John Scalzi’s ‘Miniatures’ is largely entertaining

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Miniatures: The Very Short Fiction of John Scalzi

Introduction to John Scalzi

John Scalzi is the author of the acclaimed Old Man’s War series. This year, he released two short stories and one novel, with an upcoming non-fiction book. I became a fan of his work after reading the novel Redshirts in 2012. Following that, I read the entire Old Man’s War series (which I highly recommend) and Lock-In.

Miniatures: The Very Short Fiction of John Scalzi stands out from the rest of his work in both its brevity and its consistency. This review originally appeared here, but has since been expanded and updated for Nerdvana. This will be the first in a series covering Scalzi’s work. Next time I’ll talk about The Dispatcher followed by The Collapsing Empire in part three. Now, let’s get on with it, shall we?

I purchased the book via Amazon Kindle with the Audible Audio Narration included for just under $10 after its release. The book is only available in e-book format as of this writing, though there was a hardcover special edition that sold out rather quickly. So, without further ado, here is my review of the new(ish) John Scalzi anthology, “Miniatures.”

A Series of Tiny Stories

John Scalzi’s Miniatures begins with an amusing, informative preface by the author, introducing the short (mini) stories we’re about to read. A quaint pencil drawing of Scalzi seated in front of a computer, a kitten atop his chair and a second kitten below the desk, attacking a computer cord sets the tone for the book.

The first story, “Alien Animal Encounters” starts off the show with a hilarious man on the street style story, wherein the reader meets several individuals from all levels of society, ruminating upon their encounters with various quirky and distinct alien creatures. Another pencil drawing, this time illustrating a scene from the story appears just before the story begins.

Our next tiny tale is “Missives from Possible Futures #1: Alternate History Search Results.” here, the story is written as a response letter to an order regarding alternate histories. Eight separate, humorous alternate history scenarios are represented. The story builds levels of absurdity upon one another until it pays off hilariously at the end.

The third story, “Pluto Tells All” gives the reader an idea of how Pluto feels about no longer being classified as a planet. This is perhaps, the least favorite story of the bunch. It suffers from being a bit on the wordy side and is not much fun to read. Jonathan Coulton sums up the Pluto discussion better in his song, “I’m Your Moon.”

“Denise Jones, Superbooker” continues the absurdity through an interview-style transcript explaining how superheroes are booked and contracted through her agency.

“When the Yogurt Took Over” is a 1,000-word hypothetical scenario showing what life would be like if a breakfast food ruled man (fair warning: it’s probably the worst of the bunch), while “The Other Large Thing” concerns a cat’s thoughts and interactions with a helper robot. I liked the way Scalzi described the cat’s inner most thoughts and feelings and gave it a bit of humanity in its interaction with the robot. Very interesting, indeed.

“The State of Super Villainy” is another transcript style story featuring the opposite side of the “Denise Jones, Superbooker.” Hilarity ensues, but it seems a long way to go for the rather stale joke at the end. Despite this, I still enjoyed the story and found it well-written and funny in a bittersweet sort of way.

My favorite line in the entire book is in the next story, “New Directives for Employee-Manxtse Interactions,” written as a memo-style email to the employees of a specialty supermarket in the near future. The directives themselves are expertly and hilariously rendered through the course of a few pages, making the reader crave more information from this universe.

Next up is another tongue-in-cheek interview, “To Sue the World,” both bizarre and hilarious (and on YouTube). The story came about during the Redshirts book tour and seems related to the content of that excellent novel. The Star Trek references made me laugh aloud, something that didn’t happen as often as it should.

“How I Keep Myself Amused on Long Flights: A Twitter Tale” is a mildly humorous twist on a classic “Twilight Zone” story, told through tweets. A second tweet-based story follows in “The Gremlining,” another amusing, twisted, tweet of a tale.

“Life on Earth: Human-Alien Relations” is quite funny and leaved the reader wanting more. One can only imagine how future columns/questions could go. The next few stories, originally done as skits, are joyous and light-hearted.

The next few stories continue the levity and brevity with sentient computers, guidelines for working with aliens and establishing a line of credit at a lemonade stand. Nothing in this world ever truly costs what it says on the box, right?

The collection ends with, “Penelope,” a heartfelt love poem to the object of Scalzi’s affection in the early 90s. The poem is quite touching and ends the collection on a sweet note. Overall, the content is engaging and entertaining, which — in my opinion — makes it a worthwhile read. It’s shorter than one may think, however, as it took me an hour or so to read the thing from cover to cover.

Writing Style

Scalzi’s writing varies from story to story. In the earliest stories, he appears to be still trying to find his voice. However, by the third story, the reader meets the Scalzi they probably already know: the author of the excellent Old Man’s War and the hilarious, slightly poignant Redshirts, among others.

By the time we get to the Twitter-based stories and the transcripts of speeches/skits, we see the humorist version of Scalzi truly shine. His sense of humor is quite … interesting … and I found myself laughing quite a bit during the various stories.

Scalzi’s prose and descriptions are excellent, quick and on-point. His use of bizarre, consonant heavy names and the way he characterizes many of the alien species are unique and interesting. I found it difficult not to laugh while reading most of these stories. Scalzi is witty, irreverent, and concise in his writing.

Miniatures is available via Amazon for only a few dollars as an e-book. It is only available in extremely limited quantities as a paper book from Subterranean Press and, as of this writing, may be out of print. However, the e-book version is just as good as any paper book and offers the ability to download the Audible audio version for an extra couple of dollars.

Illustrations

The illustrations provide character and humor to the beginning of each tale, just below the story introductions. The subtlety with which they’re drawn maintain the miniscule nature of the collection. Some of them are downright hilarious and are almost worth the price of admission alone.

My favorite illustrations are attached, quite aptly, to my favorite stories. All of them are great, and it’s up to the reader to decide what they like the best. Many of them are pencil sketches and the cover gives the reader a basic idea of what is included in most of those illustrations.

Listen to the Audio Book

The Audible audio book version that came with my e-book purchase is well produced and high quality. The author even reads a few parts of the book. I think the pacing could be a bit better, but if you adjust the speed of the narrator, that may alleviate the problem. The audio book version is also short, but took slightly longer for me to listen to than the book did for me to read. Overall, this is an excellent package and well-worth the $10 I spent on it.

Miniatures was published by Subterranean Press and is available at Amazon. Be sure to check out John Scalzi here — and please try to refrain from talking to the produce next time you’re at the supermarket.

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About David Buck

David BuckBased in Colorado, David Buck is an author, musician, and media specialist for Nerdvana Media. His work has appeared on Tedium, EN World and across the web. In his spare time, he composes music, writes science fiction, and builds scale models, mostly starships and movie cars.