I am a science fiction humor writer. As of this post, I am about to launch a new sci-fi comedy series. And while I am very excited to get it into the hands of readers, I am also dreading the inevitable backlash. This is because all humor suffers from the bane of subjectivity.
Here’s an uncomfortable truth: I could write a book stuffed with racist jokes and someone would rate it 5-stars. On the flip side, I could write the most neutered and inoffensive book imaginable and someone would still get offended and rate it as 1-star trash. It’s enough to warrant a heavy sigh long before the material is published.
Every comedian understands this peril. There is no such thing as timeless comedy because paradigms are constantly shifting. Even the most beloved comedies struggle to maintain a positive rating as times change. What is funny today will be offensive tomorrow. As a simple example, go watch any sitcom from 50 years ago and try not to cringe.
When I was writing the first book in my Max and the Multiverse series, I laughed through the entire process. I used a modern lens and found no qualms with the material. I enjoy snarky humor, which I understand is not for everyone. I also leaned heavily into satire, which gave many characters and settings a hyper-parodied treatment. While intentional, it predictably failed to land with some readers. (And I have the hateful reviews to prove it.)
Don’t get me wrong, I am immensely proud of this material and continue to laugh at the antics. The saga stands at three books and four shorts, so there is a clear investment to continue. But even so, I worry how the series will age. The first book was published four years ago and even I can see some emerging quandaries.
A big part of me wants to rewrite the first book and release a new edition. But at the same time, I realize that this would be a never-ending headache. The new version would need an update in five years, then again in the next five years, on and on until the original work is lost forever. And so it sits, with the full understanding that the laughs will get harder to defend as time marches on.
What’s the saying? “Dying is easy. Comedy is hard.”
It’s difficult to admit that writing humor is often demoralizing. What should be a joyful activity is actually a futile attempt to capture the current zeitgeist. Some jokes last, others don’t. And in the end, they will all be misunderstood. (insert sad violin music)
So why continue to write material that will rub some readers the wrong way and get battered by Father Time? The simple answer is because I think it’s funny. I enjoy thinking up new jokes about nerdy things. I enjoy putting flawed characters into amusing situations and seeing how they react. In short, I write for my own taste in humor. Sometimes it’s a meta joke about space physics. Other times it’s a fart joke. And if you laugh at both, that’s a pretty good indicator that we would get along in real life.
And many of us have. Cheers!
In all seriousness, I am extremely fortunate to have a crop of regular readers who think my humor is worthy of laughter. If you’re one of those people, please know that your patronage means the world to me. Your comments and reviews keep me motivated. Writing humor is not something one does for mass appeal. It’s a niche activity, the literary equivalent of putting your arm around a friend and saying, “Isn’t life funny?”