Author: John Scalzi
Despite the fact that this book is indeed very very short (144 pages, 5.2 x 8.2 inches), it took the maximum allotted library checkout time (9 weeks, 3 weeks initial and 2 renewals) to eke its way to the top of my TBR. But once it got there, I was glad it did! This story collection is perfect for fans of humor, sci-fi and especially both taken together. The best comparison I can make is that if you like Mystery Science Theater 3000 or Galaxy Quest, you’ll probably like this. And if you don’t like Galaxy Quest, then I suggest re-evaluating your priorities.
There’s a certain amount of drama that inherently surrounds a story about first contact – that initial connection between Earth and the worlds beyond that invariably brings about global tension, and talk of nuclear obliteration. Author John Scalzi couldn’t care less about all that. Forgoing the high stakes drama of a world on the brink of something new, the stories in this collection revolve around a time in which alien enounters are part of daily life. Instead of worrying about whether miscommunication could trigger an assault on Earth, these stories are concerned with miscommunications in the grocery store checkout line that could damage customer relations. Forget first contact, this is 2,634,903rd contact.
Over the course of 18 stories, Scalzi draws on the fandoms of superheros, extraterrestrials, our assumption that cats are secretly plotting our demise, and even Pluto’s infamous demotion. The longest comes in at a mere 2,296 words, while some are comprised of sentences no longer than the length of a Tweet. Short and sweet, they’re all incredibly entertaining, and if one doesn’t strike your fancy, then, as the author puts it, “Don’t worry. It’ll be over soon.”
My favorite was a pair of interviews with a superhero booking coordinator and a supervillain risk assessment agent. The former gives the lowdown on what goes into dispatching heroes to cities in need, including a blacklist of cities who tried to buck the system and now find themselves regularly swallowed by the Gelatinous Menace. Sorry, Tempe. The latter keeps tabs on supervillain activity and advises companies on how their projects may incur interest from nefarious elements (for a fee, of course), in addition to monitoring general supervillain trends. Here’s a free tip: Ninjas are so 2014. Janissaries are in. You didn’t hear it from me.
While I enjoyed all of the stories, a few others were also standouts for me. The few that focused on human-alien relations in the workplace were great, especially considering that as a PR professional, using appropriate gender pronouns and being aware of non-US holidays are current hot topics in my everyday life. I also enjoyed “The Other Large Thing,” which gives an inside look at a cat’s mind, and “Your Smart Appliances Talk About You Behind Your Back,” which will make you think twice before investing in a fridge, home security system or thermostat that is designed to anticipate your needs. Another free tip: your fridge is hard core judging your eating habits. Nobody needs that many condiments.
You really have nothing to lose by giving “Miniatures” a try. It’s so short that whether you love it or hate it (and I certainly hope it’s the former), it’ll be over within a day or two. Hate it? Move on with relatively little pain. Love it? Try some of Scalzi’s long form fiction, which I haven’t read personally, but I hear it’s right in the same humor vein as these. I’ve currently got “Redshirts” out from the library, which is centered around the exact Star Trek phenomenon you’re thinking of.
Sounds fabulous. Happy reading!