Friday, 7 November 2014

Hemingway in Space by Kingsley Amis, 1960

Friday’s Forgotten Books at Patti Abbott’s blog Pattinase.

© Creative Commons
The absence of humour in science fiction, apart from his liking for the genre, appears to have prompted Kingsley Amis to write Hemingway in Space in the December 21, 1960, edition of Punch. The story was published in the satirical magazine as part of a series of parodies.

This is the impression one gets after reading American-Canadian sf writer Judith Merril’s introduction to Hemingway in Space which she included in her anthology 6th Annual Edition: The Year's Best S-F a year later.

“One of Mr. Amis's sharpest criticisms of science fantasy in general was the lack of good humorous writing in the field. From the examples he cited, and those he did not, I suspect we do not always laugh at the same jokes. Not always; at least one exception (and probably several more) appeared in the series of parodies published in Punch last year,” Merril noted in her 1961 Dell anthology.

I'm relatively new to sf and especially humour in sf. I didn’t see it either in the title, Hemingway in Space, however amusing it sounds, or in the story which reads like any other sf tale.

The story is set around Mars. Philip Hardacre, the main character, a young man and his annoying wife Martha, and Ghlmu, an old, grizzled two-headed Martian, are hunting for a space monster with their Wyndham-Clarke blasters. The monster is xeeb, a large and ferocious creature prowling that part of the galaxy. After spotting the phosphorescent creature, Philip insists on stepping out into space without his Martian friend. He takes the young man along with him. In the end, however, Ghlmu is killed while saving Philip and the young man.

Other readers might see humour in the story where I didn’t; perhaps, in the dialogue between Martha, “the boring, senseless bitch,” and Philip and Ghlmu, whom she and her husband hired to take on the monster. Philip Hardacre can’t stand her and would gladly get rid of her and xeeb together. In the story Earthmen and Martians seem to be friends and Venus is inhabited. In short, it’s a decent sf story.

The 6th Annual Edition: The Year's Best S-F contains more than thirty short stories. Other writers include Ray Bradbury, Fredric Brown, Arthur C. Clarke, Howard Fast, Anthony Boucher, Isaac Asimov, Henry Sleser, and Brian W. Aldiss, among others. It also includes an essay ‘How to Think a Science Fiction Story’ by G. Harry Stine, ‘The Year in S-F’ by Judith Merril, and ‘S-F Books — 1960’ by Anthony Boucher.

If you’d like to read just this story, you can click here.

In his biography The Life of Kingsley Amis (2006), writer and academician Zachary Leader has described Amis as “the finest English comic novelist of the second half of the twentieth century.” Amis has parodied sf on more than one occasion, including in New Maps of Hell: A Survey of Science Fiction (1960) where he looks at the genre in a lighter vein as well as in Something Strange, a short story that first appeared in Spectator (1960) and later in his first collection of stories My Enemy's Enemy (1962). Clearly, I need to read more sf humour by Kingsley Amis.

20 comments:

  1. The best humorous SF writer, I think, was Christopher Anvil. Baen Books published, pretty recently, several volumes of his work, which I suggest you try.

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    1. Richard, thank you for the tip. I didn't know about Christopher Anvil until you mentioned him. I enjoy reading humour in all genres.

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  2. I tend not to recognize humor very well when mixed in with drama. I'll pick some of it up in the dialogue. I'm not really a market for humorous SF tales. I like the more serious stuff. I do write humor on occassion, though, but make it rather clearly humorous. Or try to.

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    1. Charles, I didn't find this particular story as humourous as it was meant to be, I think. Perhaps, another reader will see the humour in it.

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  3. I consider Kingsley Amis' LUCKY JIM to be the funniest novel about college that I've ever read. As far as humor in science fiction, I'm a big fan of Keith Laumer's RETIEF stories.

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    1. George, I intend to read Keith Laumer's RETIEF series, especially after I reviewed his short story GREYLORN recently. I haven't read Kingsley Amis much and I'll keep an eye out for LUCKY JIM.

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  4. Connie Willis' TO SAY NOTHING OF THE DOG is a very fine, very funny time travel tale. I've read it twice and will probably be reading it again one of these days. Her other books don't all have the same feel to them, but she does manage to tuck in a bit of humor in most of her stories.

    Prashant, I've not read any of Kingsley Amis's books so I can't comment directly on your experience except to say that humor is very much in the eye of the beholder. At least, I think so. I remember one time sitting in a theater with my husband, both of us laughing our heads off at the movie, while all around us silence reigned. No one else seemed to get what we were getting. :)

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    1. And, of course, Willis there is paying tribute to Jerome K. Jerome, and his TWO MEN IN A BOAT...

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    2. Yvette, thanks for highlighting TO SAY NOTHING OF THE DOG by Connie Willis. The title suggests it's a funny book. I agree with your view on humour and have had similar experiences. Being reserved by nature, I don't laugh out loud in public unless I'm watching a sitcom or movie with the family in the privacy of my home. Nonetheless, in theatres, I often find people laughing at certain scenes that I don't think is funny at all, which makes me smile.

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    3. Todd, that's new to me as well. I don't think I have read TWO MEN IN A BOAT and it'd be a good idea to read both the books in succession.

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  5. Amis's story is a parody, simultaneously of notional adventure sf and the kind of Angry Young Man/Kitchen Sink Drama fiction Amis and many of his contemporaries in Britain at the time specialized in. Of course, Frederik Pohl, Amis's favorite sf writer when the latter wrote the talks that were massaged into the chapters of NEW MAPS OF HELL, was usually writing satirical sf himself, as were any number of other writers contributing particularly to GALAXY magazine in the 1950s, when it specialized in part in that sort of thing...stories from the likes of Robert Sheckley and William Tenn were notable contributions thus.

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    1. Todd, thanks for the insight into Kingsley Amis's contribution to sf as well as those of his contemporaries. "Adventure sf" is a good way of describing the type of fiction they specialised in though I confess to not having read Pohl, Sheckley or Tenn yet.

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  6. More you than me Prashant I think. I haven't tried anything from Amis yet, but I have a couple of his books on the shelves - strictly non-sci-fiction though!

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    1. Col, I'm hoping to read some of Amis's non-sf full-length novels. I haven't done justice to either his or Martin Amis's work.

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  7. I liked what was said in the introduction: "we do not always laugh at the same jokes". Humor often goes over my head and I like subtle humor, not laugh out loud humor (usually). But the story sounds worth reading, I will give it a try.

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    1. Tracy, I like subtle and clever humour too and especially the dry variety. I haven't been reading much in the humour department.

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  8. I've read quite a lot of Amis, but never heard of this one. I am less interested in his SF - quite a big interest of his I believe - but do find him very funny in his straight novels.

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    1. Moira, I didn't know Kingsley Amis had written sf till I came across this story online. It has renewed my interest in his other fiction.

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  9. It's been ages since I read anythign by Amis, who can be wickedly funny and fairly provocative too - but I will remedy this now - thanks Prashant.

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    1. Sergio, thank you. I haven't read Kingsley Amis in years and I think I'll join you in remedying the same. His "wickedly funny" books sound good to me..

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