Tangent Online

  • Increase font size
  • Default font size
  • Decrease font size
the genre's premiere review magazine for short SF & Fantasy since 1993

UFO 3, ed. Alex. Shvartsman

E-mail Print

Special Triple Review

by

Wayne Harris, Charles Payseur, & C. D. Lewis

 

[Bonus Feature: Thanks to the generosity of UFO 3 editor Alex Shvartsman,Tangent Online presents an exclusive look at some of the interior illustrations gracing the anthology. Artist: Barry Munden.]

 

Unidentified Funny Objects 3

Ed. by Alex Shvartsman

(UFO Publishing, October 1, 2014)

Preorders:

Print: UFO 3 -- E-book: UFO 3

 

On the Efficacy of Supervillain Battles In Eliciting Therapeutic Breakthroughs” by Jim C. Hines
The Right Answer” by James A. Miller
The Gefilte Fish Girl” by Mike Resnick (reprint)
Master of Business Apocalypse” by Jacob Drud
Carla At The Off-Planet Tax Return Helpline” by Caroline M. Yoachim
Why I Bought Satan Two Cokes On The Day I Graduated High School” by Nathaniel Lee
Company Store” by Robert Silverberg (reprint)
The Door-To-Door Salesthing From Planet X” by John Vogt
The Discounted Seniors” by James Beamon
That Must Be Them Now” by Karen Haber
Notes To My Past And/Or Alternate Selves” by Sarah Pinsker
The Real And The Really Real” by Tim Pratt
Into The Woods, With Zombunny” by Camille Griep
Live At The Scene” by Gini Koch
The Newboy’s Last Stand” by Krystal Claxton
The Full Lazenby” by Jeremy Butler
Do Not Remove This Tag” by Piers Anthony
Super-Baby Moms Group Saves The Day!” by Tina Connolly
The Choochoomorphosis” by Oliver Buckram
The Fate Worse Than Death” by Kevin J. Anderson and Guy Anthony De Marco
Elections At Villa Encantiada” by Cat Rambo
Infinite Drive” by Jody Lynn Nye

Reviewed by Wayne Harris

"On the Efficacy of Supervillain Battles in Eliciting Therapeutic Breakthroughs" by Jim C. Hines shows just what can happen when superheroes have a grumpy teenage daughter called Puff. Okay, to be fair she has reason to be grumpy. She was turned into a half girl, half blowfish by an evil villain but it's her parents with their antiquated spandex costumes who really annoy her. As a result, her therapist, Jarhead – so named because he is a decapitated head in a jar – is doing his best to help her. But when Manchester, the evil villain who turned her into a blowfish makes his move, things turn nasty.

There are a couple of funny scenes and the plot is good enough to keep the story going. The humor relies a bit too much on the juxtaposition on the sixties superhero to the modern world of computers and so it's not funny all the way. Overall, this story is entertaining rather than laugh out loud funny but it is well written and a good read and good opening story. I recommend it.

"The Right Answer" by James A. Miller is an alternative take on the story of an alien offering humanity great technology if one person picked at random can prove they are worthy. Unfortunately, this time the aliens have picked the wrong person to ask and, to make matters worse, they don't exactly make the nature of the right answer clear. The story presents an interesting twist on riddles. The humor comes from the appearance of the alien which I won't give away here but did make me laugh. The ending is quite good. I recommend it.

"The Gefilte Fish Girl" by Mike Resnick shows just how difficult it can be to reveal to your Jewish mother that you're marrying a mermaid. It's presented as a series of conversations between Marvin, the prospective groom and his mother. There's not a lot to the story and it relies heavily on caricatures of Jewish mothers which have mostly gone out of date, so it's not that funny. It's light and amusing but easily forgettable.

"Master of Business Apocalypse" by Jakob Drud tells what happens when the wizards that protect us from almost daily apocalypses find themselves under the control of a Business Consultant just out of school. As you would expect, things do not go well and there is a major risk that the world as we know it will end as the wizards are distracted from their job. The humor is based entirely on absurd parallels between a business and an organization preventing apocalypses and becomes strained at times. Thankfully, there is just enough of a plot to keep your interest. It's a fun diversion and a little bit better than average.

"Carla at the Off-Planet Tax Return Helpline" by Caroline M. Yoachim has an interesting way of presenting the story as a set of phone calls to Carla who, you guessed it, works at the Off-Planet Tax Return Helpline. Most of the story makes fairly easy pot shots at bureaucracy and government processes to provide the humor. It's short and sweet and the ending is a bit too clever but, overall, it’s another entertaining story.

"Why I Bought Satan Two Cokes On The Day I Graduated From High School" by Nathaniel Lee is an interesting approach to angels. It turns the world of angels and Satan upside down but still keeps the supernatural beings true to their natures. So the angels are pure and heroic but they are also arrogant, demanding and judgmental and Satan is a petty, mean, down-trodden and homeless loser. The angels divide their time between demanding worship from humans and beating up Satan who recovers quickly after each pummeling – he still is an angel, after all.

Samuel is a student at school and must soon “Choose” an angel. Satan doesn't usually get any followers and he is keen to enlist Samuel.

It's not a laugh-out-loud story but the underlying ideas are really interesting. This is one of the best stories even if it's not that funny. I highly recommend it.

"Company Store" by Robert Silverberg shows just what can go wrong when you don't read your contract before being sent to set up a new colony on an outpost planet. Although, meeting a sales robot so desperate to sell you something that it arranges for your life to be threatened doesn't help. And so the hero, Wingert, must find a way to escape both the company and the robot without being economically enslaved by the Company or killed by the robot.

This is not one of Silverberg's best stories. The humor is very much set in the culture of the 60s of the USA and it is light but not funny. The ending is also not up to the usual standards of this master of science fiction.

"The Door-to-Door Salesthing from Planet X" by Josh Vogt is the story of an alien sales being with tusks and tentacles meeting the woman who has everything and needs nothing. He is extremely motivated, as he’ll die if he doesn’t make a sale every hour. The dialogue of the sales being is wonderfully presented – odd, yet understandable, as it desperately attempts to make a sale. As so often in science fiction humor, the story relies on the imagery of bizarre creatures meeting the everyday with a clash of cultures and meaning. It's fun and an entertaining diversion.

"Picture Perfect" by Matt Mikalatos shows just how bad life can be for a vampire that's forced to go to school at the age of 137. Isaac is at home verbally jousting with his resident and unwelcome ghost, Richard, when a school inspector arrives and demands that he attend school. Without a birth certificate Isaac has no choice and must attend and suffer the awful puns of the school inspector. But this school hides a dark secret.

The humor is partly from the absurd situation of a vampire at school and mostly from the repartee including many awful puns. The end result is a fun story that is really enjoyable. I recommend it.

"The Discounted Seniors" by James Beamon is set in an old people's home of the future and told by a wise cracking and cynical old man, Cyrus, whose main interest in life is "hooking up" with the elderly women in the home. His naive son, Darius, sends him a doppelganger robot of himself (Darius, that is) to look after him and Cyrus uses it to find out where the old ladies are going.

