together, and show that you’re never too old to rock. The cover of this book, while awesome, makes it seem a lot darker than it really is. Honestly, it’s a really funny story about the bonds of friendship. And friendly zombies. Air ships, too.

 

The cover of the book To Say Nothing of the DogTo Say Nothing of the Dog
CONNIE WILLIS
I’ll readily concede to stretching the definition of “fantasy” for this one, but I would be remiss not mentioning this bona fide classic.The invention of the time machine has opened up the past to historians in a way that their forebears could only dream of. There are rules, though: You aren’t supposed to bring anything back with you from the past — least of all a cat. Now an overworked Oxford Don has to return to the 19th century to set things right. To Say Nothing of the Dog is part of the same universe as The Doomsday Book, but a heck of a lot funnier.

 

The cover of the book Heroine's JourneyHeroine’s Journey
SARAH KUHN
Does comedic fantasy only come in chainmail and wizard’s hats? I think not. Sarah Kuhn’s Heroine Complex novels stand as proof that you can find big laughs in other forms of fantastic literature. In her case, superhero fiction. Heroine Complex is about a former personal assistant to an A-list superhero whose life turns upside down when she discovers her own powers. Look for book three, Heroine’s Journey, on July 3!

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Genre Friday: Sword and Planet Fiction

Is it fantasy or is it science-fiction?

Yes.

While it might be past it’s prime as a genre it remains a fascinating and fun mash-up of beloved genres, themes and tropes. Interested? Keep reading to get a quick intro from Unbound Worlds.

So You Want to Read Sword and Planet Fiction: Here’s Where to Start

Mash together fantasy’s sword-swinging heroes, and the far-out alien civilizations of early science-fiction, and you’ve got Sword and Planet fiction. Arguably the brainchild of Tarzan creator Edgar Rice Burroughs, Sword and Planet tales usually features human protagonists adventuring on a planet teeming with life, intelligent or otherwise. Science takes a backseat to romance and derring-do in Sword and Planet stories, with little if any consideration given to the actual conditions on Mars, Venus, or wherever else the story takes place.

It isn’t as popular of a genre as it once was. Honestly, like the fanciful canals that we once thought crisscrossed Mars, Sword and Planet is all but extinct as an idea. So little was known about our planetary neighbors in the days of Edgar Rice Burroughs, so It was easier for readers to imagine intelligent life on Mars, or Venus. Reading tastes have changed, too. Episodic, pulp-flavored fantasy has fallen in favor, replaced in the public imagination by epic fantasies that stretch across multiple volumes.

Where Sword and Planet can really be seen today is in the influence it has had on popular culture. The lightsabers, blasters, and planet-hopping heroics of “Star Wars” probably wouldn’t exist were it not for Sword and Planet. Neither would “Avatar” or “Stargate”. Regardless of its current status, the classics of Sword and Planet literature are still very much worth seeking out, and with this list we hope to provide you with a good starting point.

The cover of the book A Princess of MarsA Princess of Mars

EDGAR RICE BURROUGHS

Before there was Tarzan, there was John Carter: a renegade Civil War veteran mysteriously transported to Mars: home to a dying civilization locked in eternal conflict with enemy barbarian tribes. There, among a people entirely unlike any he has ever met, Carter will find everything he ever wanted: adventure, riches, and love.

 

The cover of the book The Ginger StarThe Ginger Star

LEIGH BRACKETT

Leigh Brackett was one of the pulp era’s great women writers. She has never quite gotten her due, despite having not only written many great novels, but also first draft of a little film titled “Star Wars: Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back”.  The Ginger Star is the first volume in her series, The Book of Skaith: a collection of tales starring outlaw spacer Eric John Stark. In this installment, Stark has to rescue his foster father from the Lords Protector: a group of despots guarded by vicious, telepathic dog creatures.

 

The cover of the book Planet of AdventurePlanet of Adventure

JACK VANCE

Jack Vance is, of course, famous for his Dying Earth stories — and deservedly so. However, he wrote a lot of other things, among them Planet of Adventure: a cycle of four novels chronicling the adventures of Adam Reith: a space traveler stranded on Tschai: a savage alien planet home to slavers, murderers, and monsters.

