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richard
Posted on Tuesday, November 04, 2003 - 09:39 am:   

How often do you get a novel which suddenly shoves you into a fit of uncontrollable giggling out loud. The two books that come to mind immediately for me are Thomas Pynchon's Vineland (also V and Gravity's Rainbow, but less so) and Mikail Bulgakov's Master and Margarita, both of which manage to include laugh out loud in their huge emotional range.

In the SF/F genre, Tim Powers has always been a favourite of mine for this - the Anubis Gates and Deviant's Palace are both full of unexpected cackle points in amongst the action and pathos. More recently, I just finished A R R R Robert's the Soddit, which nearly got me ejected from the London/Glasgow train compartment because I couldn't stop sniggering and snorting (and that was just reading the map on page one). Ideal antidote to the Tolkein mania that's due to break out next month with Return of the King.

Any other notables?
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Mastadge
Posted on Tuesday, November 04, 2003 - 12:07 pm:   

There are many many books that have set me laughing out loud, but for authors whom I can count on to make me laugh time and again, I second Tim Powers -- particularly THE DRAWING OF THE DARK. Kage Baker, too -- I found THE ANVIL OF THE WORLD particularly amusing. Aaron Allston, although he's probably not an author many around here would read. Rhys Hughes and Steve Redwood. Matt Stover's a funny guy when his subject matter permits. I'm sure there are others, but most of my library's at home.
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Mastadge
Posted on Tuesday, November 04, 2003 - 12:09 pm:   

Almost forgot GK Chesterton -- the guy's a riot. And Mark Twain often has me in stitches as well.
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fur
Posted on Tuesday, November 04, 2003 - 01:28 pm:   

james bibby.
he is sooo much better than the Soddit (and I love the soddit map, esp. the "extensive park of ing") it's unbelievable. Bug Gollancz about him because Ronan the Barbarian is absolutely brilliant - better than pratchett and tom holt and barry trotter and bored of the rings (which was tripe) and all the rest of them . . .
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Laura MK
Posted on Tuesday, November 04, 2003 - 02:24 pm:   

My list seems pedestrian by comparison, but I like Douglas Adams, some Vonnegut, and Heller.

As Russian novels go, Bulgakov is good, but I prefer "Heart of a Dog" which poses the very Russian question: "Why bother to learn to read when you can smell meat a mile away?"

In the Soviet and post-Soviet period Voinovich and Arkanov brought tears to my eyes.
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Luís
Posted on Tuesday, November 04, 2003 - 04:05 pm:   

I third Bulgakov, Powers and Kage Baker. Jeff V's CITY OF SAINTS has hilarious passages, some of them quite twisted. The Lambshead Disease Guide is a big LOL book too, and Jeff Ford and Stepan Chapman wrote the funniest bits. Rhys Hughes almost always cracks me up -- his authorial voice alone is enough to set you in a good mood. And Alan Moore's TOP 10 never fails to get a laugh from me. Will post more as I remember them.
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Cheryl
Posted on Wednesday, November 05, 2003 - 10:24 am:   

Neal Stephenson's QUICKSILVER is very funny in places if you can stand screaming anachronisms. And Tricia Sullivan's MAUL is hilarious.
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richard
Posted on Wednesday, November 05, 2003 - 04:35 pm:   

Yeah, I keep eying up Maul on the shelves of Waterstones, but so far I haven't succumbed - it's the teen protagonist, I think. But if it's that funny, I might have to crack and do it.

I'm glad Powers is chiming a lot with everybody - he gets a lot of respectful reviews 'n all, but most of them don't seem to pick up on the humour (or consider it worthy of mention maybe?). Odd, because I'd say it's one of his major strengths, not least because of the way it humanises his secondary characters - I was amazed at how much sympathy I had with the bad guys in the Anubis Gates, and then I realised it was because of the humour - Romany's exasperation at the idiots (both human and supernatural) that he's surrounded by was priceless.

At this point I should also mention Steph Swainston's Year of Our War (due out in the UK next Spring) which is riddled with humour in a very similar vein to Powers - another one that had me erupting in cackles at the least likely moments. And as with Powers, it's Steph's fusion of this humour with human brutality and horrific violence that really makes you buy into her world one hundred percent.
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richard
Posted on Wednesday, November 05, 2003 - 04:41 pm:   

Laura - Yeah, Heart of a Dog was good, but I found the humour was a lot bleaker than in M&M - it didn't endear me to the characters in the way the antics of Satan's gang did. Nothing can save a dying cat EXCEPT a drink of kerosene!!

