Review by KEN KORCZAK
Science fiction, like all genres, has developed a number of sub-genres, and one of them is a humorous, farcical brand represented by books such as the Hitchhiker series by Douglas Adams, and the Callahan’s Crosstime Saloon offerings by Spider Robinson. This same sub-genre is popular in sci-fi movies, too; notably flicks such as Men In Black, Mars Attacks, and more obscure films, such as The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai.
It’s science fiction only in the sense that it features weird and exotic intergalactic aliens as props for gags and creating situation comedy, dark comedy or melodrama. Another feature of the genre is that characters confronting the aliens tend to be down-to-earth, small-town folksy types — bartenders, mail men, nurses, cops, farmers – and they all favor swilling a lot of alcohol, which in turn inclines them to be cheerful, witty and bristling with funny quips, puns, lightning-fast repartee and pithy observations.
But there is almost another sub-sub-genre of these humorous brands of science fiction involving bars. The Hitchhiker books start off in a pub, but also features another kind of bar, The Restaurant at the Edge of the Universe. There’s Callahan’s, of course, but we can find any number of other science fiction tales centered around bars, such as Tales from Gavagan’s Bar by L. Sprague de Camp and Fletcher Pratt; the anthology, After Hours: Tales from the Ur-Bar and quite a few more. (Even Edgar Allan Poe as a bar story with a speculative edge!)
ALIEN BLUE is solidly of this realm, and those readers who enjoy these kind of works will certainly enjoy this novel by DEANNA KNIPPLING.It is competently written, and is at least as clever, and speeds along as quickly as anything by Adams or Robinson.
As for me, I’m not a fan of this brand of science fiction. I know, I know, I’m not with the in crowd on this one. I’m probably the only person I know who did not like the Hitchhiker books, and I especially did not like the Callahan stories by Robinson. I found them tedious in the extreme.
Part of what bugs me is this mythos of happy, cheerful, clever, witty people who are lubricated by alcohol as a persistent theme in literature and film. Think of the bums in John Steinbeck’s 1945 novel Cannery Row, or the gang in the bar of the TV show Cheers. Then there’s the booze-soaked Arthur character of film, or how about the delightful sot, Elwood Dowd, and his giant invisible rabbit friend, Harvey? The more they all drink, the more cheerful, witty, clever and delightful they become. But in real life, we know that the more people drink, the more obnoxious, dull, depressive, angry, crude, dumb or even violent they become.
Yet, novelists, playwrights and film producers can’t resist this “delightful drunks” motif, and so we get a steady stream of this kind of thing. (Hey, I’m no teetotaler myself – even my dad was the owner of a Minnesota small-town bar, “Mike’s Tavern.”). But one could argue that it’s just not all that much of an original concept for literature – on the other hand, one might just as fairly say that this is a popular model for a particular sub-genre. It depends on how you look at it.
As for Alien Blue, an unkind reviewer might say the book lacks originality in ways additional to the pervasive delightful drunk syndrome– the author professes herself an ardent fan of Spider Robinson (of Callahan’s Saloon fame) and Kurt Vonnegut. That she names her viewpoint character “Bill Trout” (who, incidentally, is from a small town in Minnesota like me) is certainly an homage to Vonnegut’s character, Kilgore Trout. However, the author should not be overly surprised, then, if other readers suggest her work is just a tad too derivative of the likes of Vonnegut and Robinson – but more so Robinson, in this case.
It’s not that I dislike science fiction humor. It’s just that I like mine bitter and black, like my coffee. Vonnegut’s Breakfast of Champions and Sirens of Titan are two of the funniest books of all time – but, significantly, these works defy genre and are highly original. And Jack Vance’s The Eyes of the Overworld and Cugal’s Saga are so sublime (and so funny) as to be completely without peer – they’re masterpieces.
I mention these because I think Knippling is an author capable of writing a masterpiece – I’m not kidding, she’s really that good at rustling words. She’s proven she can skillfully write within sub-genres of genre novels (she’s also the author of a ZOMBIE BOOK) – and other works — and, well, she’s clearly a writer to keep an eye on.
Join Ken Korczak in: THE STRANGE UNIVERSE OF DR. 58