 

The cover of the book Transit to ScorpioTransit to Scorpio

KENNETH BULMER

The Dray Prescot series was one of Sword and Planet’s longest series, clocking in at 52 volumes in total. In Transit to Scorpio, the first book in the line, adventurer Dray Presott finds himself ensnared in a planetary chess game far larger than any he has ever encountered.

 

The cover of the book ParagaeaParagaea

CHRIS ROBERSON

Paragaea is the story of Leena Cirikov, a Soviet astronaut inexplicably transported to a strange world of mystery and adventure. Fortunately for Cirikov, she’s not the only Earthling trapped in this dimension. There’s also Lieutenant Heironymous Bonaventure of the Royal Navy: an officer who left home to fight Napoleon and never returned. Bonaventure, along with his jaguar man companion Balam, have agree to help Cirikov find a way home, but is their mission a futile one?

 

The cover of the book Old MarsOld Mars

EDITED BY GEORGE R. R. MARTIN AND GARDNER DOZOIS

Editors George R. R. Martin and Gardner Dozois invite readers to explore the Mars of yesterday: an ancient planet of deserts, ruined cities, and canals twisting through the endless red sands. Featuring stories by Michael Moorcock, S. M. Stirling, Liz Williams, and many more, Old Mars will leave you longing to visit a world that has never been.

 

The cover of the book Old VenusOld Venus

EDITED BY GEORGE R. R. MARTIN & GARDNER DOZOIS

In this follow-up to Old Mars, a collection of award-winning authors tell tales of the Venus of yesterday: a steamy, jungle planet teeming with dangerous alien life. Contributors include, Gwyneth Jones, Elizabeth Bear, Joe Haldeman, and others.

So You Want to Read Viking Fantasy Fiction: Here’s Where to Start

Pixabay (CC0)

The Viking Age may have officially ended in 1066 with the Battle of Stamford Bridge, but stories of the fierce Norse raiders and their deeds continue to enthrall. Even today, over 950 years later, an encounter with Viking warriors is only as far away as your television screen, local movie house, video game system, or bookshelf.

While it might be a stretch to call Viking Fantasy its own genre, the sheer preponderance of Scandinavian-flavored fantasy fiction would certainly seem enough to support the claim that it is a sub-genre. Axe-wielding bearded warriors, longboats, Odin and Thor, trolls, berserkers, valkyries, and icy seas: These are some of the things that make Viking Fantasy, and if you’re looking for a place to start, we’ve got you covered.

The cover of the book SE Last Light of the Sun (Canadian Ed)The Last Light of the Sun

GUY GAVRIEL KAY

Guy Gavriel Kay’s The Last Light of the Sun is a tale set in a fantasy world very much like western Europe during the height of the Viking era: a time when Celtic, Anglo-Saxon, and of course, Norse cultures clashed for control of land, gold, shipping lanes, and other resources. Featuring a cast of nobles, outcast warriors, and even faeries, this is a great book for anyone looking for an engrossing new world in which to get lost.

 

The cover of the book Eaters of the DeadEaters of the Dead

MICHAEL CRICHTON

Michael Crichton took a break from techno-thrillers for this exciting tale of an Arab courtier who finds himself traveling with a band of Viking warriors. Unknown to him, his traveling companions are traveling northward to aid an ally in a fight against a bestial enemy that raids by night. Eaters of the Dead is a retelling of the ancient saga Beowulf, but one with some unexpectedly Crichtonesque flourishes. You’ll see when you read it.

 

The cover of the book Half a KingHalf a King

JOE ABERCROMBIE

Prince Yarvi was born with only one good hand in a warrior’s world: one where men rule by axe and shield. Rejected by his father as an unsuitable heir to the throne, Yarvi is left with no choice but to find his own way and reclaim a kingdom he wasn’t sure he wanted in the first place. Abercrombie’s Viking-inspired world hides its share of secrets. Prepare to be surprised.

 

The cover of the book Hrolf Kraki’s SagaHrolf Kraki’s Saga

POUL ANDERSON

Poul Anderson was proud of his Scandinavian heritage and often drew from it while writing his science fiction and fantasy fiction. Hrolf Kraki’s Saga is based on an authentic Norse saga about a legendary Viking hero and his band of twelve companions. Hrolf Kraki is a brave but flawed hero: a man consumed by his appetites and vengeful nature — traits that ultimately bring his kingdom down around him.