Have you read Bulgakov's Black Snow? That one really is almost a laugh a minute (tho' as with all Bulgakov the underlying sense of tragedy is heart rending).
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Cheryl
Posted on Thursday, November 06, 2003 - 10:41 am:   

Well I laughed myself silly reading MAUL. Whether men will find it so funny I don't know.

Buw how can you resist a book with such a beautiful cover?
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richard
Posted on Thursday, November 06, 2003 - 05:08 pm:   

Cheryl - yeah, could be gender-specific, I suppose - certainly it's being heavily *marketed* as such - "a science fiction novel of sex, shopping and terror bugs". Ahem. How many hetero males not working the New Man angle is *that* going to attract?

I'll go back on your repeated recommendation and have another look - but even at the best of times I shop grumpily and badly for anything except CDs, books and DVDs, so I may be a lost cause for a novel with that byline.

It's an interesting thought, tho' - gender specific humour. I'm hard pushed to raise a smile in an episode of Sex and the City (which I'm told is funny) but the Sopranos has had me crying with laughter on numerous occasions. Does this show terminally male humour patterns, I wonder.



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Luis
Posted on Friday, November 07, 2003 - 07:21 pm:   

João Barreiros is LOL funny in a "bit of the old ultra-violence" kind of way, I think any Richard Morgan fan would love his fiction. He has a few stories here and there, but remains largely untranslated:

THE TEST
http://www.fantasticmetropolis.com/show.html?fn.test

SILENT NIGHT
http://www.infinityplus.co.uk/stories/silent.htm

SYNCHRONICITY
http://www.fantasticmetropolis.com/show.html?fn.synch

He writes some of the best things Portuguese sf has to offer, and only a couple of other writers approach him in sophistication and originality.

Best,
Luís
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Chris
Posted on Saturday, November 08, 2003 - 01:33 am:   

I dunno, I find it really hard to *get* humour in books. Maybe it's just that my internal comedian just can't deliver the lines. Not that I don't enjoy them, but more in a 'that was a clever turn of a phrase' kind of a way. There seems to be certain style of humour (at least in all the funny books that I've read, which admittedly is not all that much) that pervades every one I've come across, and though the author's style might be wildly different it's as if they're having their lines written by the same jokester. Kind of a witty, arch, middle-class feller with a twinkle in his eye for absurdity (being gender specific here as I've never read a humour book by a female author... oh, unless you count Bridget Jones' Diary I suppose... and Adrian Mole... rats... okay, there are exceptions, but they still didn't make me laugh). Generally the best I get out of them is a few smirks, and the occasional and very rare LOL, but I really envy people who can read those kind of books and crack up laughing at them.

One book I've been meaning to read is Lucky Jim (Kingsley Amis I think?? Anyone read it??) as the quote from the blurb killed me. Jim wakes up with a hangover. To paraphrase: "My mouth felt as if a small mammal had used it as a latrine, and later as a mausoleum." Doesn't work so well out of context, but I laughed so hard my feet burst.

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richard
Posted on Monday, November 10, 2003 - 04:44 am:   

Chris - I think you've identified the lurking presence of what I'd call post-columnist fiction - stuff by people who very often write or have written (or God help us *go on* to write) a weekend supplement column in one broadsheet or another - it's the look-how-witty-I-am turn of phrase that you use to jazz someone awake on a Sunday morning over late breakfast. In that context I can live with it, but I agree that a novel's worth of the stuff is a bit much. It very rapidly becomes cloying and faux cute, and often you open a book in the shop and when you see one of these flourishes on page one, you drop the book in question as if it had a scorpion folded into it (well, maybe that's just me, and a bit post-columnist in style too, come to that - shit, I've been contaminated here :-) - ahem, You put the book down and don't buy it.) Unfortunately, we seem to be in a minority here - these writers command huge audiences and thus huge publisher's advances (bastards!!!)

Oddly enough the style itself seems to have its antecedents in crime noir fiction - Chandler used it in a sober, once in a while fashion, and it crops up in a less sober, sillier fashion in Leslie Charteris' Saint novels. Curious then that it should have become the hallmark of noir's parallel universe antithesis, chick lit (for which I have a deep and abiding hatred)...

