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Published by Subterranean Press on December 31st 2016
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The ex-planet Pluto has a few choice words about being thrown out of the solar system. A listing of alternate histories tells you all the various ways Hitler has died. A lawyer sues an interplanetary union for dangerous working conditions. And four artificial intelligences explain, in increasingly worrying detail, how they plan not to destroy humanity.
Welcome to Miniatures: The Very Short Fiction of John Scalzi.
These four stories, along with fourteen other pieces, have one thing in common: They’re short, sharp, and to the point—science fiction in miniature, with none of the stories longer than 2,300 words. But in that short space exist entire universes, absurd situations, and the sort of futuristic humor that propelled Scalzi to a Hugo with his novel Redshirts. Not to mention yogurt taking over the world (as it would).
Spanning the years from 1991 to 2016, this collection is a quarter century of Scalzi at his briefest and best, and features four never-before-printed stories, exclusive to this collection: “Morning Announcements at the Lucas Interspecies School for Troubled Youth,” “Your Smart Appliances Talk About You Behind Your Back,” “Important Holidays on Gronghu” and “The AI Are Absolutely Positively Without a Doubt Not Here to End Humanity, Honest.”
Read this one if you need a laugh. Or a chuckle. Or a groan. But not necessarily in that order. Think of Miniatures as a very short, unfortunately temporary antidote to whatever gloom and doom is currently taking up entirely too much space in your head.
These little bits are funny. Sometimes hilarious, sometimes just chuckle-worthy, and all more than a bit “out there” in one direction or another. Think of Futurama, or Douglas Adams, or Star Trek, or The Twilight Zone, and throw them in a blender on puréed stun, and you’ll get the idea. A bit.
One story in this collection, Important Holidays on Gronghu, may not have been available in print before, but it has been around a bit. Specifically, the author performed it at WorldCon in Kansas City this year. Having heard it done, to side-splitting laughter on the part of both the author and the audience, this feels like a story that is better performed than read. While a chunk of the humor is in the situation, an awful lot of it is also in the unpronounceability of the Gronghu-ish names and holidays. It’s the kind of thing that gets funnier and funnier as it goes, especially as the cascading laughter inhibits the ability to pronounce pretty much anything.
To Sue the World is a bit of a precursor to Redshirts, which is admittedly much funnier, if also a tad longer. But what put the smile on my face in this story was the in-joke at the beginning. The law firm that the UU Redshirts have engaged to represent them is Koenig, Nichols and Montalban. Just think about it a minute, it will come to you, and you’ll smile too.
Several of the stories explore the theme of, not humans first contact with aliens, but more like the 21st million contact with aliens. Not what happens when we meet them the first time, but what happens when we have to live together day after day. Important Holidays on Gronghu is also an exploration of this theme, but in all of these stories, Life on Earth: Human Alien Relations, Morning Announcements at the Lucas Interspecies School for Troubled Youth and New Directives for Employee-Manxtse Interactions, we see humans being human, often with all-too-human mistakes and surprising results.
Two of my favorite stories poke more than a bit of gentle fun at superheroes, supervillains, and all the tropes that revolve around them. Sometimes revolve backwards in an attempt to change history. But in a world where superheroes are as common as they sometimes seem to be, someone has to handle contracts, bookings and OMG insurance. That’s Denise Jones, Superbooker. But speaking of insurance, Denise’s counterpart in the world of corporate-superhero-supervillain relations gets interviewed in The State of Super Villainy. Super villains generally are not very effective, but even nuisances cause problems. Which require planning. And coverage.
My favorite story is The Other Large Thing. It’s one that has to be read to make any sense at all, and the twist that makes it work is loads of fun. It reminded me a bit of Fritz Leiber’s classic Spacetime for Springers, possibly crossed with Pinky and the Brain. And it might come true.
Escape Rating B+: There is oh-so-definitely an escape in this book, and it’s lots of fun. Especially if you like your humor with a twist and a punch. Along with a surprising amount of thought hidden in plain sight.
We all need a good laugh these days, and this collection is guaranteed to have at least one story that will bring a smile to any geek’s face.
However, the poem is just weird, but not weird in the same good way as the rest of the collection. It made this reader think that it was probably an excellent thing that the author turned to prose and stayed there, not just for us, but also for him. At least he can now say he’s a published poet. And that’s probably enough said on the topic.
Me, the next time I fly, I’ll be checking the wings for gremlins.