The Jane Austen of SF: Connie Willis

When I read that the topic of the month was humor, one writer leapt to mind, and beat down all the others with ease.  For my money, Connie Willis’ comedies are the funniest, smartest books (and short stories) going.  I call her the Jane Austen of SF, because many of her books and stories are about ordinary people going about their ordinary lives…but funny…!  My favorite of her short stories, At the Rialto, is about a bunch of particle physicists holding their annual convention at the Rialto hotel in Hollywood.  You wouldn’t think particle physics could be that funny…and in point of fact, it’s not the physics that are funny, but the people.

That could actually be said of all Connie Willis’ comedy—and her tragedy, too, because she writes both.  (Fair warning—her tragedy still has her trademark humor and humanity, but she’s notorious for killing practically everyone.)  But even her comedy isn’t simply “funny.”  Like all satirists, she sees people with a clarity that is both scalpel sharp and hilarious.  Her time travel comedy, To Say Nothing of the Dog, is the best of her humorous novels, and it’s superb.  I was trying to think of one quote to introduce Connie Willis to those who haven’t yet found her books, and half a dozen leapt to mind.  But the one I’m going with comes, not from her fiction, but from one of the short story introductions she wrote in her story collection, Impossible Things:

When you tell people you write Science Fiction, they say, “Oh, space ship and aliens,” and then want to know your qualifications. … And it’s no good telling them that your qualifications are that you’ve seen some strange worlds all right, and you didn’t need a space ship to get to them.  They probably wouldn’t understand.

 I’ve sung in church choirs, had Mary Kay facials, put on garage sales.  I’ve been to the mall and the orthodontist and the second-grade Valentine’s party.  I’ve even been to Tupperware parties—only slightly stranger than Venusian eye-stalk bonding ceremonies—at which you participate in arcane contests (“How many words can you make out of ‘Tupperware’?”  “Warp, put, upper, rue…”  I always win.  It’s the only thing majoring in English is good for) and eat ritual preparations of Cool Whip and graham-cracker crumbs and purchase plastic boxes that burp.

 Science fiction?  Piece of cake.  (“Pert, rat, paw tarp, prate, weep, apt, true, wart, Ra…”)

 Bell_Thief_cover-12-16Hilari Bell writes SF and fantasy for kids and teens—and while she’s not as funny as Connie Willis (who is?) her Knight and Rogue series is pretty amusing too.

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