A Shining welcome to award winning author Anne E. Johnson. Anne returns to the Plain today to talk about humor in writing. She’s also going to share an excerpt from her latest book, Green Light Delivery, a space pulp sci-fi delight showcasing her unique brand of humor. Take it away, Anne!
Don’t get me wrong. I love all types of science fiction.
Imagined future technology and how it affects the human race? Tell me all about it! Aliens coming to Earth, either to cure our diseases or blow our heads off? Oh, yes! Humans exploring outside the Milky Way? By all means! Alternative universes where there is no such thing as "human"? Bring it on!
But please, make me laugh. I don’t care how, or to what degree, but grant me some levity.
I don’t expect you to make me gasp for oxygen and repeatedly wipe my tears away just so I can see the words (Douglas Adams, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy). Getting several good chuckles on every page makes for a delightful read (Jenn Thorson, There Goes the Galaxy; Matt Adams, I, Crimsonstreak).
High-brow, low-brow? A laugh is a laugh. I relish learned literary allusions and poly-lingual word play (Anthony Burgess, The Wanting Seed). And it suits me fine if the humor stems from borrowing the tropes of other genres: pulp fiction is a great source of character types and diction models to parody (Tom Andry, Bob Moore: No Hero, and a new novel called Green Light Delivery, which I hear is fantastic!).
It’s all good, so long as it raises a smile.
What, you don’t think I like a serious story? Assume I can’t handle the heavy-hitters?
Invasions. Apocalypse. Technology robbing people of their freedoms. Running out of food on a foreign planet with no way to get home. Forbidden love between species that will surely cause intergalactic war.
Those are great and noble topics. But sometimes science fiction can take itself too seriously. That, I think, is a grave mistake, and it’s hard to read because it doesn’t parallel life. Just as humans (and probably aliens, too) fight through the toughest times by finding something to laugh about, so readers slog through the darkest plots by finding respite in occasional mirth.
So, go ahead, have your twelve-headed aliens besiege Earth, swearing they’ll enslave us all. I’ll be glad to read about it, and I’ll enjoy getting good and worried. Just promise you’ll slip me a wisecrack or two while I’m waiting for the robot to fit me with my nuclear-holographic collar and chains.
Excerpt from Green Light Delivery:
Next morning, Webrid couldn’t even remember going to bed. He had the hangover of a man who’d drunk six flagons of Valestin hundred-proof, but he was pretty sure he hadn’t had a drop. The headache! The center of his forehead burned deep into his brain, and his right tongue was sluggish. A pulse of alarm shot through him. Maybe he’d had a stroke? Was his medical card still valid? Was he going to puke right then and there?
The answer to the last question was yes. His stomach felt better afterward, but his head felt worse. Hauling his sorry carcass upward like he was fighting the gravity of Rada-2, poor suffering Webrid felt his way to the bathroom. There must be some drugs in there. Pretty much anything would do at this point.
Before he could reach into the medicine cabinet, Webrid caught his reflection in the mirror. He assumed he was delirious, so he leaned in closer. But the sharp green light between his eyebrows wouldn’t disappear no matter how much he squinted.
"Wha’ZAT?" he quite reasonably demanded. He swatted the air in front of his face. "WhaTIZZ-at?" He weaved his head from side to side, as if a laser was shining at him and he could move away from it. But the dot was stuck there in the center of his forehead, clearly giving off its own light.
Grabbing a cotton swab, he poked at it, as he might at a dead rodent. "Aaah!" That hurt. The light source was implanted in his head somehow, and the flesh around it was raw.
"Malady?" asked the Vox. Apparently his healthcare dues were paid up after all, because the medicine cabinet was trying to help him. "Malady?"
"How the hell should I know?"
"Malady?" It wasn’t going to stop.
"Great freaking headache."
"Headache," it confirmed.
Two aspirin clinked into the dispensary slot. When Webrid laughed at the understatement, he thought his skull would split from the pain. "You’re killin’ me here."
With a shaking hand, he grabbed the pills. But doubt came with them. "I didn’t pay," he said, thinking of his healthcare tax. He distinctly remembered not paying.
The medicine cabinet obligingly said, "Payment of fifty-thousand dendiacs processed as of yesterday. Thank you for participating in the Bargival Common Weal, Ganpril Webrid. We look forward to healing you."
Fifty thousand dendiacs? Webrid hadn’t had that kind of money…well, ever. That was payment for the highest level of healthcare, four levels above what he could occasionally afford. He hadn’t thought he could get more confused, but this was doing it. Then the ceiling said, "Ratchor Miggs visiting." Webrid’s headache got worse.
"I’m not home," he said, realizing it was pointless. His landlord would know he was in by the use of his key card last night. That wretch Ratchor also had his own key, so not answering the door would do no good.
"Ratchor Miggs visit…"
"Okay, okay. I’m coming," he moaned, crawling along the hallway toward the door. He tried to think of another excuse for his late rent, but he couldn’t even remember how many months’ worth he owed. Heck, he was lucky to make it down the hallway without passing out. There was a cloth hat on the hall table, so he put it on and pulled it down low over his glowing forehead.
With a mind emptied by pain, Webrid opened the door and braced for an eviction notice. Instead, he got a fruit basket.
"You take this." Basket in hand, Ratchor Miggs stretched his wooly face into an unfamiliar shape. It took Webrid a minute to realize that his landlord was smiling.
"Um, for me?" he asked, puzzled.
"Ya, ya, ya. I say thank you."
"You say what?" It wasn’t just Ratchor’s Prellgan accent and double row of teeth that was making him hard to understand.
"I say thank you," Ratchor repeated with a patience, even an obsequiousness, that was altogether new.
Webrid decided to play along. "Well, you’re welcome there, sport."
"You take basket."
"Okay." He took it.
"I say to you thank you. You pay year advance."
"Uh-huh," said Webrid, mystified.
Rather than forcing his way into the apartment, as Ratchor normally did when trying to extract his rent money, the fibrous landlord bowed and backed away. The door slid shut, mercifully blocking Webrid’s view of Ratchor’s pate bobbing up and down.
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Anne E. Johnson’s Novels:
Green Light Delivery / Available from
Ebenezer’s Locker (Middle-grade paranormal mystery) / Available from
Trouble at the Scriptorium (Middle-grade historical)
Coming August, 2012 from
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