With a lot of Science Fiction and Fantasy works, there’s a heavy emphasis on world-building in lieu of character development. Call it an artefact of Tolkien’s impact on the genres, but in many cases it results in a feeling of extreme padding, getting in the way of story. It’s not a problem for everyone, but for me it can be a real deal breaker.
There are authors who get the balance right, however. Many are familiar with Douglas Adams and his devoting of whole chapters to fantastical encyclopaedia entries; but in his passing we now have Jasper Fforde and his wonderfully meta takes on getting us involved in his worlds.
Jasper Fforde (51) has a knack for taking a ridiculous idea, turning it into a straight-laced aspect of his fictional worlds, and just rolling with it. Did you know that talking bears have an underground porridge and honeycomb criminal ring? The Fourth Bear will tell you all you need to know. Did it cross your mind that British society in the distant and/or parallel future consider dancing a sordid and saucy act (not to mention a society where everyone is ranked by their ability to perceive colours)? It’s common knowledge in Shades of Grey.
His main series, the Thursday Next novels stand out as both his strongest writing and the biggest display of his love of literature, if not just his love of the Meta. The series, starting the The Eyre Affair are centred around the idea of writing and storytelling having otherworldly production and mechanics beyond the authors that wrote them. The process of reading is powered by Operating systems, characters have to physically act out a book as it’s read, and best of all, there’s a police force – Jurisfiction – to keep the Book World in safe running order. Move over Steampunk, this is a Book-punk setting through and through.
And of course, I can’t avoid mentioning the glorious torrent of puns. This may be something of a personal bias, but I adore the use of puns for names, and in that regard Fforde definitely doesn’t disappoint. Where else would I find a villain called Jack Schitt; or a side character called Floyd Pinken; or a pun set up that takes half a novel and is so awful the characters themselves complain about it?
As with any popular Science Fiction Work, it would be disingenuous to not mention the fans. My earlier comparison to Douglas Adams is apt, as there’s the die-hard subsection of the readership; to the point where a fan-made convention, the Fforde Ffiesta (har har) that happens every June. Held in Swindon (the setting for the Thursday Next novels), they’re as off-beat and pun-filled as you’d expect.
Unfortunately I haven’t read Fforde’s other independent series The Last Dragonslayer (due to them being Young Adult novels, though I shouldn’t let that stop me), but I would be very surprised if they lacked the fast-paced wit, quirky settings, and unabashed dorkiness that makes his other works shine.