|SFX magazine column by David Langford: issue #40, July 1998|
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'"Hellfire!" erupted Thomas Covenant, his raw, self-inflicted nostrils clenching in white-hot, stoical anguish while his gaunt, compulsory visage knotted with fey misery. His lungs were clogged with ruin. A hot, gelid, gagging, fulvous tide of self-accusation dinned in his ears: leper bestseller outcast unclean.... To release the analystic refulgence, the wild magic of the white gold ring he wore, could conceivably shatter the Arch of Time, utterly destroy the Land, and put a premature, preterite end to the plot!
'Yet what other way was there? The argute notion pierced his mind like a jerid. Only thus could the unambergrised malison of Lord Foul be aneled. Only thus. He clenched his clenching. Hellfire and damnation!
'At that point he winced at a swift, sapid lucubration ...'
If you recognized this as mickey-taking directed at the great Stephen Donaldson, score 20 points. Unfortunately publishers don't think you're statistically worth bothering about – I've always wanted to assemble a collection of Best SF Parodies, but editors flee screaming at the thought of marketing a book which actually requires readers to know about other books.
Years ago, the small outfit Drunken Dragon Press published my own sf spoofs under the memorable title The Dragonhiker's Guide to Battlefield Covenant at Dune's Edge: Odyssey Two. One condition of publication was that the book must contain a drunken dragon, forcing me to do an Anne McCaffrey send-up featuring a new Teaching Rhyme:
'Dragonman, avoid excess,
Tell your beast to tipple less:
The Harper is a licenced sot,
But drunken dragons slow the plot.'
Enough about me. Some really funny sf parodies have appeared over the years. Randall Garret's 1979 collection Takeoff! revamps the entire E.E. Smith Lensman series in 'Backstage Lensman', which at last explains what that mysterious ritual of putting on Grey Lensman's uniform was all about:
'... he made that curious gesture known as Grey Seal. No entity has ever donned or will ever don that Grey uniform without making that gesture. It is the only way you can get the zipper closed.'
The master of sf parody is John Sladek, most of whose skits appear in The Steam-Driven Boy (1973). He's cruel to Cordwainer Smith's genetically engineered animal-people with names like C'mell the catgirl, and instead introduces the foxperson family of F'red, F'annie and little son F'art. (There's also a porcupineman called P'rick.) Crueller still is the series of devastating examinations of Isaac Asimov's laws of robotics in a story bylined 'Iclick as-i-move':
'R-4 got stuck on the First Law. "Can anyone really protect a human being from all harm whatever?" it thought. "No. It is inevitable that all humans must be injured, contract illnesses and ultimately die. This future can only be averted for humans who are already dead. Ergo ..." It took a dozen cops to subdue R-4 after his blood orgy in a department store (84 dead, none injured).'
Logical, Captain. It was also unkind of Sladek, when sending up the somewhat right-wing Robert A. Heinlein, to anagrammatize him as Hitler I.E. Bonner ... while Arthur C. Clarke becomes Carl Truhacker, and every Philip K. Dick story you ever read gets boiled down to punchline dialogue like 'So it was Ed Pagon who gave birth to the new universe, eh?' and 'Then everyone was an android, really.'
Even nonfiction can fall prey to parody. I keep forgetting Brian Aldiss's solemn definition of sf as 'the search for a definition of mankind and his status in the universe which will stand in our advanced but confused state of knowledge (science) and is characteristically cast in the Gothic or post-Gothic mode.' Much more memorable is the value-added version published in a 1970s fanzine by a writer who later became a household name – he was called Leroy Kettle:
'Sci-fi can be succinctly defined as speculation, whether based on established scientific facts or on logical pseudo-facts consistent with the framework of the fiction in question, involving smelly green pimply aliens furiously raping or eating, or both, beautiful naked bare-breasted chicks, covering them in slime, red, oozing, living slime, dribbling from every horrific orifice, squeezing out between bulbous pulpy lips onto the sensuous velvety skin of the writhing sweating slave-girls, their bodies cut and bruised by knotted whips brandished by giant blond vast-biceped androids called Simon, and written in the Gothic mode.'
Yes, that sounds like the sort of yummy sf I grew up on.
David Langford's latest small-press publication is called, honestly, no kidding, 'Wrath of the Fanglord'.
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