Jody Lynn Nye’s View from the Imperium is an SF high comedy with roots in the great works of Dorothy Sayers, Terry Pratchett and most particularly, P.G. Wodehouse and his Jeeves series. Nye is known for a myriad of books, both her single-author work such as Nye’s Mythology series and collaborations with a who’s-who of other SF greats, including several books with Anne McCaffrey. We caught up with her to discuss the delightfully witty and exciting View, her comedic influence–and to get a bit of advice for new writers who might be attempting the double-whammy of comedy and science fiction, which Nye has clearly mastered.
Q: So the "Jeeves in Space" book you've said that you always wanted to write is here! Can you give us some background on how the characters and the story first took shape in your mind? Did you find Parsons and Kinago veering away from Jeeves and Bertie as you wrote? Was this a problem or an opportunity? Both?
JLN: Both. I have always loved a good adventure story about a young person setting out to change the world and, in so doing, changing as well. That sounds awfully high-falutin' and Joseph Campbell, but we readers respond to the Hero's Journey. I like the Flandry stories, Miles Vorkosigan and others of that sort. But there was something special about PG Wodehouse's characters of Jeeves and Bertie Wooster and the author's delightful sense of the ridiculous that I responded to. (I'm not the first to pastiche them, of course–Dorothy Sayers's Lord Peter Wimsey and his devoted servant Bunter are more elegant, thinking analogs, though still with humor, and Dorothy Dunnett's Lymond carries Peter on to a further heroic level.) It surprised me that no one had brought the pairing up into the future. We'll still have hierarchies of some kind. Why not a nobility? And what might they become, given enough scope and time? Thomas is silly and spoiled, but he is not stupid. (I can't stand stupid protagonists.) I just loved the idea of playing on Bertie's love of fashion trends, carrying them forward to futuristic absurdity in Thomas's overprivileged, overfinanced, insufficiently occupied hands. With the greatest of good will, he blunders forward where he sees fit, whether or not he is supposed to become involved. To balance him, naturally, I required my mentor/protector to be even more omniscient and in a greater position of authority than Jeeves. I like Parsons. I wish I had someone like him.At the same time, I must also keep from recreating my literary predecessors' work. I feel that though the forms are there, the take on it is mine. I really enjoyed writing View, and I hope to do more Thomas stories in the future.
Q: You've mentioned before that a triumvirate of favorite writers for you would include Mark Twain, Terry Pratchett and P.G. Wodehouse. For those of us who want to delve deeper into your influences (and maybe revisit these writers or discover some of their stories we've missed!) can you give us some of your favorites by these authors? Which are the biggest influences on you in View from the Imperium and in your other work (perhaps particularly in your Mythology fantasy series)? How so?
JLN: Twain, A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court, The Mysterious Stranger, Pudd'n'head Wilson, as well as Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn. Naturally I am a big fan of Camelot stories. I will undoubtedly erupt with one someday myself. I love his sense of humor and his unfailing eye for human frailty (which he also does not hesitate to turn on himself). There is understanding and justice in his work. You learn a lot from him while you are laughing.Terry Pratchett has a very keen understanding of human nature as well. He has a paternal affection for his characters that does not hold back at letting awful things happen to them, but in a surprisingly gentle fashion. People meet Death, who does in fact reap souls, but not with any personal axe (or scythe) to grind. Take Windle Poons, professor of Unseen University, who died and never noticed, and continues to teach his classes. His turn of mind delights me. In one of his novels, he mentions that they have learned how to turn lead into gold. It's not alchemy, it's printing. I recommend all of the Discworld books, but I have a soft spot for anything featuring Granny Weatherwax, Death and Captain Vimes. My favorite is probably Reaper Man. I adore the Tiffany Aching books (YA, but more than rewarding for adult readers).PG Wodehouse came to my attention because a high-school friend was reading him. We were fellow Anglophiles, so she knew I would like Wodehouse, too. He had a gift for setting a story in time and place, though the characters behave in a way that, as long as we are human, will remain comprehensible and funny.
As you can see, I respond to a funny tale well told, but I am very choosy about what I like and what I keep and reread.
Q: Your Anne McCaffrey collaborations are numerous and highly popular. You've done Pern novels and the Brainship series with McCaffrey to name but a few. You've mentioned that some of your favorite collaborations with her are Dinosaur Planet books on which you collaborated, such as the highly-satisfying Death of Sleep. Why are they your favorites? Can you tell us something about their genesis and creation?
JLN: My husband, Bill Fawcett, started the ball rolling with projects pairing David Drake and CJ Cherryh with three junior writers apiece to create co-authored novels with a common theme or running plot line. Those two series, Crisis of Empire and The Sword of Knowledge, respectively, gave a boost to the less well known writers and a break to the senior writers, who were able to explore an idea they had had without having to write all of it. Later, Bill arranged a couple of series with Anne McCaffrey. In her case, she had wanted to revisit the Brainship and Doona universes but did not have time to do more with them. It was a terrific apprenticeship for me, Elizabeth Moon, and three other writers. We got to work with one of the best and most generous top professionals in our field. I learned a lot from Anne, including how to be open to others' ideas. Anne has always encouraged other writers. She reads manuscripts we send her. Not only does she offer great quotes for book covers, but if she really liked them, she demands the next volume in the series!
Q: Comedy is hard, and science fiction comedy seems as if it would be an order of magnitude harder still considering that you have to make your stories plausible, awe-inducing and funny. Do you have any insights for budding writers on how to find their own inner comic muse?
JLN: You can't teach people how to be funny. If they aren't, they aren't. If they are, one thing that they have to allow themselves is not to be afraid of their sense of humor. The situation is what makes a story funny. Again, do not make your character stupid. Innocent, ignorant, stubborn, arrogant, too obliging–any of the natural human emotions that cause people to have blind sides to what is going on around them are fine, but stupid people are not funny. They are pathetic. The revelation an intelligent character experiences can be funny and sad at the same time. If you want to write humor you have to have an affection for your characters, even though you won't divert their feet from that banana peel. Sure, there's snide, bitter and even angry humor out there, but I don't enjoy it as much as that which is playful. Write from knowledge. The better you know a subject, the more humor you can find in it. Benjamin Franklin had a gift for the affectionate tweak at the same time he was informing his readers. I think the same can be said of any of my favorites.Personal humor transcends time. Anything too trendy or reliant upon a reference that will be old by this time next year puts a shelf life on your work. See the classic television shows and movies and listen to old radio programs. Those jokes last because they're about human nature. I just saw a special about Laugh-In, which I adored when it first aired. I was much too young to understand the topical humor, but I loved the rest of it. They were having so much fun, and they were brilliant comedians.Clever wordplay delights me. I happen to love puns. Some people hate them, but I can't resist a good play on words. George Carlin was a god when it came to taking words and turning them upside down. ("Why do we park in a driveway, but drive on a parkway?")To budding humorists, I say read, listen, and watch the work of other people you find funny, and experiment on your own. Don't rip off that which you love directly, but create your own take on it. Your own style will be unique and memorable.
Bestselling alternate history master Harry Turtledove has called Jody Lynn Nye’s work “warm and engaging,” and filled with “gentle humor.” In Nye’s View from the Imperium, good-hearted, but naïve Ensign Thomas Kinago receives his first ship command only to find the star empire he serves suddenly threatened by mind control wielded by a power-mad renegade. It’s up to Kinago’s quick-witted and plucky manservant Parsons to save the galaxy–and, of course, his young master–from total domination. With echoes of Wodehouse and Twain, Nye weaves a science fiction adventure filled with amusing exploits, high stakes, and wit aplenty.