by John Scalzi
Reviewed by Steven H Silver
Although best known as a novelist and an essayist, John Scalzi has also written several short stories, most of which are humorous in nature. Seventeen of these stories (and one poem) are collected in Miniatures: The Very Short Fiction of John Scalzi. Each of the works included in the book run shorter than 2,000 words, with some significantly shorter. In some ways, the length of these works harken back to Scalzi's earlier career working for the Uncle John's Bathroom Reader series, which limited the length of the works published.
Originally published separately over the course of years, some of Scalzi's standard models only become apparent when the stories are laid end-to-end as they are in Miniatures. Scalzi, however, is honest about this, pointing out that one of his sources of humor is to take the extraordinary, for instance the discovery of an alien race, and bring the most mundane aspects of life to it, whether it is booking superheroes into their gigs, handling asset management in the face of supervillains, or laying out ground rules for dealing with the holidays of co-workers who happen to be aliens. Scalzi's acknowledgement of this repetition actually adds an additional layer to the humor of the stories.
In many cases, the humor of Scalzi's stories underlies a basic truth of human existance, which turns some of the pieces into social commentary rather than simple humor. Perhaps more notable are the pieces which focus on Human-Alien relations, which point out the differences between humans and Gronghu or Manxste, or the various aliens mentioned in "Life on Earth: Human-Alien Relations." In all of these cases, the alien races can be taken as stand-ins for any human whose religion or culture do not match the dominant religion or culture of the area in which they live. These stories are short, humorous pleas for tolerance and understanding.
Several of the stories take on the American work culture as well, notably the very amusing "How I Amuse Myself of Long Flights" series, which are two stories made up of twitter posts discussing the labor relations of airplane Gremlins. Similarly, labor safety is the focus of "To Sue the World," which Scalzi wrote to be read aloud during his book tour for the novel Redshirts. The story is essentially an extension of that novel.
Most of the stories use science fiction to deal with other themes, but occasionally, Scalzi has written a science fiction story where the science fiction appears to be the crux of the work, such as "Missives from Possible Futures #1: Alternate History Search Results," which looks, very briefly, at a bunch of different outcomes of an early death for Hitler, some more tongue in cheek than others. As the title indicates (and Scalzi confirms in the introduction), this piece was meant to kick off a series of similar short stories, but only the first was ever written.
The stories contained in Miniatures are all entertaining and diverting, often the stories seem to be barely longer than the titles themselves (for Scalzi appears to think that a title should be inversely proportional to the length of the work). The book is designed to be read in short burst, perhaps punctuating other reading, but its length and the style of writing means the entire collection can be readand enjoyed in just a few hours.
|Alien Animal Encounters||How I Keep Myself Amused on Long Flights: A Twitter Tale|
|Missives from Possible Futures #1: Alternate History Search Results||How I Keep Myself Amused on Long Flights, Part II: The Gremlining|
|Pluto Tells All||Life on Earth: Human-Alien Relations|
|Denise Jones, Superbooker||Morning Announcements at the Interspecies School for Troubled Youth|
|When the Yogurt Took Over||Your Smart Appliances Talk About You Behind Your Back|
|The Other Large Thing||The AI Are Positively Without a Doubt Not Here to End Humanity Honestly|
|The State of Super Villainy||Important Holidays on Gronghu|
|New Directives for Employee-Manxtse Encounters||Cute Adorable Extortionists|
|To Sue the World||Penelope|
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