When characters discover new worlds, take on galactic invaders, time travel or gain extraordinary powers, it can lead to heroic, epic adventures—or everything going hilariously wrong. Or, even better, some combination of both. So from not-so-super heroes to socially-anxious killer robots, here are seven humorous stories of people who are in over their heads.
Gate Crashers by Patrick S. Tomlinson
When the crew of the exploration vessel Magellan discovers an alien artifact during humanity’s furthest trip into space, they decide to bring it back to Earth so they can study the technology. Unfortunately, the aliens happened to be rather fond of this artifact. As the people of Earth put themselves on a collision course with the rest of the potentially hostile galaxy, they find the only thing as infinite as the universe is humanity’s ability to mess up.
Super Extra Grande by Yoss
Bizarre, hilarious, and a scathing critique of Western politics, Cuban author Yoss’s satire follows Dr. Jan Amos Sangan Dongo, a veterinarian who specializes in treating large alien animals. When Earth faces colonial conflicts with the other intelligent species, Dr. Sangan is forced to embark on a mission to rescue two ambassadors from the belly of an enormous creature. It’s intergalactic road trip meets raunchy satire and you need it in your life.
All Systems Red by Martha Wells
In this first book in the Murderbot Diaries, a self-aware security android hacks its settings and dubs itself “Murderbot”… because it sort of killed several people. Now free of restraints and bugs that might send them on another killing spree, the introverted droid has discovered soap operas and just wants to be left alone. But when something goes wrong on a mission to protect scientists on an alien planet, Murderbot gets strangely attached to their pesky humans and decides to risk discovery to protect them all—even if humans are much more complicated than they look on TV.
Old Man’s War by John Scalzi
The good news is humans have made it to interplanetary space and discovered inhabitable planets. The bad news is that aliens want these planets too, and humans, led by the Colonial Defense Force, will have to fight for them. But the Defense Force doesn’t take young recruits—it enlists the elderly and transfers their experienced minds into younger bodies. John Perry joins the military on his 75th birthday. And while there’s plenty of drama and battle, there’s also a lot of old dudes making fart jokes and getting excited about their new abs. Old Man’s War is another one of the books on this list that show an outer space is full of sarcasm and witty rejoinders.
All Those Explosions Were Someone Else’s Fault by James Alan Gardner
When dark creatures start to offer immortality in exchange for money (and maybe your soul) and magic and science combine to create beings with extraordinary powers, a battle ensues between the Dark and the Light. Caught in the middle of it all are Kim Lam, our snarky, gender-fluid hero, and their three roommates, turned into the super-powered Sparks by a freak accident. Equipped with capes and costumes, the friends use their new-found abilities to seek truth and justice…for the most part. The explosions were definitely someone else’s fault.
To Say Nothing of the Dog by Connie Willis
This Hugo and Locus-award winning comedic novel begins in the year 2057, where they use time machines to study history. Ned Henry, suffering from time-lag due to jumping back and forth to often from the 1940s, is in desperate need of a rest. But when a historian takes something from Victorian times that could upset the results of World War II and destabilize the timeline, Ned is the only available man to go back and set things right. Hijinks, mischievous butlers, boating accidents and social snafus ensue as the historians of Oxford pop back and forth in time and search for a gaudy artifact of dubious proportions.
Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams
A classic when it comes to humorous science fiction, this story follows Arthur Dent and his best friend and actual alien Ford Prefect. They, and of course all the dolphins and mice, survive when Vogons destroy Earth to make way for an intergalactic highway. Joined by a two-headed alien, a human woman, a depressed robot, and a graduate student obsessed with the disappearance of his pens, they begin a journey full of wit and lunacy to discover the answer to some of life’s most important questions.