Losing the Thread on a Friday: Humor Will Pull You Through

Jeff VanderMeer • February 19th, 2010 @ 9:40 am • Culture

I have to admit to being a little exhausted from all of the reading for weird. About time for a break.

But I did want to share a couple of wickedly funny things that I encountered, kind of peripheral to the weird reading. They’re funny in part because they’re also serious.

The first are these great opening and closing lines to Binyavanga Wainaina’s essay “How to Write About Africa” from Granta:

Opening: Always use the word “Africa” or “Darkness” or “Safari” in your title. Subtitles may include the words “Zanzibar”, “Masai”, “Zulu”, “Zambezi”, “Congo”, “Nile”, “Big”, “Sky”, “Shadow”, “Drum”, “Sun” or “Bygone”. Also useful are words such as “Guerillas”, “Timeless”, “Primordial” and “Tribal”. Note that “People” means Africans who are not black, while “The People” means black Africans…Never have a picture of a well-adjusted African on the cover of your book, or in it, unless that African has won the Nobel Prize. An AK-47, prominent ribs, naked breasts: use these. If you must include an African, make sure you get one in Masai or Zulu or Dogon dress.

Closing: Always end your book with Nelson Mandela saying something about rainbows and renaissances. Because you care.

Heh. I love that. The other thing that recently made me cackle was a re-read of Joanna Russ’s “The Cliches from Outer Space,” which I encountered a couple of years ago in the Jen Green & Sara LeFanu-edited Despatches from the Frontiers of the Female Mind when Ann and I were putting together the first Steampunk antho (we wound up taking Mary Gentle’s story from that book).

The prelude in this satire involves Russ paying a visit on a female editor named Ermintrude who has incredibly strong forearms–“Editors develop these by screaming and tearing their hair a lot.” Ermintrude then shares with Russ the cause of her stress: the hundreds of cliched manuscripts she has to reject. I can’t reproduce the entire text, of course, but these are openings of the various cliches that Russ catalogs for the reader through Ermintrude:

The Weird-Ways-Of-Getting-Pregnant Story—“Eegh! Argh! Argh! Eegh! cried Sheila Sue Hateman in uncontrollable ecstasy as the giant alien male orchid arched over her, pollinating her every orifice. She–yes, she–she, Sheila Sue Hateman, who had always been frigid nasty and unresponsive! She remembered how at parties she had avoided men who were attracted by her bee-stung, pouting, red mouth, long, honey-colored hair, luscious behind and proud, up-thrusting breasts they were a nuisance, those breasts, they sometimes got so proud and thrust up so far that they knocked her in the chin. She always pushed them down again). How she hated and avoided men!…But this was different.

The Talking-About-It Story—“Oh my, how I do love to live in an equal society,” said Irving the physicist, looking with pride at the living-room of their conapt, which Adrienne, his wife, had decorated the interior of with her briliantly intuitive flair for interior decoration. Adrienne had been a plant geneticist, but had decided that what she really wanted was to stay at home, have eight children, interior decorate, garden, cook organically…It was her decision, so Irving respected it…[After which] Their Black maid, Glorietta, came in and announced…

The Noble Separatist Story—“Tell me, Mommy,” said Jeanie Joan, snuggling up to her beautiful, strong, powerful, gentle, wise, loving, eight-foot-tall Mommy who was President of the United States, “Why aren’t there Daddies any more?”

The Turnabout Story—Four ravaging, man-hating, vicious, hulking, Lesbian, sadistic, fetishistic Women’s Libbers motorcycled down the highway to where George was hiding behind a bush. Each was dressed in black leather, spike-heeled boots, and carried both a tommygun and a whip, as well as knives between their teeth. Some had cut off their breasts. Their names were Dirty Sandra, Hairy Harriet, Vicious Vivian, and Positively Ruthless Ruth. They dragged George (a litte sandy-haired fellow with spectacles, but with a keen mind and an iron will) from behind the bush he was hiding in. Then they beat him. Then they reduced him to flinders. Then they squashed the flinders to slime. Then they jumped up and down on the slime. “Women are better than men!” cried Dirty Sandra.

The whole thing is brilliant, I have to say.

PS–I just wrote a short review of Musgrove’s amazing The Late Fauna of Early North America over at Omnivoracious.

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