I believe this was a book of collected stories focusing on a planet that developed its society based on a stranded circus troupe. I vaguely remember that there were wizards (stage magicians using trickery), acrobats, showgirls, and clowns, at the least, as kind of guilds in the society. The particular story that I recall had two clowns meeting for battle, and it turns out to be all about puns with the other looking physically shaken by a blow with each pun uttered.

Unfortunately, the details have largely escaped me other than that one involved a clown saying that his uncle had fallen into a bad vat of dye, but came out alright because "only the good dye stunned" (I have a vague idea that this pun was either what took the other fellow out, or that it was a particularly weak pun that preceded his defeat). If I recall correctly, it was very much a "young gunslinger takes on the veteran" feel, and I think the veteran clown won. My vague memories is that the narrative involved someone from off-world interacting with the people on the planet, providing an excuse for everything to be explained to the reader.

I read this somewhere in the early 1990s in a hardback book from the local library (the book is probably long gone given how much wear they tended to incur) and I think the cover showed a poster of a circus clown with a lizard crawling out of the clown's eye.


1 Answer 1


This has got to be a tale from one of the Circus World books (Circus World, City of Baraboo, and Elephant Song) by Barry B. Longyear.

It's most likely Circus World, an anthology that includes the short story Dueling Clowns.

From Goodreads:

From the mind of the Nebula and Hugo award-winning author of Enemy Mine, comes a planet of dreamers, mimes, acrobats and magicians.

Two hundred years earlier, a circus starship is stranded on the Planet Momus. Recently discovered by the rest of the galaxy, the population of Momus-the remaining descendants of the original circus-must deal with interstellar power politics and war, and they do so in their own special way in Circus World.

From a copy of Circus World on the Internet Archive:

... Spaht tried to rally, but Kamera scented blood. 'My... nephew lost consciousness and fell into a vat of stain...'

"'The good dye stunned.' Spaht fell to all fours and began crawling out of town...

The cover of “Circus World.”

  • Probably the one with this cover? isfdb.org/wiki/images/6/63/CRCSWRLD7E1980.jpg
    – user14111
    Commented Oct 30, 2021 at 22:30
  • Ah! And I found the line in question in the Internet Archive copy.
    – FuzzyBoots
    Commented Oct 30, 2021 at 22:31
  • And that is the cover I remember. :-D Of course, I misremembered the positioning of the lizards on the clown.
    – FuzzyBoots
    Commented Oct 30, 2021 at 22:33
  • 1
    I have been trying to think of who wrote this series for 10+ years! (Somehow I thought it was a very early Orson Scott Card series ...) Commented Nov 1, 2021 at 11:56

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