The humor is weak and vulgar and the storyline too pedestrian to rescue it. It's not one of the best stories in the book.

"That Must Be Them Now" by Karen Haber is the story of number twenty nine who doesn't even have a name and is dominated by his larger and aggressive sisters and grandmother. He escapes their supervision to seek success and fame and perhaps even to get his own name by travelling to a rendezvous point on Eridnae 7. There he hopes to meet the wonderful new strangers that have been broadcasting a "please meet us" signal. But instead he meets other known and dangerous aliens who are also hoping to meet these wonderful strangers and claim first contact rights.

This story relies on the pettiness of the aliens and the moderately bizarre images as they interact. The humor doesn't quite work and the storyline is a bit too slow. It's another run of the mill story.

"Notes to My Past and/or Alternative Self" by Sarah Pinsker is a short list of memos an unnamed mad scientist sends to himself via a time machine listing all the things he should and should not do. The subtext of the messages tells a story of the absurd mistakes he has made and his unsuccessful attempts to try to get himself out of some terrible situations by changing his past. This is a mildly entertaining send up of stories that consist only of lists and the scientist's incompetence is portrayed very well, but again the humor struggles to really hit the mark. It deserves a mild recommendation mostly because it is quite cleverly done.

"The Real and the Really Real" by Tim Pratt is all about Bob who has realized that he is the only human left in the world and everyone else is a robot, including his roommate, Jumbo. Then he meets a real woman, Deena, and at last discovers that he is no longer the only human in the world. But will he be able to seduce her? It's an excellent inversion on all those questions of consciousness and what is real and what is not real and what makes us believe one way or the other. It is told with much more subtlety than the Matrix ever managed. The author's use of subtext is excellent, providing most of the humor. It's not so funny that you laugh out loud but the story is very readable and interesting.

"Into the Woods, with Zombunny" by Camille Griep turns the usual fairy stories upside down. There's a wicked witch, a bunny who has become a zombie and Ulrich, a soldier. The Zombunny saves the Ulrich's life by turning him into a zombie, but he is a zombie bunny, so instead of eating brains he craves vegetables. The story is fun and very silly which is the source of the humor. I liked it. It's more than mildly amusing, it's actually funny. Recommended.

"Live at the Scene" by Gini Koch shows what would happen if modern, live at the scene television reporting methods met an alien invasion. The presenters and reporters spend most of their time handing back and forward to each other and repeating the same announcement of the invasion again and again. It's a clever satire on television reporting with a just believable set of exchanges between the reporters. The humor is in the parody of the reporting and the subtext as you gradually realize what the aliens want. It's moderately funny which is just as well, as the story line is very weak. Overall it's enjoyable but very light.

"The Newsboy's Last Stand" by Krystal Claxton is a sweet and terribly naive folksy story of the power of a newsboy in a war torn country who, to please a little girl, starts to tell good news instead of the ever present bad news. The good news stories become self fulfilling prophesies and so the world becomes a better place. It is very sweet and very naive and not funny. There's not much to the story, really, but despite this, it's not a bad read.

"The Full Lazenby" by Jeremy Butler shows the future where genetics and the cult of celebrity come together. Everyone has their genes tested to see just how genetically close they are to someone famous and anything above 50% is considered near enough to get you a contract in the media, or maybe a scholarship at university. A DNA analysis of the hero shows that he is almost identical genetically to George Lazenby, the Australian actor who played James Bond. As a result he is employed by a company which recreates the entire Bond Experience with some exciting results as he meets the evil villains that are DNA matches of the bond villains. The story is entertaining in its own right and ends with an excellent one liner. There are some absurd matchings that show how silly it is to rely on genetics to recreate the illusion of someone else. Overall it's a good read and one of the better stories in the collection.

"Do Not Remove This Tag" by Piers Anthony is about a mattress that contains a trapped ifrit, named Tag. Despite the clear instructions not to, Nate pulls on the mattress tag and releases the genie. At first the story follows the usual genie released from a bottle plot, where Tag is angry and wants to take it out on his rescuer. But Tag's anger is forestalled by Nate, but not with cleverness. Instead, it turns out that Tag has lecherous tendencies and Nate distracts him with the porn channel on TV. This sets the scene for the rest of the story which provides no surprises.

The story uses the pun on Tag's name, the absurd situation, naked women and the dialogue of the characters to create the humor, but is too juvenile and heavy-handed to work well. The plot is very weak and too many details are described rather than shown through dialogue and action, so the overall effect doesn't really succeed on any level. One of the weaker stories in the book.

"Super-Baby-Moms Group Saves the Day" by Tina Connolly says it all in the title, but this is a review so I'll explain it again. It's a group of mothers with babies and toddlers who have super powers. The story is told through a series of email exchanges that provide insights into the personalities of the mothers as well as revealing the plot. It's an easy read, albeit with a weak plot. The humor comes from the subtext for the personalities and foibles of the mothers along with the absurd scenes created by naughty super children. But neither the storyline nor the humor really make the grade in their own right and the result suffers. As a story it's only just okay and quickly forgotten.

"The Choochoomorphosis" by Oliver Buckram retells the Thomas the Tank Engine story in a most adult way. Gregor Samsa has transformed into the heroic engine and, by now those that know their Kafka will already know which way this is going. With his friends, Ringo and Felicia, Gregor has some rather adult adventures in Happyville involving zombies, destruction and some very heavy and unsubtle innuendo from Felicia. The story is short and the humor relies heavily on recognizing all the satirical references and the dissonance of placing a children’s story in an adult setting. It's okay, but only entertaining for a short while.

"The Fate Worse than Death" by Kevin J. Anderson and Guy Anthony De Marco helps you to imagine what it is like to be Count Dracula. Well, okay, he is the Count, and he drinks blood, but he usually has pork chops and morning coffee as well, so maybe he's not quite so fearsome. When a hacker somehow gets past his human and monstrous guards he has to respond. But will Dracula allow the intruder to get the upper hand?

This story is clever and fun with quite a few smile moments. The humor lies in the homey life style of Dracula. The portrayal of Dracula manages to maintain the fine line between making him too comical versus too horrific. It's one of the best stories.

"Elections at Villa Encantada" by Cat Rambo shows that a retired Goddess of Injustice can still struggle to live in a retirement village like anyone else. This retirement village is for gods and mythical creatures, though, and they are all having trouble because it needs a spiritual cleansing—and that's expensive. The pettiness of the powerful gods as they argue over the mundane issues of living in a condominium provides the humor but doesn't sustain it because they are just too mundane. The middle part of the story becomes bogged down in detail but the ending is good. Overall, it's enjoyable but forgettable.

"Infinite Drive" by Jodie Lynn Nye is a detective story set in a future world of anti-gravity chairs and infinite pools. The main character, Dena, is a detective with an intelligent alien worm, Dr K't'ank, embedded in her body. The worm sees the world through her eyes and speaks through a wristband that Dena wears. Dena is called in to investigate the death of a resident at a super luxury hotel and Dr K't'ank provides both information and a distraction.

