Friday, July 13, 2012

Get Your Humor Out of My Sci Fi - Part 2

i09 has posted what they deem to be 39 of the greatest opening sentences from classic fantasy novels.

Two of them caught my attention right away, but not because of the opening lines. My interest (and funny bone?) was piqued because of the commentary from Charlie Jane Anders and Amanda Yesilbas that followed:

Great Opening Sentences from Classic Fantasy Novels"Everything starts somewhere, although many physicists disagree."
— Hogfather, Terry Pratchett
As we'll see further down the list, setting up a generalization and then overturning it is always a brilliant way to launch a story. Plus this is just such a funny, sharp opening.

Now, as I've already admitted, I don't mind watching funny movies or television shows, and I've enjoyed listening to comedy routines on tape, but reading humorous sci fi just doesn't do it for me. 

I'll be honest; I haven't read much humorous speculative fiction (I'll go with the catch-all term to include fantasy, horror and the other sub-genres), but more about that later. That being said, I don't see how the opening line of Hogfather is funny. 

And before you say it, yes, I agree; my sense of humor is severely lacking. But is that opening line by Terry Pratchett "funny" and "sharp" on its own, or because of the events that follow to shape the rest of the story?

Wait. Don't answer that yet. Let's take a look at the second opening line that made me sit up and take notice:

"The year that Buttercup was born, the most beautiful woman in the world was a French scullery maid named Annette."
— The Princess Bride, William Goldman
And here's another funny opening sentence that totally defuses the mythic tone by telling you the most beautiful woman in the world is some other person, not the story's heroine.

Now, that I find funny. I  also find Anders' and Yesilbas' commentary spot on. 

This is not to say I find the sentence ha-ha-fall-down-on-the-floor-and-do-the-Curly-Shuffle funny. But I cracked a smile. Why? Because I happen to be familiar with the story that follows that first sentence. 

And mostly because I'm thinking of: "My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die."

(Aside: I had no idea The Princess Bride was a novel (hangs head in shame), but I'm certain the movie accurately captures the excellent humor found within the book.) 

On its own, the first sentence from The Princess Bride could be funny. Buttercup is just a silly name, but couple that with the second part of the sentence and the line as a whole is mouth-twitchingly humorous.

Plus, knowing all that happens within the story after that first line--with rumpled Columbo telling it to Kevin Arnold, no less--tickles my funny bone big time. 

As for Hogfather, well--

Okay. Fine. I'm being unfair. I've never read Hogfather. I haven't been able to sit through any televised version of it for more than 10 minutes. That's on me, not Pratchett. 

And speaking of Terry Pratchett, the man knows funny. His Discworld series is very popular. So obviously, there's something wrong with my humor, rather than everyone else's--which, I've begun to accept.

But I--as most of us realize--sometimes you just have to be there to find it funny.

Other times, you just have to read the novel, and then re-read the opening sentence again.

*images from

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