I’m sure there is a wide selection of SF books that offer fun stories with low angst, that don’t take themselves too seriously, that give you clear cut Good Guys and Bad Guys, and all like that. Which is not to say that they can’t offer the occasional keen observation about the human condition or whatever, but basically the point is to offer a fun story where you can cheer on the hero(s) and not worry too much about deeper meanings. And I don’t necessarily mean deliberate comedies such as Connie Willis’ BELLWETHER, which is really funny and if you haven’t read it, you might look it up, but at a deeper level that one is a more serious satire.
No, I mean stories like Bujold’s THE WARRIOR’S APPRENTICE, which is the Vorkosigan book I’d suggest first to someone who was just starting with Bujold’s SF series.
Not to be hyper-critical, btw, but this new cover doesn’t do much for me. Random space battle? Whatever. I’m really surprised LOIS MCMASTER BUJOLD can’t get better covers than this by now.
But moving on, moving on. SHARDS OF HONOR is a great book and sure, you could start there, but the whole bit where Miles and friends take over the mercenary troop? That is just so much fun. I think this book is the most fun to read of the whole set — except maybe A CIVIL CAMPAIGN, and that’s a different kind of thing, really a comedy of manners.
Okay, another book that’s fun and definitely doesn’t take itself too seriously is 1632 by Eric Flint.
This is the original book in the extended multi-author series, the one where the small mining town zips back in time to 1632 and stuff happens from there. Lots of highly unbelievable stuff, but it’s delightful to read about, and hey, Gustavus Adolphus of Sweden! What a guy! The rest of the series is seriously uneven in quality, which is hardly a surprise for a multi-authored world, but the first one stands perfectly alone and then you can wander through the rest as you like.
Another delightful story that has of course rather fallen off everyone’s radar by this time (it was first published in 1960. Wow.) is THE HIGH CRUSADE by Poul Anderson.
Here’s the summary from Goodreads:
In the year of grace 1345, as Sir Roger Baron de Tourneville is gathering an army to join King Edward III in the war against France, a most astonishing event occurs: a huge silver ship descends through the sky and lands in a pasture beside the little village of Ansby in northeastern Lincolnshire. The Wersgorix, whose scouting ship it is, are quite expert at taking over planets, and having determined from orbit that this one was suitable, they initiate standard world-conquering procedure. Ah, but this time it’s no mere primitives the Wersgorix seek to enslave; they’ve launched their invasion against free Englishmen! In the end, only one alien is left alive; and Sir Roger’s grand vision is born. He intends for the creature to fly the ship first to France to aid his King, then on to the Holy Land to vanquish the infidel. Unfortunately, he has not allowed for the treachery of the alien pilot, who instead takes the craft to his home planet, where, he thinks, these upstart barbarians will have no choice but to surrender. But that knavish alien little understands the indomitable will and clever resourcefulness of Englishmen, no matter how great the odds against them. . .
It can hardly get more fun than that. You don’t want to stop and really ask yourself “Yes, but is this actually plausible?” while reading this story. Of course you don’t. That’s not the point of this book, although in fact if you don’t stop and worry about everything, then the plot does roll out with surprising smoothness. This is probably my favorite book by Poul Anderson.
What are any of your candidates for fun-to-read not-too-serious SF stories?
UPDATE: from the comments, we have a suggestion or THE WITCHES OF KARRES, which definitely qualifies and I’m surprised I didn’t think of it.
Also, Sherwood Smith commented on Goodreads: The Price of the Stars, by Debra Doyle and James D. Macdonald. (I was just rereading it!) Besides Bujold, their space opera is my favorite. Brian Daley’s space opera was fun. I know there are others, but those two come to mind.
One more duology I’ve thought of: McLENDON’S SYNDROME and THE VMR THEORY by Robert Frezza. We get this back cover for the first of the two:
Ken MacKay’s career in space was going nowhere. The decrepit trading ship he served on was also going nowhere: the Rustam’s Slipper was grounded on Schuyler’s World, a backwater planet lacking even a good bar. For diversion, Schuyler’s offered bad bars, cute yet conniving aliens called Rodents, and Catarina — a mysterious, beautiful, unsettlingly smart woman. Catarina Wanted a berth on the Slipper; the Slipper needed a crew member. She Was hired.
But Ken soon discovered that Catarina was more than a vamp with a razor-sharp wit. First was her case of McLendon’s Syndrome, an obscure little contagious disease treatable only with chocolate-chip cookies. Then there were all the secrets she was hiding. So she wasn’t the most trustworthy ally a guy could want as the Slipper hurried straight into murder, mayhem, intrigue, and an interspecies war — but she was all Ken had. And unless she helped Ken whip the crew into shape and muster the misfits and malcontents of Schuyler’s World, it would be the shortest war on record…
I read these some time ago, but as I recall the first book was fun and the second definitely a madcap adventure story. They’re quite different from Frezza’s military SF, which I liked quite a bit, by the way, but it is not fun in the same way. The first book of that trilogy is A SMALL COLONIAL WAR.