Humor is underplayed in speculative fiction. Most titles I read tend to revolve around grim, dark and drab events, characters are thinned to a tether of resilience and motivation to push through an unforgiving chain of events and the language feeds on grit. So I found it highly surprising that an author could make multiple apocalypses fun. Yes, fun.
Jonathan Wood stood out with his two novels in a series – No Hero and Yesterday’s Hero – the adventures of the less prestigious MI37 agent, Arthur Wallace, an Oxford police officer, who’s got to save the world from all that goes bump in the night. Seriously, the books are fast reads and the writing more than competent. Although I didn’t write a Year’s End book post, Wood’s books have a very special place in my heart as the humor in fantasy drew me in initially as a teen (I’m looking at you, Pratchett).
Wood is clever and plays with words to add flavor to whatever scene he is pushing on the page and both novels move along the tracks with no break. Tuning the story to the right pace is one of the trickier things as you don’t want to feel the story stagnate, while at the same time you don’t want for things to be rushed (“Hero” by Perry Moore is an excellent example, where the author has to tie too many knots without enough rope). To get back to the humor, Wood knows when to best utilize humor to its full potential, when to strip a scene down of it and control the tension.
It’s a rare talent, because being funny on page; design an atmosphere of joy, mirth and cheer, is not something you do with ease. Sustaining the light-heartedness, when bad things happen to the characters you have grown to love, demands deep understanding of the human heart and a way with words to strengthen its authenticity.
Plus, who doesn’t want a panic-stricken, bruised and beaten, secret agent ask “What would Kurt Russell do?” before launching back into the fray for the end of the world? Count me in on that action any day, because that shit’s funny and funny is not something we get very often in fiction.
This puzzles me though. Nothing makes a character’s death more gutting after you have spent hundreds of pages appreciating their little quirks and the shared jokes. Humor is the silent killer, because you don’t expect for things to go horribly wrong in a novel, where a gun-wielding teen chants “awesome” during a fight a zombie T-Rex.
You just don’t. But when they do, oh god, does it hurt. Wood, like a natural sadist, milks both the merriment and the devastation to his full advantage, while deconstructing the familiar “save the world” storyline with an agent in charge with no semblance of traditional competence and the pesky problem with finding funding for the MI37 missions.
Amidst all of this, you have a team with volatile chemistry, Lovecraftian world eaters, entities that control reality, creepy twins, a man made out of books, zombie T-Rex and Robocop Russian magicians. Need I say more?
Now, I have vowed not to share much of the plot, because that’s not what reviews should do all that much, so I am drawing the line here. I think I have whetted your appetite.
But don’t you dare leave me now. Since it’s January, the month when I plan on discussing the act of being professional towards your writing, Jonathan Wood will be here to talk about the usual, My Writing against My Life lifestyle, a great many writers lead at the moment.
See you tomorrow. Please do tell me, is this something you would read? If you read humorous fantasy, recommend something that made you laugh (in public), though I do know of Pratchett, so that recommendation may be unsurprising.