 

The cover of the book The Swords of Good MenThe Swords of Good Men

SNORRI KRISTJANSSON

Two years ago, Ulfar Thormodsson disgraced his father. His punishment? Escort his highborn cousin on a tour of the kingdom. Their journey was supposed to end at the gates of the town of Stenvik, but it seems that the two men have arrived just in time for a war between old ways and new.

 

The cover of the book A Companion to WolvesA Companion to Wolves

SARAH MONETTE AND ELIZABETH BEAR

The wolfcarls, warriors bonded to ferocious wolves, defended the people of their frozen realm against trolls, wyverns, and other terrors for many an age. Now it appears that their usefulness has come to an end. The monsters who once ravaged their lands seem to have disappeared, and with them the saga of the wolfcarls. But appearances can be deceiving, and it may not be time for the people to let down their guard yet.

 

The cover of the book The Hammer and the CrossThe Hammer and the Cross

HARRY HARRISON

The British Isles may be in the hands of feuding kings, but the Church is the true power behind the thrones. Everyone fears the threat of damnation — everyone, that is, but the Viking raiders that harry the shores of England. As the powers that be squabble, Shef, the son of a Norseman and a captive English lady, prepares for a future of war and the possibility of a kingdom of his own.

 

The cover of the book The Sea of TrollsThe Sea of Trolls

NANCY FARMER

Jack and his sister Lucy are kidnapped from their Saxon village and taken to the court of the Viking chieftain Ivar the Boneless and his half-troll wife. When Jack accidentally casts a spell on her, he is sent forth into the land of the trolls to search for a way to reverse the magic. He won’t be alone, though: accompanying him is the shield maiden and would-be berserker Thorgill, and a mysterious crow that answers to the name Bold Heart.

Genre Friday – Hobbit Day Tribute Edition

Baggins BDay

Welcome to the house that Tolkien built. Epic Fantasy (also known as High Fantasy) is the quintessential fantasy sub-genre, the fount from which all other fantasy sub-genres have flowed, and J.R.R. Tolkien’s elves and orcs and rings (oh my) utterly dominate the field. There are, of course, stand-outs and outliers, stories that forge news paths in an old sub-genre, but even when a tale isn’t filled with staff wielding wizards and subterranean, master-craftsmen called dwarfs anything called epic fantasy still contains a few essential elements that were originally established when Tolkien first fleshed out Middle-earth on paper.

Epic fantasies create entire worlds, with long and complex histories and vivid cultures and lifestyles. How complex and vivid? Tolkien actually created (or adapted) a historic timeline leading back to the creation of the world, myths, legends, deities, several races of creatures (many of which have become staples of the fantasy genre), multiple kingdoms, and an entire language for the fictional inhabitants of his world! If you look hard enough in the right places I bet it wouldn’t take too much effort to find someone that speaks at least passing Elvish. They are not all that in depth, but that is the kind of detail you are potentially looking at when you jump into an epic fantasy.

In case that isn’t enough to wrap your head around, epic fantasy also almost always has a large cast of characters taking part in quests and adventures that will affect the fate of an entire kingdom or world. Possibly multiple worlds.

So, it is a complex workout for your imagination and memory. What else?

MiddleEarth

While hand-drawn maps of the world are not strictly mandatory, they are strongly encouraged. 

It’s big. Aside from its often immense geographic scope, as it is not unusual for the cast of characters to have to trek across continents and cross oceans in the pursuit of their goal, these stories can also cover large spans of time, with years, decades or even generations passing by in the course of the story (or series of stories). They are also big in another way – these are not typically short books. Once you get sucked into an epic fantasy series you are in it for the long haul.

 

Examples:

Sheepfarmer's DaughterThe Belgariad series by David Eddings

The Deed of Paksenarrion trilogy by Elizabeth Moon

The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings trilogy by J.R.R. Tolkien

The Mistborn series by Brandon Sanderson

The Original Shannara Trilogy by Terry Brooks

The Sword of Truth series by Terry Goodkind

The Wheel of Time series by Robert Jordan