It's Not Funny if I Have to Explain It

Staff PicksBellevue/William O. Lockridge Library

It's Not Funny if I Have to Explain It

"Always remember that the crowd that applauds your coronation is the same crowd that will applaud your beheading. People like a show."
Going Postal

Best known for his satirical writing style, the works of Sir Terry Pratchett have garnered a strong and loyal following since the publication of his first irreverent Discworld book in 1983. Like many people who have read and enjoyed his books, my own reading of Pratchett's work has found them full of vim and vigor, humor and wisdom. Beginning with two of my favorite Discworld books as a starting point, here are some other science fiction and fantasy works that make things - especially the end of the world - hilarious.

Going Postal is the 33rd book in the Discworld series and the first to follow Moist van Lipwig, convicted conman (though not under his own name, for obvious reasons). After being hanged to within an inch of his life, Moist is given a new job: run the old post office. Accompanied by his golem parole officer, Moist must not only contend with the old postal employees but also the new semaphore communication system that is seeking to tip the balance of power in the city.

The 34th book in Discworld and 8th to feature the City Watch, Thud! continues the story of Sir Samuel Vimes, commander of the City Watch. When a dwarf is found dead in one of their mines within the city limits, the Watch investigates as tensions are beginning to rise with the upcoming celebration of the 500th anniversary of the Battle of Koom Valley. With the assistance of their first Vampire officer and a quasi-demonic entity, Commander Vimes must unravel an ancient mystery to prevent the city and the whole of the Disc from falling into war.

While the Discworld books were all solo works, Pratchett was known to collaborate with other authors from time to time. His two most well-known collaborations are the Long Earth series, written with Stephen Baxter and finished posthumously, and a book co-written with Neil Gaiman in 1990 called Good Omens.

Good Omens is the story of the end times. The Apocalypse has come and it's going to have profound effects on the two supernatural beings representing Heaven and Hell. The Angel (technically, a Principality, but people make fun of this so he prefers "Angel") Aziraphale and the demon Crowley (previously a serpent named Crawly. Yes, that serpent) have become very comfortable in their lives on Earth. Due to some bungling by a satanist nun, the Antichrist is given to the wrong parents and grows up to be quite...ordinary. Except for the mystical powers. With the Four Horsepersons of the Apocalypse roaming the Earth, can the end times be prevented? Written at the same time as Gaiman's Sandman comic series, this depiction of the Apocalypse remains some of the best-loved occult fiction. Following their collaboration, Gaiman and Pratchett remained friends until Pratchett's death in 2015.

In terms of the sense of the ridiculous humor that Pratchett's works practically dripped with, there are few authors that compare. The one author that might fit the bill is another Brit named Douglas Adams. Adams is best known for his work The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, which is as full of ridiculousness as any Discworld book. Just before Earth is demolished to make way for a new Hyperspace bypass, Arthur Dent is whisked away by his best friend (and alien) Ford Prefect. After being rescued by the President of the Galaxy (and Ford's semi-cousin) Zaphod Beeblebrox, Dent and his group, which includes a clinically depressed robot and the only female human in existence (now) Trillian, search for a mythical planet to discover the secrets of life, the universe, and everything.

Zombies continue to be popular in the horror genre, but Scottish writer Michael Logan, who won the Terry Pratchett First Novel Prize for his debut novel Apocalypse Cow, has come up with some zombies that are a bit... different from your normal ones. Apocalypse Cow follows the outbreak of a zombie apocalypse... only the zombies are cows. It all started with cows that wouldn't die, but soon, the whole of Britain is infested with flesh-craving livestock. To make matters worse, it seems that the ones who can save the country are a slaughterhouse employee whose job killed his social life, a vegan teen with a skin problem (and questionable choices in love), and a reporter who wouldn't know a scoop if it was handed to her with the word "SCOOP" written on it. The world is, most likely, screwed this time.

In contrast to the ridiculous notion of zombie cows, Jasper Fforde writes more for the literary reader. Fforde's series starring the intrepid Thursday Next starts off with The Eyre Affair. Set in an alternate universe where the British and Russian Empires are continuing to fight the Crimean War, police departments have vastly different functions, from protecting against time travel to fighting literature-related crimes (as literary questions are hotly debated). While the British and Russians have fought to a technological stalemate, British mega-corp Goliath Corporation claims to have developed a plasma rifle that will tip the balance of power. Crimean War veteran Thursday Next is tasked with catching a criminal mastermind who only she can recognize: her mentor, of whom there are no photos, anywhere. When her uncle develops a device that can literally bring fictional characters to life, her investigation changes as she now must defend herself from Goliath while fulfilling her assignment.