The humor in this story is based on the dialogue of the characters and a couple of weak jokes from Dena's partner. Science fiction detective stories can be very difficult to do properly as, unless the author can quickly create a self consistent and easily understood technology, it is too easy to invent tools that can do whatever is needed to hide the murderer. This makes it almost impossible for a reader to try to guess who did it and how, which, along with plenty of possible villains, is one of the essential features of a detective story. Unfortunately, this story fails on this point. Also, the search for clues is slow and boring and the ending is unsatisfactory. It is a derivative work better suited to daytime television.

{Illo from "Why I Bought Satan Two Cokes On The Day I Graduated From High School" by Nathaniel Lee}



Unidentified Funny Objects 3

Ed. by Alex Shvartsman

(UFO Publishing, October 1, 2014)

Preorders:

Print: UFO 3 -- E-book: UFO 3

 

On the Efficacy of Supervillain Battles In Eliciting Therapeutic Breakthroughs” by Jim C. Hines
The Right Answer” by James A. Miller
The Gefilte Fish Girl” by Mike Resnick (reprint)
Master of Business Apocalypse” by Jacob Drud
Carla At The Off-Planet Tax Return Helpline” by Caroline M. Yoachim
Why I Bought Satan Two Cokes On The Day I Graduated High School” by Nathaniel Lee
Company Store” by Robert Silverberg (reprint)
The Door-To-Door Salesthing From Planet X” by John Vogt
The Discounted Seniors” by James Beamon
That Must Be Them Now” by Karen Haber
Notes To My Past And/Or Alternate Selves” by Sarah Pinsker
The Real And The Really Real” by Tim Pratt
Into The Woods, With Zombunny” by Camille Griep
Live At The Scene” by Gini Koch
The Newboy’s Last Stand” by Krystal Claxton
The Full Lazenby” by Jeremy Butler
Do Not Remove This Tag” by Piers Anthony
Super-Baby Moms Group Saves The Day!” by Tina Connolly
The Choochoomorphosis” by Oliver Buckram
The Fate Worse Than Death” by Kevin J. Anderson and Guy Anthony De Marco
Elections At Villa Encantiada” by Cat Rambo
Infinite Drive” by Jody Lynn Nye
 
Reviewed by Charles Payseur

Comedy is a difficult genre to pin down, not least because it is so subjective, so dependent on taste and experience. And yet humor is something that nearly all people seek out, that lifts tensions and burdens and bursts laughter through mouths that might have been frowning. So it is no real surprise that Unidentified Funny Objects 3 casts a wide net in trying to get its readers to smile. From bizarro tales of zombie-slaying trains to the more grounded humor of superhero families to the off-world hi-jinx of young aliens trying to make a name for themselves, UFO 3 provides an impressively diverse buffet of speculative comedy. Everyone should be able to find at least one story that hits them right, that has them laughing out loud, and overall I thought the quality of the stories was consistently high. Some of the jokes might have fallen flat, and some of the stories might have been a bit more difficult to get through, but the collection as a whole kept me smiling and reading to the end.

Puff, a genetically manipulated pufferfish girl, brings some innovations to the practice of fighting crime in Jim C. Hines' superhero science fiction “On the Efficacy of Supervillain Battles in Eliciting Therapeutic Breakthroughs.” Jarhead, a former superhero turned therapist (and living head in a jar), finds getting through to Puff a difficult task, him being stuck in a more traditional superhero mentality and her wanting nothing to do with any of it. When her creator (a supervillain) tries to frame her adoptive parents for tax fraud in an attempt to reclaim her, it takes Jarhead and Puff teaming up, using a mix of old and new tactics, to win the day. The story is a generational one, focusing on how the roles of heroes can change, and how sometimes an entirely new approach can be more effective than a punch to the jaw. With numerous nods to comic books and superhero tropes in general, the story does a good job poking fun at some of the absurdities of the genre while holding to the core of what makes superheroes fun.

James A. Miller takes a slightly different approach to the classic story of humanity having to prove its worth to the universe in the alien visitor science fiction story "The Right Answer." The main character is at a low point in his life; his wife has left him for another man, who was also his boss so it also means he's lost his job. Drowning his sorrow in alcohol, the main character is visited by a small alien dressed up like the Fonz (from Happy Days), who offers him advanced technology if he can prove humanity’s worth. When he cannot make his case, though, the alien leaves him with a piece of wisdom and departs. It's a novel enough take on the convention, but I found the story rather too bitter and cynical, with the "answer" to humanity’s worth not quite earned. Though it might be good for some lowbrow laughs, I was left feeling that the story didn't hold together as well as it could have.

The end of the world is closer than anyone guesses in "Master of Business Apocalypse," a contemporary fantasy by Jakob Drud. Joe, archwizard and senior member of Mundo Perpetuo, a company dedicated to preventing all the numerous and varied apocalypses, finds himself in a delicate position when a new CEO, Mr. Halen, steps in. Interested more in the bottom line than saving the world, Halen demands more and more cuts, putting the fate of the world at risk. When it comes out that Halen is only part of a new and unprecedented plot to bring about the end of the world, though, Joe and the rest of the staff of Mundo Perpetuo have to think creatively to keep things from getting out of hand. Charmingly told, the story does an excellent job lampooning business and profit-glorifying culture while telling an interesting story with plenty of twists and turns. The very end might have put a little too much ribbon into the bow, but overall it had me smiling throughout.

A helpline operator must deal with the intricacies of galactic tax codes in Caroline M. Yoachim's bureaucratic science fiction "Carla at the Off-Planet Tax Return Helpline." Carla answers questions and offers what advice she can in true helpline fashion, while dealing with one person in particular who seems to have a problem with his filing status. Cleverly written and at times painfully reminiscent of filing taxes and dealing with the IRS, the story manages to tell something of a coherent story through the series of calls that Carla takes at the helpline, culminating in a strange attack and proving that the most frightening things in the universe are not alien monsters but tax regulations. Short and fun, the story was filled with more than enough laughs to make it worth a read.

Sam, a young man on the verge of entering into adulthood, decides to make a stand against the establishment, in this case the angels of Heaven itself, in "Why I Bought Satan Two Cokes on the Day I Graduated High School," a slacker fantasy by Nathaniel Lee. In a world where everyone must pledge their lives to a guardian angel when they graduate high school, Sam finds himself dissatisfied with the system, which to him seems to have no merit or morality, just senselessness and hypocrisy. At first his rebelliousness puts him in contact with Satan, more of a loser than the arch-deceiver in a world where angels rule absolute. The two become friends, and yet Sam finds Satan's stunts and philosophy equally lacking, and on the day of his graduation decides to strike his own path rather than following blindly. The writing flows easily and well and it reads quickly despite being the longest piece in the anthology. Fans of slacker comedies will find a lot to like in the humor, and even people not thrilled with the style should find it thoughtful and carefully crafted.

