A Miniature Review of Miniatures by John Scalzi

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.”

Okay, if those story titles don’t already have you laughing til your belly aches, then this may not be the book for you.

For me, it was perfect! John Scalzi’s science fiction never lets me down, and these (very) short pieces are just a treat. Funny, creative, unexpected, and silly, there’s plenty here to tickle and delight (unless you’re a total curmudgeon and have no patience for silliness… in which case, move along. Nothing to see here.)

The book itself is adorable, slightly smaller than usual for a hardcover (here’s a photo of my book plus some desk accessories, to give you a sense of scale without forcing me to get up and leave my desk):

The original hardcover printing was a limited run (and I think may no longer be available), but it is available in e-book format. Here’s the inside of my book, all numbered and everything!

Besides the utter cuteness of the physical book, what about the content?

Fabulous, of course! If I had to pick, I’d say my favorites are a dialogue among different AIs who are definitely not planning to take over the world, a cat’s-eye view of domestic domination, a supermarket workers’ guide to dealing with unusual alien life forms and their customs, and the interview with a celebrity agent for superheroes.

Oh, and let’s not forget the interviews with smart appliances, who spill the dirt on their owners. Makes me quite sure that I never ever need smart machines in my house. I couldn’t take the gossip.

Those are a just a few of the highlights, but really, all of the stories are terrific. What’s more, they’re super short, so this book can be enjoyed in bite-sized pieces or all in one sitting — either way, not a big time commitment.

If you like your sci-fi with a big heaping of funny, you’ll definitely want to treat yourself to this collection. I think I’ll be thumbing through Miniatures pretty regularly, whenever I need a little jolt of silly to brighten my day.

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The details:

Title: Miniatures: The Very Short Fiction of John Scalzi
Author: John Scalzi
Publisher: Subterranean Press
Publication date: December 31, 2016
Length: 142 pages
Genre: Science fiction
Source: Purchased

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Thursday Quotables: The Girl with the Lower Back Tattoo

quotation-marks4

Welcome back to Thursday Quotables! This weekly feature is the place to highlight a great quote, line, or passage discovered during your reading each week.  Whether it’s something funny, startling, gut-wrenching, or just really beautifully written, Thursday Quotables is where my favorite lines of the week will be, and you’re invited to join in!

NEW! Thursday Quotables is now using a Linky tool! Be sure to add your link if you have a Thursday Quotables post to share.

amy-schumer

The Girl with the Lower Back Tattoo by Amy Schumer
(published 2016)

I never really thought of myself as a fan of Amy Schumer. I mean, I enjoy her show when I happen to catch it, and yeah, she does make me laugh — but now that I’m reading her new book, I think I can honestly say that I LOVE her. I wish I could quote pretty much the entire book… but that would not be a good use of space (and there’s a little issue of copyrights), so I’ll just share a random bit that I absolutely relate to:

Being an introvert doesn’t mean you’re shy. It means you enjoy being alone. Not just enjoy it — you need it. If you’re a true introvert, other people are basically energy vampires. You don’t hate them; you just have to be strategic about when you expose yourself to them — like the sun. They give you life, sure, but they can also burn you and you will get that wrinkly Long Island cleavage I’ve always been afraid of getting and that I know I now have. For me, meditation and headphones on the subway have been my sunscreen, protecting me from the hell that is other people.

What lines made you laugh, cry, or gasp this week? Do tell!

If you’d like to participate in Thursday Quotables, it’s really simple:

  • Write a Thursday Quotables post on your blog. Try to pick something from whatever you’re reading now. And please be sure to include a link back to Bookshelf Fantasies in your post (http://www.bookshelffantasies.com), if you’d be so kind!
  • Click on the linky button (look for the cute froggie face) below to add your link.
  • After you link up, I’d love it if you’d leave a comment about my quote for this week.
  • Be sure to visit other linked blogs to view their Thursday Quotables, and have fun!

Fields & Fantasies presents… Hyperbole and a Half by Allie Brosh

Welcome to the December pick for the Fields & Fantasies book club! Each month or so, in collaboration with my wonderful co-host Diana of Strahbary’s Fields, we’ll pick one book to read and discuss. Today, we’re looking at Hyperbole and a Half: Unfortunate Situations, Flawed Coping Mechanisms, Mayhem, and Other Things That Happened by Allie Brosh:

hyperbole

Synopsis (Goodreads):

This is a book I wrote. Because I wrote it, I had to figure out what to put on the back cover to explain what it is. I tried to write a long, third-person summary that would imply how great the book is and also sound vaguely authoritative–like maybe someone who isn’t me wrote it–but I soon discovered that I’m not sneaky enough to pull it off convincingly. So I decided to just make a list of things that are in the book:

Pictures
Words
Stories about things that happened to me
Stories about things that happened to other people because of me
Eight billion dollars*
Stories about dogs
The secret to eternal happiness*

*These are lies. Perhaps I have underestimated my sneakiness!

