January 2015 favorites

january2015

January 2015

The January stories ordered solely on my personal tastes.

  1. ‘How I Met My Husband’ by Alice Munro
  2. ‘Bardon Bus’ by Alice Munro
  3. ‘One Ordinary Day, With Peanuts’ by Shirley Jackson
  4. ‘The Open Boat’ by Stephen Crane
  5. ‘Where I’m Calling From’ by Raymond Carver
  6. ‘The Drunkard’ by Frank O’Connor
  7. ‘The Wind And The Snow Of Winter’ by Walter Van Tilburg Clark
  8. ‘Everyday Use’ by Alice Walker
  9. ‘The Enormous Radio’ by John Cheever
  10. ‘The View From Castle Rock’ by Alice Munro
  11. ‘Boys And Girls’ by Alice Munro
  12. ‘The Sun, The Moon, The Stars’ by Junot Diaz
  13. ‘The Skull’ by Philip K. Dick
  14. ‘The NRACP’ by George P. Elliott
  15. ‘Train’ by Alice Munro
  16. ‘The Other Foot’ by Ray Bradbury
  17. ‘Pigeon Feathers’ by John Updike
  18. ‘Jokester’ by Isaac Asimov
  19. ‘Tell Me A Riddle’ by Tillie Olsen
  20. ‘The Speech Of Polly Baker’ by Benjamin Franklin
  21. ‘The Star’ by Arthur C. Clarke

‘Jokester’ by Isaac Asimov

Asimov, Isaac 1956

Jokester by Isaac Asimov, 1956

The magic trick:

Twisting a common sci-fi theme into a new idea

The joke may be on me, here at SSMT HQ. After all, the whole point of “Jokester” is to be wary of over-analysis. In the story, by trying to compute where jokes come from and why humans enjoy them, Meyerhof inadvertently ruins any and all sense of humor for the human race. So I’m pretty sure the very idea of analyzing this story is laughable. Nevertheless…

This isn’t a totally foreign theme for science fiction – the idea of humanity pushing technology too far and then receiving a nasty comeuppance. Usually that kind of idea focuses on weapons or military industrial complexes; maybe an overreliance on computers or overambitions in the field of medicine.

“Jokester” is unique in that it makes this point with something that on the surface seems far more innocuous than a nuclear weapon: jokes. But when you think about it, the stakes are in some ways much higher here than in your standard sci-fi morality tale. Humanity losing its sense of humor forever? That is an extreme end, and certainly one that is original and thought-provoking. And that’s quite a trick on Asimov’s part.

The selection:

Meyerhof said sharply, “Why is that funny?”

Trask sobered. “I beg your pardon.”

“I said, why is that funny? Why do you laugh?”

“Well,” said Trask, trying to be reasonable, “the last line put every thing that preceded in a new light. The unexpectedness—”

“The point is,” said Meyerhof, “that I have pictured a husband being humiliated by his wife; a marriage that is such a failure that the wife is convinced that her husband lacks any virtue. Yet you laugh at that. If you were the husband, would you find it funny?”