An alien being has little time to sell something or die in the science fiction story "The Door-to-Door Salesthing from Planet X" by Josh Vogt. Part of a race that must conduct successful sales or be killed in a violent explosion, the salesthing tries to tempt an elderly woman with things that humans typically try so hard to achieve: youth, beauty, sex, entertainment. But his would-be client turns him down at every offer, until he must take drastic action to remain alive. Short and sweet, the story doesn't offer up much in the way of deep readings, but it is a fun story and an original premise, and is a nice breath after a few longer stories.

A vampire, a ghost, and a schoolgirl must defuse a pun-filled plot in Matt Mikalatos' paranormal fantasy "Picture Perfect." Richard, a ghost with an axe to grind with the vampire Isaac, manages to get him enrolled at a human high school, where he meets and befriends Alice, a girl who can see ghosts. When the school turns out to be a front for a pun-toting madman bent on harvesting humans and feeding them to various monsters, though, Isaac gets involved, and together with Richard and Alice put an end to the diabolical operation. The plot worked well enough, but for anyone averse to puns this story might be a chore. Not that all the puns are poorly done, but with the sheer volume of them in the story, a number of them fell well short of funny for me. Overall the story was satisfying if a bit predictable, but the groan-inducing humor was a bit painful at times.

An elderly man with a new robotic assistant stops a benignly evil plot at a retirement home in "The Discounted Seniors," a near-future science fiction romp by James Beamon. After receiving Huey, a strong and superior-minded robot from his son, Cyrus Washington hopes to use it to improve his love life. Along with his friend, Clyde, Cyrus and Huey track one of Cyrus' romantic interests to an area known as the Curriculum. Sold to the residents of the home as an adventure program, Cyrus uncovers the unfortunate truth of it, and after a brief violent exchange, brings the entire thing crashing down. Things aren't quite what they seem, though, and destroying the Curriculum has consequences that Cyrus didn't anticipate. Nostalgic and playing with a lot of different robot tropes, the story manages to tell a rather straightforward story, with enough laughs and ridiculousness to make it worth a look.

Karen Haber tells the story of Number Twenty-Nine, a small immature alien trying to earn status and perhaps a name in the science fiction story "That Must Be Them Now." Convinced that a new alien race is set to visit a nearby planetoid, an event that, if true, could rise him high in his family hierarchy, Number Twenty-Nine sets out alone in defiance of his elder sisters and grandmother to make first contact. Once on the planetoid, though, Number Twenty-Nine runs into a pair of competing aliens, which sets off a battle and ends with Number Twenty-Nine being eaten by a strange creature that luckily cannot digest him. From there Number Twenty-Nine joins forces with a mechanical head and eventually finds his way home to find that the trip wasn't quite the disaster that he had thought. Of course, in being content with a small victory, a larger one drifted away. Told without humans at all, the story does a great job building a galaxy peopled by many alien races, does an even better job of fleshing out Number Twenty-Nine and his dreams of a better existence. Fun but with an edge of something larger, the story kept me smiling and rooting for Twenty-Nine throughout.

A mad scientist leaves a list of notes in a time machine in the literally-named science fiction tale "Notes to My Past and/or Alternate Selves" by Sarah Pinsker. A very short story told in list form, the notes detail advice from the scientist to any other selves that might happen to find them on topics ranging from the merits of lighting one's underwater compound with electric eels to finding and holding onto love. Letting the reader read between the lines of the missives, this story keeps things simple and concise, with the sensibilities of a person obsessed with splicing things with kudzu DNA. Funny and sweet, the ending might have been a bit sentimental, but it's an interesting experiment in form that mostly works, and I definitely enjoyed reading it.

A bartender named Bob is convinced he is the only human in a world of robots in Tim Pratt's contemporary science fiction story "The Real and the Really Real." Egged on by Jimbo, his freeloading roommate, Bob sees everyone but himself as just automatons going about without freewill, without souls. That is, until he meets Deena, a woman he becomes convinced is also real, a woman he wants to reveal the truth to. As Bob and Deena become closer, Bob can't hold back any longer and confronts her with the truth, that they are the only two humans on the planet. Her reaction, though, is nothing like what he expected, and the ending turns everything he thought he knew on its head. Told with a paranoid humor, the story succeeds on the backs of its characters, from the nervous and needy Bob to the lazy and oafish Jimbo to the competent and caring Deena. And between philosophy and drinking, it manages to reach an ending that, while perhaps not a surprise, at least prompts some thought as well as a wry chuckle.

Camille Griep relates the tale of Squire Ulrich and his transformation into an undead zombunny in the retold fairy tale fantasy "Into the Woods, with Zombunny." Saved on the battlefield by an undead rabbit after taking an arrow to the chest, Ulrich becomes a zombunny, which isn't all that difficult except for his ravenous appetite for vegetables. With Zombunny along as a sort of pet, Ulrich gets back to his life and marries his sweetheart Magda, and soon the two are expecting a child. A complicated situation with a witch, however, results in the couple having to give up their child, which without the witch's magic will be half zombunny. Vegetables turn out to be the strongest magic of all, though, and the story concludes with a wacky happily ever after that leaves everyone with their heart's desire. Full of small nods to fairy tales, the story manages to be strange and yet make complete sense. Not many stories could pull off a concept like a zombunny, but this one does so effortlessly, and with with enough heart and humor to make it a pleasure to read.

The news team at K-STAR Breaking News bites off a bit more than it can chew when it reports live on an alien invasion in "Live at the Scene," an alien invasion piece by Gini Koch. Dedicated to breaking the news first, though, the anchors and crew of K-STAR attempt to get the exclusive, even as it starts claiming life after life from their news team. Only the weatherman, Dusty Rivers, seems worried, but despite his protests the team just keeps throwing themselves at the story, and into Death's waiting hands. In the end it's possible that there really is an alien invasion poised to wipe out humanity, but Dusty accepts a better offer rather than reporting on it. Completely over the top, the story is told entirely through dialogue, and has a great flow. The humor is absurd, but spot on and consistent, and while I felt the end was a bit of a cheat, it worked for what it was, a story about a news team dedicated to bringing the news to their viewers first.

A newsboy (more a newsman, really) named Romulus learns the power of good news in Krystal Claxton's fantasy story, "The Newsboy's Last Stand." The only one in his city that can read the news, Romulus is forced to detail the depressing reality of war and shortage and general hopelessness. That is, until a young flower girl named Jane asks him for some good news and Romulus cannot resist. Unable to help himself, he lies and says there will be free cotton candy the next day. Instead of being proven a liar, though, the next day there is actual free cotton candy. And when Romulus makes up an international holiday for the next day, it miraculously comes to pass. In the end not even the war can stand up to people's desires to have good news, and everyone gets a happy ending of sorts, though the moral is a bit more elusive. And while I found a place or two to be a little difficult to believe even given the logic of the story, it was a great concept and well executed, leaving me thinking well after I finished reading.