My two cents:

How do I even begin to describe a book like Hyperbole and a Half? Besides saying that I found myself bursting into uncontrollable giggles while reading — and you can ask my family: I’m not usually the uncontrollable giggles type.

So — Allie Brosh is well-known for her web comic/blog (also called Hyperbole and a Half). I’d never read anything by her prior to reading this book. But I understand she has quite a following, and I can see why.

Unflinchingly honest, the author splits this book between odd childhood behavior, her two dogs (the “simple” dog and the “helper” dog), and her own struggle with depression. I’ll admit it straight out — the dog stories are the ones that really cracked me up. How to even describe the glory of her test of the simple dog’s IQ? Or the helper dog’s hatred of the fact that other dogs exist anywhere at all? And then there’s the story of the mad goose that came into her house one night, like some evil spirit out of a horror movie.

If you were sitting quietly on your couch, waiting for your girlfriend to come back inside so you could finish watching your movie, and while you were waiting, someone called you up and said “I’ll give you a million dollars if you can guess what’s going to happen next,” you absolutely would not guess “I am going to be brutally and unexpectedly attacked by a goose in my own home.” Even if you had a hundred guesses, you would not guess that.

I absolutely loved the first piece in the book, about finding a letter from herself at age 10, written to her adult self. I won’t even try to describe it — but let’s just say that by page 2, my first laughing fit had kicked in.

And then there’s the cake story from when she was three years old:

I had tasted cake and there was no going back. My tiny body had morphed into a writhing mass of pure tenacity encased in a layer of desperation. I would eat all of the cake or I would evaporate from the sheer power of my desire to eat it.

Seriously, read the cake story. It’s been a long time since I’ve laughed until I cried…

Her ruminations on depression are eye-opening and informative — and somehow manage to convey all the depths of nothingness inherent in depression while still being human and even humorous. A friend who has struggled on and off with depression for years informs me that this book is one of the few she’s read where she really could see herself on the page.

Likewise, I loved the author’s honesty in a section in which she delves into identity and believing herself to be a good person –without actually having to back it up most of the time:

I like to believe that I would behave heroically in a disaster situation. I like to think this because it makes me feel good about myself. Conveniently, it is very unlikely that I will ever actually have to do anything to prove it. As long as I never encounter a disaster situation, I can keep believing I’m a hero indefinitely.

She ‘fesses up to the fact that she likes to be proud of herself for being a good person, but suspects that without seeking that internal approval for her own good deeds, she might actually be a horrible person.

I don’t just want to do the right thing. I want to WANT to do the right thing. This might seem like a noble goal to strive for, but I don’t actually care about adhering to morality. It’s more that being aware of not wanting to do the right thing ruins my ability to enjoy doing the right thing after I’m forced into doing it through shame.

Hyperbole and a Half is a very quick read. The primitive, brightly-colored drawing are hilarious, and the interplay between words and pictures is perfect.

Not many books can make you burst into giggles and at the same time force you to examine your inner self and take a hard look at your actions and motivations. Reading Hyperbole and a Half is a surprisingly thought-provoking and moving experience for something that’s just so damned funny.

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And just to show that intelligent people can disagree, I’ll point out that while I gave this book 5 stars on Goodreads, Diana gave it only 2 stars — and doesn’t seem to have liked it at all. I’ll add the link to Diana’s review once it’s up!

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The details:

Title: Hyperbole and a Half
Author: Allie Brosh
Publisher: Touchstone
Publication date: 2013
Length: 369 pages
Genre: Humor
Source: Purchased

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Next for Fields & Fantasies:

station elevenOur January book will be Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel.

 

 

Thursday Quotables: The Christmas edition!

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Welcome back to Thursday Quotables! This weekly feature is the place to highlight a great quote, line, or passage discovered during your reading each week.  Whether it’s something funny, startling, gut-wrenching, or just really beautifully written, Thursday Quotables is where my favorite lines of the week will be, and you’re invited to join in!
stupidest

 The Stupidest Angel: A Heartwarming Tale of Christmas Terror by Christopher Moore
(published 2004)

What’s a holiday without a little bit of heartwarming terror?

Christmas crept into Pine Cove like a creeping Christmas thing: dragging garland, ribbon, and sleigh bells, oozing eggnog, reeking of pine, and threatening festive doom like a cold sore under the mistletoe.

And a BONUS Thursday Quotables selection:

One of my very favorite holiday-themed literary treats is this zombie insta-classic, ‘Twas The Night Before the Uprising by Mira Grant:

‘Twas the night before Christmas,
when all through the house
Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse.
The boards had been nailed ‘cross the windows with care
In hopes that the dead would pass by, unaware.

Want more? See the full poem (with convenient, printable PDF!) here, on the website of the nice folks at Orbit.

 

What lines made you laugh, cry, or gasp this week? Do tell!

