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Entry updated 18 June 2021. Tagged: Theme.


Parody is both a form of Satire and a form of literary criticism; there has not been a great deal in sf. The best parodies of sf writers and their personal Clichés are probably those by John Sladek in The Steam-Driven Boy (coll 1973), where the voices of J G Ballard and Philip K Dick are captured with particular effectiveness; also fairly successful are those in David Langford's He Do the Time Police in Different Voices (coll 2003). Langford's Earthdoom! (1987), cowritten with John Grant, parodies bestselling Disaster novels. A parody with a more serious point is Norman Spinrad's The Iron Dream (1972), which masquerades as a Sword-and-Sorcery novel written by Adolf Hitler in an Alternate History where he never entered politics. Harry Harrison's Bill, the Galactic Hero (December 1964 Galaxy as "The Starsloggers"; exp August-October 1965 New Worlds; 1965) spoofs various Military SF aspects of Robert A Heinlein's Starship Troopers (October-November 1959 F&SF as "Starship Soldier"; 1959), with a sideswipe at the supply logistics of Isaac Asimov's world-City Trantor (here "Helior") in the Foundation trilogy; his Star Smashers of the Galaxy Rangers (1973) is a broader assault – its critical edge consistently sacrificed to mere slapstick – on E E "Doc" Smith's Skylark sequence.

H G Wells was a favourite subject for parodists from early in his career, as in The War of the Wenuses (1898) by E V Lucas and C L Graves (1856-1944) and Max Beerbohm's "Perkins and Mankind" (in A Christmas Garland, coll 1912); Beerbohm had already poked fun at Wells's mannerisms in the funny but less penetrating "The Defossilized Plum-Pudding" (Christmas 1896 The Saturday Review). Another amusing Wells parody appears in Heavens (coll 1922) by Louis Untermeyer (whom see); further authors spoofed in this collection include James Branch Cabell and G K Chesterton. Aldous Huxley's earlier novels, with their brilliant talk at English house parties, are mocked and given an apocalyptic science-fictional twist in Cyril Connolly's "Told in Gath" (in Parody Party, anth 1936, ed Leonard Russell). J R R Tolkien is very broadly parodied in Bored of the Rings (1969) by Henry N Beard and Douglas C Kenney of The Harvard Lampoon. A similar treatment is applied to Frank Herbert's Dune (fixup 1965) in National Lampoon's Doon (1984) by Ellis Weiner (1950-    ). Mention my Name in Atlantis (1972) by John Jakes is a parody of Robert E Howard, not as sharp as Spinrad's, and its hero not as funny as Terry Pratchett's nonagenarian "Cohen the Barbarian", who pops up from time to time in the Discworld series. Strata (1981), also by Pratchett, pokes affectionate fun at the characters and furnishings of Larry Niven's Known Space.

Authors with distinctive stylistic mannerisms are generally ripe for parody. Rudyard Kipling's facile early verses are sent up to fantasticated comic effect by Don Marquis in "archy experiences a seizure" (collected in archys life of mehitabel, coll 1933). The many spoofs of H P Lovecraft's adjectival excesses include Arthur C Clarke's Fanzine parody "At the Mountains of Murkiness" (1940 The Satellite vol 3 #4 [whole number #12]) and the final section of "Getting Along" (in Again, Dangerous Visions, anth 1972, ed Harlan Ellison) by James Blish and Judith Ann Lawrence; Scream for Jeeves: A Parody (coll 1994) by P H Cannon unusually plunges P G Wodehouse's Jeeves and Wooster into Cthulhu Mythos scenarios. "The Star Sneak" (July 1974 F&SF) by Larry Tritten targets the ornate prose of Jack Vance; Randall Garrett lovingly echoes the verbal tics of E E Smith's Lensman series in "Backstage Lensman" (June 1978 Analog).

Several sf parodies take their aim at common tropes rather than individual authors or works. For example, P G Wodehouse's early novel The Swoop! (1909) parodies the then-popular Invasion subgenre (see also Battle of Dorking). "Year Nine" (January 1938 New Statesman) by Cyril Connolly burlesques totalitarian Dystopia, in particular as depicted in We (1924) by Yevgeny Zamiatin. Bob Shaw's Who Goes Here? (1977) parodies many themes of Space Opera in general, with considerable inventiveness. The best known non-specific sf parodist is Douglas Adams, with his Hitch Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy series – though this does not confine itself to sf tropes.

Space Opera is again spoofed in the particularly successful sf-parody film Dark Star (1974), and (with rather more swashbuckling) in The Ice Pirates (1984). Also in Cinema, Flesh Gordon (1974) parodies Flash Gordon, Mel Brooks's Young Frankenstein (1974) both parodies and fondly homages the film canon that began with Frankenstein (1931), The Big Bus (1976) spoofs Disaster films, and Innerspace (1987) parodies Fantastic Voyage (1966). A particularly fine movie parody is the genial lampoon of both Star Trek and its Fandom in Galaxy Quest (1999). In Television, the series Quark (1977-1978) and Futurama (1999-2003, 2010-2013) take parodic swipes at several specific genre targets besides including more generalized parody of sf tropes as in Red Dwarf (1988-current).

Sf writers, notably John Sladek, have produced a number of parodies of Pseudoscience (which see for listing). There is also, of course, much pastiche – Philip José Farmer has written a good deal – but pastiche and parody are not the same thing, for pastiche may be homage whereas parody implies some measure of deflation. The two can sometimes co-exist, though, as in Dark Star and Robert Sheckley's fond yet mocking requiem for Space Opera, "Zirn Left Unguarded, the Jenghik Palace in Flames, Jon Westerley Dead" (in Nova 2, anth 1972, ed Harry Harrison). A good example of admiring pastiche is Randall Garrett's homage to Eric Frank Russell and his glib heroes in "The Best Policy" (July 1957 Astounding). Another, tackling the altogether trickier task of imitating R A Lafferty, is Neil Gaiman's "Sunbird" (in Noisy Outlaws, Unfriendly Blobs, and Some Other Things ..., anth 2005, ed Ted Thompson and Eli Horowitz).

Author-specific sf parody, requiring as it does some knowledge of the author under scrutiny for full appreciation, necessarily appeals to aficionados rather than any wide audience: Tolkien's massive popularity, even before the Peter Jackson films, has made Bored of the Rings a rare exception here. Media franchise parodies are of course more widely accessible: Adam Roberts (whom see) has targeted Doctor Who, Star Wars and The Matrix films. [DRL/PN]

see also: Steven R Boyett; Frank Cowan; Kurt Friedlaender; Matinee (1993); Michael Moorcock; Recursive SF; Maurice Richardson.

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