In "The Full Lazenby," near-future SF by Jeremy Butler, a college student finds out he's the pseudo-reincarnation of George Lazenby, one-time James Bond actor, and his world turns upside down. After his friend Dwight convinces him to take a test to see what historic figure he's most like, the main character finds himself drawn into the life of a Bond, which includes casinos and cruises and wealth and luxury. Basically set for life, the one directive he must live with is to do nothing to embarrass the brand. When Dwight makes a complete fool of himself at an event, though, the would-be Lazenby deserts him, only to find his friend come back as a full blown Bond villain. Though he survives the encounter, the main character decides life as a Bond isn't for him, and after one adventure retires from the role. Building a strange but believable near future world, the setting and concept are the stars of this story, as the main character never really came together for me. But the idea of a world that celebrates these strange, somewhat arbitrary connections to the past was enough to keep me reading and nodding along.

Life becomes a bit more complicated for Nate when he finds an Ifrit in his mattress in Piers Anthony's contemporary fantasy "Do Not Remove This Tag." Having inadvertently released the magical creature from its imprisonment, Nate has to find out what to do with an ancient and very amorous Ifrit. When he takes the creature out to learn the ways of the world, though, the Ifrit's magic and lack of manners take things from bad to worse, attracting the attention of the authorities as well as a paranormal investigator named Lotus. Lotus tries to convince the Ifrit to tell her his stories in order to prove the supernatural, while Nate just wants things to go back to normal. They both get something of what they want when Lotus' demands cause the Ifrit to retreat, but not before leaving behind a bag of gold that never empties, something that Nate and Lotus plan to use to pursue paranormal investigations. A simple story, and relying largely on some crude humor, the tale works as a sort of time-displaced fish-out-of-water joke, though it does drag a bit in getting to the end.

A support group for mothers of super-powered children at a pre-school has to step up in a big way when things get a bit pear-shaped in "Super-Baby-Moms Group Saves the Day!," superhero science fiction by Tina Connolly. Told as an email exchange between the parents, things begin innocuously enough with concerns over misbehavior and troubles with discipline. Slowly, though, more children begin to develop super powers, which at first simply means more parents in the group, but then explodes into a real crisis when all the students at the school develop superpowers at once. Building a rich picture of the personalities of the parents and the evolving situation, the story does an excellent job in slowly revealing what's going on, hinting enough to make the ending satisfying and well-earned. The moms were all vivid and interesting, and their interactions had me chuckling to myself often as I recognized the many ways people use emails to say more than they type. Inventive and darkly funny, the story left me both satisfied and wanting more.

"The Choochoomorphosis" provides a bizzaro fake-out tale of near-mass-murder proportions courtesy of Oliver Buckram. Gregor Samsa wakes to find himself transformed into Neville, a crime fighting tank engine, and lets himself be talked into almost obliterating a crowd of movie extras dressed as zombies. Before he can perform the dark deed, though, he wakes up to discover it was all a dream after all. Short and bizarre, the story might work for fans of the style and genre, but I found the story didn't live up to the title, which was for me the funniest part of the piece.

Vladimir Dracul must deal with the most frightening creature of all, an annoying fanboy named Melvin, in the paranormal fantasy "The Fate Worse Than Death" by Kevin J. Anderson and Guy Anthony. Trying to take a nap in his coffin, Vlad is surprised to be notified that there is an intruder on the grounds. Sure that his mercenaries or demon beasts will keep him protected, though, he tries to ignore it, only to be accosted by a greasy fanboy with a plan. Having figured out that a great deal of classic stories were penned by none other than Vlad Dracul, Melvin blackmails the vampire. Not into turning him into one of the undead, though, but instead so that Dracul will help Melvin with his terrible writing. Taking some easy shots at nerds and fanboys in general, the humor never really managed to rise out of the coffin for me, and though there are some lines to admire, most of the effort seemed a bit too dull for my tastes.

A homeowners association of mythical creatures has to decide how to handle an expensive and dangerous situation in "Elections at Villa Encantada," a contemporary fantasy by Cat Rambo. Astrea Jones, one-time goddess of justice, finds herself in the middle of both a homeowners association election and a crisis as a tiff with a lake god and need for spiritual cleansing have left the community in need of funds. Unable to afford the high price for the necessary magical power, she hopes that the association can find a way out of its predicament. When fiscal responsibility gives way to murder, though, Astrea's sense of justice requires her to act, and things don't go quite the way anyone expected. Funny if a bit cluttered at times with a whole host of characters, the story manages to capture the bureaucratic nightmare of homeowners associations with a dry wit and touch of brutality.

Jody Lynn Nye crafts a story around Detective Sergeant Dena Malone and her alien symbiont K't'ank as the two strive to solve a mysterious murder in the detective science fiction tale "Infinite Drive." Complicating matters is Dena's advanced pregnancy and the fact that the crime scene looks a bit more like an accident than a murder. Using K't'ank's technical know-how and Dena's detective skills, though, the two slowly work their way deeper into the mystery, uncovering the hidden motives for the crime. Together with a rich supporting class, Dena gathers the suspects for a classic reveal and a small bout of action that leads to most of the characters getting what they deserve. Less an outright comedy than many of the other stories, Dena's tale nonetheless is solidly told and entertaining for fans of mysteries or police procedurals. As the longest piece in the anthology, though, it dragged a bit in places, and I think I would have either liked it as a shorter or a much longer story. Still, it was well crafted and executed.

{Illo from "That Must Be Them Now" by Karen Haber}


Charles Payseur lives with his partner and their growing herd of pets in the icy reaches of Wisconsin, where companionship, books, and craft beer get him through the long winters. His fiction has appeared at Perihelion Science Fiction, Every Day Fiction, and Dragon's Roost Press.



Unidentified Funny Objects 3

Ed. by Alex Shvartsman

(UFO Publishing, October 1, 2014)

Preorders:

Print: UFO 3 -- E-book: UFO 3

 

On the Efficacy of Supervillain Battles In Eliciting Therapeutic Breakthroughs” by Jim C. Hines
The Right Answer” by James A. Miller
The Gefilte Fish Girl” by Mike Resnick (reprint)
Master of Business Apocalypse” by Jacob Drud
Carla At The Off-Planet Tax Return Helpline” by Caroline M. Yoachim
Why I Bought Satan Two Cokes On The Day I Graduated High School” by Nathaniel Lee
Company Store” by Robert Silverberg (reprint)
The Door-To-Door Salesthing From Planet X” by John Vogt
The Discounted Seniors” by James Beamon
That Must Be Them Now” by Karen Haber
Notes To My Past And/Or Alternate Selves” by Sarah Pinsker
The Real And The Really Real” by Tim Pratt
Into The Woods, With Zombunny” by Camille Griep
Live At The Scene” by Gini Koch
The Newboy’s Last Stand” by Krystal Claxton
The Full Lazenby” by Jeremy Butler
Do Not Remove This Tag” by Piers Anthony
Super-Baby Moms Group Saves The Day!” by Tina Connolly
The Choochoomorphosis” by Oliver Buckram
The Fate Worse Than Death” by Kevin J. Anderson and Guy Anthony De Marco
Elections At Villa Encantiada” by Cat Rambo
Infinite Drive” by Jody Lynn Nye