If you’d like to participate in Thursday Quotables, it’s really simple:

  • Write a Thursday Quotables post on your blog. Try to pick something from whatever you’re reading now. And please be sure to include a link back to Bookshelf Fantasies in your post (http://www.bookshelffantasies.com), if you’d be so kind!
  • Leave your link in the comments — or, if you have a quote to share but not a blog post, you can leave your quote in the comments too!
  • Visit other linked blogs to view their Thursday Quotables, and have fun!

Book Review: Where’d You Go, Bernadette

Book Review: Where’d You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple

Huh. I just now realized that I’ve been committing hyper-punctuation in regard to this book, whose title does in fact include a comma and an apostrophe, but not a question mark — which I have egregiously added in several tweets and emails. Mea culpa.

Be that as it may, I have to say that I just adored Where’d You Go, Bernadette. (See? No question mark). Author Maria Semple has crafted a social satire that is uproariously funny, hits on a ton of memes and flashpoints of today’s hyper-plugged in society, and yet is also quite touching and surprisingly sweet in places.

Given the title, it’s not a spoiler to say that the plot revolves around events leading up to the disappearance of 50-year-old Bernadette Fox, once a brilliant rising star in the world of architecture, now an eccentric, possibly agoraphobic mother and housewife, whose life is one long string of odd behaviors. Bernadette, her 15-year-old super-talented daughter Bee, and her workaholic Microsoft exec husband Elgin, live in a run-down former reform school for girls atop a Seattle hill. The house is falling apart at the seams, literally, as blackberry vines force their way up through the foundations and the damp ceilings and walls crumble around them. (Keep an eye on those blackberry vines — they’re key to some early developments that lead to a disaster at once appalling and hilarious.)

Bee attends the Galer Street School, described in its mission statement as “a place where compassion, academics, and global connectitude join together to create civic-minded citizens of a sustainable and diverse planet.” Children are graded on a scale of “Surpasses Excellence”, “Achieves Excellence”, and “Working Toward Excellence”. Bernadette is happy that her daughter is thriving, but hates everything about Seattle, including the meddling, fussy, over-involved parents of the school, whom she refers to as gnats. Things go from bad to worse when Bernadette’s neighbor Audrey hosts a prospective parents brunch at her home in an attempt to lure “Mercedes Parents” to their Suburu-level school. To say that Bernadette and Audrey don’t quite get along would be the understatement of the year.

Further complications: Bernadette has hired a virtual assistant named Manjula to handle all of her personal business by internet — everything from travel plans to prescriptions to ordering clothing and household repairs. Before you can say “identity theft”, Bernadette has provided Manjula with her entire family’s bank account numbers, birthdates, passport numbers, and social security numbers.

When Bee comes home one day with a report card full of S grades and a brochure for a trip to Antarctica, events and disasters begin to snowball. Neither parent says no, plans for this exotic trip are set in motion, and Bernadette soon begins to fear that she’s in way over her head. By the time the date of the trip rolls around, psychiatrists, FBI agents, Microsoft admins, school chums, and gardeners have all played a role in the unfolding crisis… and Bernadette disappears without a trace.

Precocious, talented, determined Bee is left behind to put the pieces together, and what we’ve been reading all along is Bee’s compilation of documents pertaining to these events. Where’d You Go, Bernadette is told via emails, faxes, school reports, letters, magazine articles, and captain’s logs; Bee has assembled everything she can that may shed light on her mother’s disappearance, and through quick thinking and connecting of dots, believes she may have found pieces of the puzzle that will lead to answers about her mother.

Let me just say that I enjoyed this book immensely. The writing is crisp and deft, and the author does an outstanding job of capturing some of the nuttiness that is so deeply ingrained in today’s world of helicopter parenting, the cult of self-esteem, the worship of tech, and the increasing isolation experienced by individuals in a world of constant “connectitude”. One character writes impassioned screeds about her Victims Against Victimhood support group, whose members TORCH one another (Time Out! Reality Check) when they speak in victim-lingo; Bernadette’s husband Elgie is revered because he gave the 4th-most watched TEDTalk ever; the school hosts a constant series of concerts and events featuring multiculturalism so extreme that it’s practically a religious devotion. This all rings true in a way that is both slightly sad and hilariously funny.

And yet, there is an underlying sweetness in much of this story as well. As the book unfolds, some of the most self-deluded characters find ways to acknowledge hard truths. The bad guys aren’t necessarily all that bad after all. What seems charming and eccentric is revealed to be a cover for deeper problems that must be addressed. The perfect schools may not be what all children need. Little by little, the beliefs held by the characters at the start of the book fall away, until just about all find their way toward something closer to honesty and decency.

My only quibble about Where’d You Go, Bernadette has to do with the last section of the book, which is told mostly through Bee’s narration and loses some of the oddball charm built into the stream of constant emails and faxes. At times, this section reads a bit too much like a travelogue and loses a bit of the punch provided throughout so much of the book. Still, this is a minor complaint; the book wraps up in a way that’s completely satisfying yet still surprising, and I walked away a) smiling and b) resolved to read whatever Maria Semple decides to write next.

If you enjoy quirky fiction with a bite, this is a book for you.