Ah. Right. I'd better stop *right here* before I come off sounding like some bitterly ageing greybeard writer of serious fiction bewailing the fall of literary civilisation....:-)
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richard
Posted on Monday, November 10, 2003 - 04:57 am:   

But!!!! The other kind of humour, which I don't think ever cloys is where the writer somehow manages to put you inside a situation that would make you laugh (or giggle anyway) if you encountered it in reality - one masterful example is in Alex Garland's The Beach, where Richard, having killed a shark, is getting stoned with his friends and a character they all dislike tries to join the conversation. What Garland manages to do (on page 202/3 of the Penguin MMP, if you haven't read it and you're interested) is, for those twenty odd lines, to make you stoned and give you the giggles as if you were there. This is the kind of thing you find in Pynchon and Bulgakov as well, and in Tim Powers - *natural* humour, mined, refined and put on display with enough writerly clarity to draw the reader in. IMHO, it's one of the sure signs of major literary talent.
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GabrielM
Posted on Monday, November 10, 2003 - 08:19 am:   

Pretty much anything by Flann O' Brien.
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JV
Posted on Monday, November 10, 2003 - 08:25 am:   

I think Master and Margarita is hysterical. Of course, Catch 22, which turns surreal enough toward the end to almost become fantastical. Mark Helprin's A Soldier of the Great War has some absolutely hysterical passages mixed in with the tragedy. Nabokov's sense of humor is sometimes underrated.

I love it when an author can mix humor in with horror or other emotions in a scene. This, to me, to echo Richard a bit, is a sign of the very finest writing. Because it also implies *balance*--i.e., life itself is a mix of the sweet and the bitter, of tragedy and comedy. When a novelist denies this in their work by being too serious, or not mixing in those inexplicably dark humorous moments that can even happen when in a hospital waiting to hear about the condition of a loved one, then in a sense that novelist is denying the complexity of life.

Not to get too serious, there...LOL!

JeffV
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fur
Posted on Monday, November 10, 2003 - 11:57 am:   

has anyone read any harry harrison? "the stainless steel rat" (aka slippery jim) is a fabulous comic creation - but avoid the most recent ones: the stainless steel rat is a classic, a stainless steel rat is born is hillarious (there's a great incident with a vaccum-cleaner up his sleeve . . . ), but the stainless steel rat joins the circus should be avoided like the plague. Great Expectations is fab too (I defy anyone to read the description of Pip with a wodge of bread down his trousers "conscious of smelling like a new fence" not to suffocate on the train. 'course, the rest of the book isn't quite so entertaining)

douglas adams!!

Then again, mjharrison can be very funny too
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steve r
Posted on Monday, November 10, 2003 - 01:43 pm:   

Squeers eating the kids' breakfast in Nicholas Nickleby. Parts of Jeff Noon's 'Automated Alice'. alice herself, of course. The sisters in Gormenghast. Early Disk novels. Evelyn Waugh (you may hate HIM, but 'Decline and Fall', 'Vile Bodies'...) Mark twain, of course. Robert Sheckley. Rhys Hughes at his best. Breakfast of champions (Vonnegut) Ah, and Thorne Smith from the old days.
sounds like I have to get hold of Margarita...
As for Tele, at last managed to see a pile of 'Cheers' before I left the country, even better than Frasier.
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richard
Posted on Monday, November 10, 2003 - 04:34 pm:   

Yeah, the early SSR books definitely had their cackle moments, but it's so long ago that I read them I can't recall more clearly which and where. And I'd forgotten Sheckley - he can be hilarious and deeply dark at one and the same time. Vonnegut, while brilliant, I always find too tragically on the nail to actually laugh at - more like a grim smile and a nod
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Rhys
Posted on Tuesday, November 11, 2003 - 07:21 am:   

James Branch Cabell. FIGURES OF EARTH, JURGEN, THE CREAM OF THE JEST...

I want to second Gabriel Mesa's choice of anything by Flann O'Brien. I'm very fond indeed of O'Brien's THE POOR MOUTH...

I've always found Jack Vance to be very funny, especially his two 'Cugel the Clever' novels, THE EYES OF THE OVERWORLD and CUGEL'S SAGA. Vance is one of the funniest fantasy writers of all time, but Fritz Leiber could be really funny too.

Early Samuel Beckett (in particular MURPHY and WATT). They are funny and unbearable at the same time.

Michael Moorcock's THE DANCERS AT THE END OF TIME. Sheer genius.