Reviewed by C. D. Lewis

Unidentified Funny Objects 3 presents twenty new and two reprinted comic works of speculative fiction. Several revisit worlds introduced in prior installments of a series, but none require prior knowledge to enjoy. Enjoy them:

Jim C. Hines’ “On the Efficacy of Supervillain Battles In Eliciting Therapeutic Breakthroughs” begins as a note by a therapist – an ex-super – about a teenage client whose complicated backstory suits Hines’ superhero-filled world just as it sets the stage for the story’s conflict. But does the therapist’s post-decapitation life as a jarred-head really put an end to his capers as a superhero? And what’s his part-blowfish patient really up to? Established supers’ children disdain the trappings and fashions of their elders – but despite changed fashions old values endure: as it turns out, youth don’t tolerate villainy now any more than they used to. This sets up a changing-of-the-guard theme that gives an upbeat end. The teenager who seems to have no useful superpowers naturally surprises her elders when she turns up having demolished the villain’s evil schemes off-screen. Hines leverages limited “superpowers” to deliver entertaining fight scenes. Hines changes the story’s momentum on the strength of the well-established principle that a therapist can’t solve patients’ problems, but must support her in resolving her own problems. This offers a fitting vehicle for revealing the teen’s plan, setting up her confrontation of the supervillain, and explaining the therapist’s decision to abandon the direct-confrontation strategy he’d employed when he had his old body in order to take up a position as his patient’s sidekick. Apparently-powerful supers laid low by pedestrian legal troubles? Check. Badass female protagonist revealed? Check. Clever beats buff? Check. Real-life rules entertainingly resolve superhero dilemmas? Check. Get out your Spandex and unfurl your cape – or ready your smartphone – there’s villainy afoot.

James A. Miller’s “The Right Answer” is an alien encounter that initially presents itself as part of the body of work in which some Everyman saves humanity by proving its exceptionalism to an alien judge. But “The Right Answer” comes on a very, very bad day for the protagonist, the highlights of which include punching his best-friend boss over attentions paid the narrator’s wife, then surviving the car fire that destroyed his laptop only to return home to an emptied house – so naturally he’s not in a crummy frame of mind to serve as champion for the human race in proving its worthiness to receive as a gift the otherworldly technology of a tiny green alien Fonz impersonator. So unlike “Invisible Thread” by Penn & Teller – in which protagonists demonstrate humans’ uniqueness with a card trick and so save the species – the narrator in “The Right Answer” progresses from flubbing it to throwing it. Humans. Who’d wanna help them? “The Right Answer” provides gag after gag to keep up the chuckles: the funny-looking alien whose sophistication in technological matters doesn’t help him to fit in (The Fonz?) or to hold his liquor; escalating schadenfreude over the narrator’s increasingly awful day; the impossible problem of explaining to his angry neighbors the destruction wrought along their property line in the alien visit’s aftermath. It’s not empty giggles; if you look, the narrator character arc: he moves from running from his problems (decking his rival and escaping to drink), through lashing out (unleashing unfiltered smartass on his uninvited guest), to confronting square-on some hard truths about his own kind (humans are really, really not ready for the demonstrated power). There’s a bright spot: the narrator’s too down on humanity to imagine a trait that renders humans worthy, but before departing the alien clues him in. While there’s little reason to believe the narrator will make anything of the information, it’s nice to know there’s hope.

Mike Resnick’s “The Gefilte Fish Girl” depicts a 34-year old narrator trying to warm his ever-skeptical mother to his engagement with an ocean-dwelling mermaid who’s (gasp) a shiksa. Running gags entertain throughout; for example, the narrator’s own mother continuously addresses him not by his own name, but always by the name of some relative who came to a bad end. The mother’s histrionics provide over-the-top frustration to the narrator’s goals. The strength of the piece is the characters’ dysfunctional relationship, exposed by the dialogue, which lets up only long enough to describe physical comedy. Those sensitive to minority stereotypes will want warning that the piece depends for its humor on readers enjoying a man abused by a self-interested misanthropic pessimist mother having great concern about outward social appearances, the views of relatives, and the not-yet-Jewish religion of her prospective daughter-in-law. But what great abuse it is. Misunderstandings and disappointments flow like water to the sea. God help the girlfriend. The story’s resolution fits the characters to a T. One foresees only disaster in the (not depicted) eventual meeting between mother and mermaid, and can’t help but imagine the outrageous expectations with which the mother will inevitably saddle her son’s fiancée. “The Gefilte Fish Girl” previously appeared in the April 1997 issue of Fantasy & Science Fiction and in the author’s March 2014 collection First Person Peculiar.

Master of Business Apocalypse” by Jakob Drud is a management send-up. The new CEO of the group that prevents global apocalypse intends to raise revenues by increasing threats to human survival. The strength of Drud’s villain’s scheme lies in a principle articulated by Mark Twain: two-thirds of good fiction’s “facts” must be true. Managers’ perverse incentives cause absurd behavior that affects the larger world around their organizations often enough that the story problem seems too plausible to feel fictional. And, no wonder: Drud presents us with nothing less than the explanation of why the world is awash in mercenary MBAs. Drud’s sympathetic protagonist with a plausible-feeling problem offers a just-so story about the world epidemic of shortsighted management and some consolation: it could be worse.

Caroline M. Yoachim’s “Carla at the Off-Planet Tax Return Help Line” depicts an IRS helpline in a series of vignettes showing the absurdities of tax compliance in a science fictional universe of sentient foreign currency, hive-like collectives (not married? 352 separate returns), absurd objectives (“if you marry me, can I file a tax return?”), and futuristic tax collection procedures (“attempting to run from a Tarmadian Spacemite is illegal …”). While this would be funny on its own, Yoachim interweaves a delightful plot arc involving misguided callers and their ensuing offenses’ resulting non-prosecution agreement’s community service requirement. Yoachim’s delightful piece entertains even those who’ve ever tried calling the IRS about a return.

Nathaniel Lee opens “Why I Bought Satan Two Cokes On The Day I Graduated High School” on Michael’s brutal, bullying beatdown on a helpless Satan. Satan proves to be a two-bit criminal who shoplifts from convenience stores and lures mortals to join him by offering, for example, a McDonald’s coupon. The fact the narrator finds this low-rent

Lucifer an interesting companion – much less a future employer worth considering – is a bit of a puzzle: we see the narrator’s actions, but are shown little of his motives. The very point seems to be that he lacks motivation, and hangs around Satan for want of anything more appealing. The story’s humor seems to play on reader expectations of angels (that they’re not fascist bullies expected to murder curfew violators) and Satan (that he should offer temptations that are, you know, tempting). As the piece progresses Satan descends from a wimp too proud to accept help when confronted with a lunchroom bully (“Could’ve taken him”) to a deluded has-been dreaming about glory days long gone, hoping to profit from suicide. Just before the narrator turns on his partner in crime to take his chances alone on the street after curfew, the story gives a sense Satan is just a loser, attracting losers. The disgusted, despairing narrator resolves to give up, conform to his school’s expectations, and fit in: evil’s just too nasty. Framed in a volume of “funny” stories, the portrait of low-rent evil and building personal ruin seems a puzzling fit through the middle of the story.

