Skip to main content 

Owing to the screen size of your device, you may obtain a better viewing experience by rotating your device a quarter-turn (to get the so-called “panorama” screen view).

Great Science-Fiction & Fantasy Works

  Science-fiction & fantasy literature: a critical list with discussions.

(click for menu)
You are here:  Home  »  Books  »  Light-hearted ( = this page)
(Click on any image above to see it at full size.)
You are here:  Home  »  Books  »  Light-hearted ( = this page)

You can get a site directory by clicking on the “hamburger” icon () in the upper right of this page.
Or you can search this site with Google (standard Google-search rules apply).
(Be aware that “sponsored” links to other sites will appear atop the actual results.)

Search term(s):

Welcome to the Great Science-Fiction & Fantasy Works web site!

You have apparently come to this page from a link on a search engine or another site. If this is your first visit here, I much recommend that you take a few minutes to look over the introductory material accessible via the red “Introductory” zone of the Site Menu available from the “hamburger” icon in the upper right of this (and every) page. An understanding of the purposes and principles of organization of this site will, I hope and believe, much augment your experience here, for this page and in general. You can simply click this link to get at the site front page, which, unsurprisingly, is the best place to start. Thank you for visiting.

Light-Hearted Works

Quick page jumps:

“The study of genetics on the Disc had failed at an early stage, when wizards tried the experimental crossing of such well known subjects as fruit flies and sweet peas. Unfortunately they didn’t grasp the fundamentals, and the resultant offspring—a sort of green bean thing that buzzed—led a short sad life before being eaten by a passing spider.”

– Sourcery,
Terry Pratchett

The Light Touch in Science Fiction and Fantasy

(Returning visitors will notice that the title of this page has changed—the category “humor” seemed too limiting for what I wanted to catalogue: I think the designation “light-hearted” captures the idea better. In essence, these are books you turn to when at the end of a dismal day you want to just prop your feet up and put it all behind you.)

Science fiction long was grim stuff. While the occasional book might have the occasional light character or scene, by and large it was all deadly serious business, right from Shelley’s Frankenstein: Or, the Modern Prometheus on through the early pulps. With the usual disclaimers about generalities, one may say that it was not until the 1940s that “light-hearted” science fiction began to emerge (with, for example, L. Sprague DeCamp’s Incomplete Enchanter) and not until the ’50s that it began to blossom, with the Gallagher books by Lewis Padgett (a pseudonym of the husband-and-wife team of Henry Kuttner & C. L. Moore) and Frederic Brown’s Martians Go Home as samples.

Fantasy, born as a branch of “real” literature, had a streak of light-heartedness right from the get-go (as, for example, Lord Dunsany’s work shows); by the time “fantasy” ceased being a kind of literature and became instead a publishing category, the by-then established acceptability of the light touch in the science-fiction category carried over; nowadays, both fields have many writers who can employ that light touch deftly.

In assembling this category from the main listings, I found that there seemed two reasonably distinct classes of tale belonging here. One class is overtly comedic books: ones in which the author has set out to make us laugh. The other class is less easily labelled, and is why I changed the label of this page to “light-hearted”: the tale is told with a light touch, perhaps with some humor, but is not expressly designed to make us laugh (I say that with no implied derogation—making us laugh is a task both worthy and, when done right, toilsome). An example of the first class is any Terry Pratchett “Discworld” book; of the second, The Circus of Dr. Lao.

Those familiar with that second will realize at once that, as I use the terms, “light-hearted” is very far from synonomous with “frivolous”: a good many books with a touch or more than a touch of wit (often sarcastic) deal with issues that are large and serious—it is only that this or that author has managed to come at those issues with a grin that makes the books “light-hearted”.

This text is meant only as a short introduction to the list, but there are two further points that do need to be made. One is that there are several authors who regularly write books that overall are neither comedic nor warm-hearted, but in which can be found clear threads of humor; such humor is often—but by no means invariably—dry or even acid (a fine example of such authors is Jack Vance, and another is Flann O’Brien ). On occasion, such authors write books that are wholly comic, and those of course are included below; but I have tried with the entry notes to indicate those authors’ wider tendencies as well. (Or, turning the thought round, there are authors who write seemingly comic tales in which grim and serious passages abound—at some mix ratios, it’s hard to sort the one kind from the other.)

I have, as I usually do, tried to be expansive rather than limiting. I included most of Cabell, all of Lafferty—who can find a Lafferty tale not brimming over with humor, however dire its deeper meaning?—Warren Norwood’s peculiar little collection, all of Flann O’Brien (even the rather horrific Third Policeman), and so on.

The last point, a crucial one, is that as I suggested just above, “light-hearted” books of enduring quality very often do more than make us smile or laugh: they can also introduce, under cover of the humor, ideas every bit as serious and important as those carried by their more sober kin. When we finish a Discworld novel, we may not be conscious of having been treated to much besides a lot of laughing, but we have nevertheless also undergone one or more small but significant attitude adjustments; and such will be the case with a reading of many of the works listed here.

(I wouldn’t say that the following list—even limiting choices to works on the main list—is an accurate or complete list of the light-hearted works: I may have omitted a few that belong or included a few that don’t. In part, the problem is what I mentioned above: mixes of humor and seriousness—what does one say of, for example, Blaylock’s Land of Dreams?)

To repeat, the bottom line here was that these be books you can turn to when at the end of a dismal day you want to just prop your feet up and put it all behind you.

Return to the page top. ↑

Some Notable Light-Hearted Books

Disclaimers  |  Privacy Policy

owl logo This site is one of The Owlcroft Company family of web sites. Please click on the link (or the owl) to see a menu of our other diverse user-friendly, helpful sites.
owl logo Like all our sites, this one is hosted at the highly regarded Pair Networks, whom we strongly recommend—click the link to learn more. (To get 20% off on hosting fees if you move to Pair, use code pairref-FyXypEEk)

(Note: All Owlcroft systems run on Ubuntu Linux and we heartily recommend it to everyone—click on the link for more information).

All content copyright © 2024 The Owlcroft Company
(excepting quoted material, which is believed to be Fair Use).

This web page is strictly compliant with the WHATWG (Web Hypertext Application Technology Working Group) HyperText Markup Language (HTML5) Protocol versionless “Living Standard” and the W3C (World Wide Web Consortium) Cascading Style Sheets (CSS3) Protocol v3  — because we care about interoperability. Click on the logos below to test us!

This page was last modified on Sunday, 4 February 2024, at 5:32 pm Pacific Time.