Brian Aldiss. THE EIGHT-MINUTE HOUR. Opaque genius.

Stanislaw Lem's THE CYBERIAD and MORTAL ENGINES.

Italo Calvino's COSMICOMICS.
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Laura MK
Posted on Tuesday, November 11, 2003 - 12:05 pm:   

Richard: I haven't read Black Snow, but shall put it on my list. Thanks for the tip.

One of my favorite scenes in "Master" is when the maid sees Satan and his lovelies in the hotel and remarks, "I should have expected as much from a bunch of foreigners [strana]!"

I wanted to add Tom Wolfe to the list. I found some passages of "Bonfire" quite funny. For instance, from one of the dinner scenes: 'Sherman realized that he should be speaking to the woman on his left. He turned to her, and she was waiting. . .'
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richard
Posted on Tuesday, November 11, 2003 - 01:22 pm:   

Dancers at the End of Time - definitely. The part where Jherek helps the alien escape from my Lady Charlotina's party had me laughing so hard I couldn't read for a while (or explain to the people around me that I wasn't actually choking to death).

Lem - I remember reading some Pirx the Pilot stories, in Omni, I think, which were hysterical. Otherwise, I always tended to associate Lem with Solaris - a movie (I'm talking the nine hour original here) in which I fell asleep, woke up, sat with gritted teeth, fell asleep again and finally gave up on, after which I wasn't driven to seek out any of his books.

Laura - Bonfire of the Vanities had a brilliant sour humour underlying it, but in the end it seemed so misanthropic that I found I wasn't laughing much - Wolfe clearly disliked every single character in the book and boy did he let you know it. In contrast, I laughed out loud quite a lot reading Brightness Falls by Jay McInerney - very similar in construction and tone to Bonfire, but with more undelrying human warmth. McInerney seems to like people as a species more than Wolfe.
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Rhys
Posted on Thursday, November 13, 2003 - 05:51 am:   

Richard: I understand your attitude to SOLARIS, but I beg you to seek out Lem's THE CYERBIAD, which is utterly different... This book is full of funny stories which deal with technical paradoxes or applications of logic to systems which can't cope with it.

For my money, the English language writer who most resembles Lem is probably John Sladek.

What you earlier said about Vonnegut (the grim smile and nod rather than belly laugh) also applies to John Sladek, I think.

I've rated Sladek as one of my favourite 'funny' writers for years, but in fact I wonder how funny he really is. In a sense, he's *beyond* funny... The Kafkaesque office comedy of 'Masterson and the Clerks', for instance, is more pain than enjoyment for any reader who works in a similar bureaucratic environment. But maybe the laughter comes from relief that someone out there understands. It's sort of confirmation that the system is wrong, rather than you, and the chuckles are really a form of desperate gratitude...

I suspect that some of Lem's stories work in a similar way for laboratory researchers...
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Simon Spanton
Posted on Thursday, November 13, 2003 - 06:33 am:   

So THAT'S where Ricky Gervais gets his ideas from . . .

Now I want to read Sladek. Reassuring that there's usually some way of making most people read (or at least give a try to) most authors.

Thankyou Rhys
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richard
Posted on Thursday, November 13, 2003 - 03:34 pm:   

Rhys - will give Lem another go via Cyberiad. Actually, for all I know Solaris the *book* might be a laugh a minute gem - it's rare that a movie adaptation resembles the original novel to any great extent. Just that like I said, the nine hour ordeal wasn't exactly a spur.

Hi Simon - yeah, The Office as direct descendant of Kafka never occurred to me before, but now you come to mention it...certainly has the same cringe factor.
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Rhys
Posted on Friday, November 14, 2003 - 08:18 am:   

Kafkaesque comedy??? Apparently Kafka used to laugh aloud while reading drafts of THE TRIAL to his friends in Prague cafes.

Sladek not only updated Kafka but partially twisted the dark comedy around... Kafka's nightmares are about little guys coming up against absurd and unbreachable barriers of bureaucracy, but Sladek sometimes showed the world of the people who create and maintain those barriers (and how they are no less trapped and oppressed).

I'm sure the beginning of the film *Being John Malkovich* was partly inspired by Sladek -- the maze of miniature corridors and offices hidden between two normal floors of an office block is vert Sladekian...
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Rhys
Posted on Friday, November 14, 2003 - 08:19 am:   

Um... I meant 'very' not 'vert', though maybe vert could apply in some circumstances too! :-)

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