However, Lee snatches his narrator – and the tale – from oblivion: the smartass protagonist decides his decision to give in and conform really isn’t him after all. He refuses to join anyone. The narrator’s decision to do things his own way suits his contrary nature, and apparently makes an impression on Satan, too: the washed-up fallen angel decides to follow him. The cooler-than-expected Angel of Death gives a fun vibe to the ending paragraphs. Maybe the protagonist’s purpose is to redeem Satan. “Why I Bought Satan Two Cokes On The Day I Graduated High School” returns to the lighthearted tone struck in the first few paragraphs, and its end is much more fun than the middle. The hopeful end leaves readers with entertaining images of the narrator’s next few moves, and it’s a solid chuckle.

The protagonist of Robert Silverberg’s “Company Store” is victimized by competing vendors. On the one hand is an alien robot willing to cause catastrophes merely to induce the panic required to buy his solutions. On the other is his employer, whose shipping charges dwarf the value of supplied goods and will result in his owing his employer more than he earns, so that he’ll be compelled to work longer to repay the back-breaking debt. Worse, his employer’s exclusive supply contract forbids his buying from competitors such as the robot that is willing to kill to make a sale. When the protagonist wriggles free of his conundrum, he partners with the robot (whose makers will disassemble it when they learn how bad it is as a salesman) to sell goods to suckers across the galaxy. It’s a quick, fun piece. This piece has been published before, and may be the only American SF you read all year for which you can also enjoy an animated-by-Soviets YouTube video. Really. (This story originally appeared in Star Science Fiction Stories No. 5, May 1959, and has not appeared in English since 1976.)

Josh Vogt’s “The Door-to-Door Salesthing from Planet X” contains an echo of Silverberg’s: the alien seller will be killed if it fails to meet profit targets, which both induces pity and explains its desperation: the quota period’s about to expire without a sale. On the other hand, although there’s no competition, the customer is much tougher, being perfectly satisfied to buy nothing. Not eternal youth, nada. The desperate salesbeing naturally becomes alarmed as time ticks too short to find another prospect. The customer’s charitable, softball idea of what might make a worthwhile purchase proves, entertainingly, not to be in the exotic inventory carried in the alien’s extradimensional suitcase. But the diligent salesbeing must always manage, no? It’s an acidic comment about the priorities and quality of life of retail work. Hatred of aggressive salespersons and experience in retail each likely increase reader satisfaction with the resolution. The story is presented entirely in the form of narrative exchange, without action or description outside that suggested by the dialogue; this works well to depict the exchange, which as a consequence moves quickly even for its length. Light and funny.

Matt Mikalatos’s “Picture Perfect” is sendup of the vampire-in-high-school setting we’ve seen recurring over the last couple of decades. At the outset, the ghost that haunts the vampire protagonist promises (another round of) revenge, which materializes in the person of a truant officer. Forced to attend high school because he’s unable to produce his 139-year-old birth certificate (or convincing documentation of his death), the protagonist falls into the clutches of the evil villain’s plan to kill everyone in the high school. Those who love puns will adore Mikalatos’s villain’s relentless application of what may be the worst weapon on display in the whole piece. The delightful piece combines a lighthearted tone, references to Buffy and Twilight, and a trope-busting refusal to engage in a romantic relationship with a teen hardly more than a tenth the protagonist’s age. Naturally, the villain gets it in the neck. Fun all around.

James Beamon sets “Discounted Seniors” in a science-fiction assisted-living center. The narrator growls intolerantly at robotic nurses he thinks unable to ‘assist the living.’ When the narrator receives a robot assistant android called “Huey” that looks exactly like the narrator’s young, fit son – apparently, a dig on the frequency of live visits by relatives happy to be rid of the elderly – the narrator immediately realizes the effect its contrast with him will have on his romantic prospects. But soon the narrator has bigger problems: unacceptable interference with his plans for the female residents drives him into revolt against the center’s formal programming.

Discounted Seniors” offers a horn-dog protagonist with amusing single-mindedness. Readers sensitive to gender issues may want to be forewarned that the only real characters are either men or robots with male-looking appearance. Huey expresses minority pride by refusing to tolerate offense to robots, exerts himself to control his environment, and turns out to have opinions and expertise in dance. The narrator and his break-dancing friend round out the full-color character count. Men joke about mailing women to the facility as a gift. The females, by contrast, are two-dimensional. Most women appear vacuous: sex objects and victims. The female-looking nurse robot’s incompetence is played for laughs; her limited vocalization reminds one of recorded messages. Only the villain appears to have the efficiency to affect the world about her, but she’s merely heartless and greedy. On another note, some of the story’s humor involves age-related mental decline, incontinence, or mobility limitations.

But maybe these things don’t offend you. Maybe you adore Richard Pryor and Chris Rock. Maybe you revel in jokes steeped in a viewpoint that spotlights offensive stereotypes, at once embracing and lampooning them. Analyzing the work of Pryor and Rock lies beyond this review, but it seems their genius lies largely in leveraging audience connection to, and discomfort with, offense-generating social topics like race, gender, and social class by lasering them with judgment or pretending to assume their normality. “Discounted Seniors” provides this in spades: witty banter, well-placed cultural references, and an entertainingly ever-disappointed would-be Romeo of the robotic senior living facility. Getting old? Looking bad? Fearing aloneness in the face of advancing decrepitude? Who doesn’t have feelings about that? That’s where the humor is mined.

The ‘brothers’ in the first scene don’t actually mail white women, but it doesn’t stop them from talking like it’d be fun. When the chips are down, the protagonist acts to halt the modern-day slavery he uncovers – not that anyone thanks him for it. Nobody promises the characters will act properly, but who does? And maybe it’s not for everyone. But those who don’t stomp off in offense will find it hilarious. The back-where-we-started resolution is a perfect fit for the story’s frustrated assisted-living Romeo with the Inspector Gadget cane. Come to think, maybe that thing’s got an attachment that’ll improve his game….

