17) Harry Harrison, Star Smashers of the Galaxy Rangers, 1973  ( RE-READ )
This month's choice for my wander through the funniest books ever written was something I reckoned was certainly in that zone when I read it in the early 1980s, and it also predates the ascendancy of Douglas Adams by five years. There are definite parallels too between Star Smashers and Hitchhiker's, but they also differ largely in accordance with my not-quite-unshakeable belief that while the best American comedies are about self-improvement, the best British comedies are about being trapped; both books are emblematic of spoofing SF in idiosyncratically American and British ways to take readers on improbable galactic adventures specifically designed to poke fun at the genre. I have to say, when Harry Harrison is on form his best jokes are still just as funny as the best of Douglas Adams's, but he just doesn't get the same readership. This adventure has all-round brilliant and handsome American college kids Jerry and Chuck, along with their pointless girlfriend Sally and their black janitor John, head out into the galaxy after discovering that the chemical composition of a piece of home-made cheddar cheese could also double as an interstellar drive when rigged up to their private 747. It inevitably turns into a rather daft galaxy-wide caper of good vs. evil and you sometimes have to read closely for Harrison's wittiest gags – there are certainly some excellent ones more subtle than his clever and increasingly ridiculous explanations as to why all aliens happen to speak English. Even the serious swipes at racism and sexual stereotyping are sugar-coated, and if it's ridiculously self-indulgent to the point of making readers abandon their disbelief wholesale this is still a very okay book.