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Monday, August 17, 2009

Reader Question: The Adams Contention

Library Dad asks:
What is the funniest fantasy/sci-fi book you've ever read?
The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams hands down. I technically didn't read it, but listened to the audiobook. That still counts in my book. A question like this deserves a little more than just naming a book though.

What is so great about Adams' work is that it's unique. As much as his comedy might fly over the heads of most Americans--he is remarkably British, after all--he still has a knack for building worlds that are culturally rich and yet completely ridiculous. That's what is so funny about Adams. You root for his characters even though the world they live in only makes sense if you're mentally unstable. Some of that feel was lost in the most recent film adaptation, but some of it they managed to keep intact. Unfortunately, American audiences are not exactly good receivers of British-style comedy. British comedians, or at least those I would consider to be "true" British comedians, require mental involvement by the receivers. Shows like Have I Got News For You and the original Whose Line Is It Anyway? were and have always been remarkably intelligent, despite outward appearances to the contrary--the new Whose Line is good, but it has become incredibly Americanized in its approach.

What I am getting at here is that there is a certain kind of charm in British comedy, and even in serious British literary endeavors. It is unique in that one can, with experience, see British influences on style and narrative relatively easily. Adams, of course, is exceptionally unique, but other British writers are also readily identifiable if one is careful. This is a good thing, in my opinion. As much as some writers may want a certain level of "blending" to occur in reader habits (i.e. getting readers to broaden their horizons to other genres, etc.), the British writer will, assuming they cling to a British perspective or narrative vision, remain unique and identifiable. Adams stands out even among his British comrades.

And those are my short, but sweet thoughts on Adams. There are, however, a few important notes:
--By British I am referring to the nationality that contains all nations of the United Kingdom (England, Northern Ireland, Wales, and Scotland). British is not to be confused with English, as English refers only to those identified as native to England.
--I chose to refer to "British" writing here because there is, despite arguments made out of prejudice or otherwise, a lot of blending and merging between the various nations. As much as these individual countries may wish to be distinct, but united (and there are certainly many arguments to be had on this issue), they have, through time, adopted elements of one another. This explains, to the misfortune of the English and perhaps to the Irish, Welsh, and Scottish, the propensity for misinterpretation of what it means to be English by Americans and others. The English should only be identified with those individuals who are native to England, and not to be confused with a grand overarching term to refer to all people of the United Kingdom.


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  1. Ireland is not part of the UK - Northern Ireland is. It's sort of a big deal in that part of the world

  2. Gah, thank you for the correction. That's what I meant.

    My apologies to anyone who was offended by that. It will be fixed momentarily.

  3. Loved Adams' Hitchhiker's Guide. But I love Terry Pratchett's Discworld series more. I never fail to laugh at at least half of each book. =)

  4. Either my sense of humor is broken or I have an acorn up my nose because I just didn't get half of what Adams gave in The Hitchhiker's Guide. I mean, sure, parts were funny, but I just didn't "get it." But then again, I don't "get" Monthy Python either. Maybe my question should have been "name the top 5 funniest sci-fi/fantasy books you've read."

  5. Drey: I need to read some Pratchett!

    TK42ONE: It's a personal preference. And I don't think I could do a top 5 list for this topic. I must admit that I do not read that much humorous SF/F. I find a lot of it to be forced or uninteresting. Humor is hard to do for me.