On an alien planet, the patient protagonist of Karen Haber’s “That Must Be Them Now” awaits the arrival of behind-schedule strangers, reminding one momentarily of a science-fiction “Waiting for Godot” starring an interstellar junk dealer. Unlike Godot, however, Haber’s protagonist gets action. The plot of “That Must Be Them Now” follows a venerable and proven worse-and-worse pattern: the protagonist isn’t the only one hoping to make a payday out of the arrival of strangers, and once they’re fighting amongst themselves something worse arrives, and so forth, nonstop. Dangers echo some classics: the belly of the Saarlac, home-made aircraft, you name it. Gags flow from early pages, such as aliens pretending politeness through translators apparently programmed to use the clumsiest and most generic words they know, or aliens able to remove their heads – and who persistently forget them once no longer attached. The ironic jokes-on-us ending fits Haber’s world without dropping her sympathetic protagonist in the grease. At least, not too much. “That Must Be Them Now” is unpretentious light fun.

Sarah Pinsker’s “Notes to My Past And/Or Alternate Selves” takes the form of a bulleted list. Every item invites speculation of what disaster gave rise to it. List items that modify or contradict others imply the recipient is either reluctant to follow his/her own good advice, or that the advice doesn’t work. Whether the sender experiences the results of each piece of advice and adds to the list, or sends it at the end of a life full of regrets, isn’t clear. In either case, it’s these iterative messages that give the list its sense of story. The mad scientist’s ongoing tips plainly intend to improve an earlier self’s odds in a doomed love with a woman who reacts poorly to learning what the sender’s really up to. By the end, one wonders whether the time-travel-transported list has been hijacked by the original author’s runaway genetic experiment in weaponized kudzu, and wonders what finally did in the relationship with the woman for whom the final sender plainly longs. The sense of tragedy at the end contains an echo of real life: does mad-scientist success mean anything without love? Just as horror depends on building anticipation so the reader frightens himself, this story’s humor depends largely on using reminders in the form of ‘when X happens, remember not to …’ to make readers imagine the larger story that must lie behind the list. “Notes to My Past And/Or Alternate Selves” is funny to read, but funnier still to explain to one’s self.

Tim Pratt’s “The Real and The Really Real” opens on a protagonist convinced he’s the only human on a planet whose robot population is only faking it. Pratt’s short fits solidly into a family of which-one-is-really-a-robot tales, but his sympathetic protagonist sets his story apart from its peers. The protagonist’s existential worries, his aloneness in the world, his desire to connect, and his tolerance for an awful roommate because it’s the closest thing to honesty he’s found – they give him color just as they set one wondering whether he’s delusional. But he’s so earnest, and his needs so innocent, that one can’t help wanting him to be right when he believes he’s finally found a girl who’s really real. Dare he tell her what he’s learned about the world being mostly robots?

The Real and the Really Real” may seem too serious in places to fit in among humor pieces, but the protagonist’s predicament is a great place to mine laughs. Does he really live in an alien terrarium curated by robot masters? Do they intend he repopulate the species with his prospective love interest? What if they plan to watch? Will that dampen or escalate his romantic pursuits? Do the protagonist’s ex-girlfriends secretly suspect he’s the robot? In keeping with Mark Twain’s advice that fiction be composed of two parts fact to each part fiction, Pratt crafts the “The Real and the Really Real” with plenty of philosophy-of-consciousness concern that echoes real-world study of human decisions. The reader must sense that the protagonist’s fears and concerns are real, and not a lark, to build the climax and its resolution – and there, Pratt really delivers. “The Real and the Really Real” offers a beautiful story about the need for connection, our willingness to sacrifice for company, and the courage to risk to win love. If only I hadn’t been rebooted halfway through because my batteries failed, it would have been perfect.

Into The Woods, With Zombunny” by Camille Griep follows a knight’s squire from his sacking through his death’s-door transformation into a zombie. The protagonist displays an entertaining willingness to enter deals without learning enough to make an informed choice. The zombie’s zombie rabbit ally requires him to enter a new field (farming) to support them both, and the entry into farming has its own complications. Griep’s tale is peppered throughout with silliness, including cultural references – some suited to a fantasy setting, such as Monty Python’s Holy Grail, and some made all the more entertaining by their disconnect from the time of fantasy legend. The protagonist’s love interest displays an entertaining capacity to fail to notice his transformation into a vegetable-eating zombie, but is otherwise a strong character in her own right. Likewise, the protagonist’s inevitable black bargain with the witch who made a zombie of his rabbit companion doesn’t lead him to betray and enspell his wife just to avoid her fury: she is furious, but they work it out. The sappy happy ending may disappoint diehard fans of dark disasters and proponents of the school of thought that all spells must go as badly as possible. Griep tells a lighthearted upbeat tale, and it’s easy to accept its lighthearted upbeat resolution. Besides, you always wanted to know about Rapunzel’s parents and the exploits of the near relatives of the rabbit from the Holy Grail – and now you can.

Gini Koch’s “Live At The Scene” lampoons ‘news’ programs that spend more time talking about the programs themselves, and their sponsors’ products, than they spend providing substantive information regarding anything about which potential viewers might possibly care. And who isn’t sick of those? One of the failings in programs more about advertisers’ opportunity to sell products than about the ostensible substance of the show is the pace at which those shows deliver to the viewer anything that looks like a fact. Fittingly, we quickly see more about the show’s personalities and their titles and catchphrases than we have any hope to understand about their supposedly breaking story. And we can hardly get a change in speaker without hearing another buzzword-laden introduction. When the ‘breaking news’ turns out to be lights inexplicably hovering over a farm (that markets to viewers), it looks like we’re in for a slow discovery that nobody at the station has any idea what they’re looking at, and no plan to discover what it is. But, not so! The news crew with the exclusive story begins taking casualties, and the film crews balk at getting the great angles they’re ordered to shoot. Excitement at last! Unstoppable alien killers with an appetite for … you’ll see.

Live At The Scene” doesn’t force anyone to confess the desire to see something awful befall ‘news’ shows’ saccharine personas, it just delivers guilt-free what you’ve been longing for secretly. With each recitation of every repeated phrase, with every reiteration of an analysis-free fact we’ve known for pages, you inwardly delight with gleeful conviction: you’re next, buddy! If you’ve had it with vacuous ‘news’ shows, “Live At The Scene” is the therapy you’ve been waiting for.

Like the open of Douglas Adams’ The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Krystal Claxton’s “The Newsboy’s Last Stand” doesn’t grip readers with a character’s identity or peril, but with the narrator’s voice. The fourth-wall-breaking asides and cultural references certainly tickle, but the real hook in Claxton’s third-person piece is the tone it takes as it pedantically explains why the characters deserve to be in a story and why its protagonist shouts. The narrative voice and uncertain time lend a mythic distance to events. Once underway, “The Newsboy’s Last Stand” shows a city long at war, where the news announcer yells by an intersection that includes a flower shop and its inevitable flower girl. As promised in the first paragraph, it’s the girl that puts the newsboy in the story. Her childlike unwillingness to believe everything’s bad and earnest expectation there’s good news to be heard drags the announcer from his printed matter and into the realm of fiction, where he’s hopeful nobody will catch him. He knows his ‘good news’ is absurd, and he knows he’s going to get busted, but he sees her hopeful face and can’t bring himself to disappoint. Later. He’ll feel awful later. But just not now. There’s a rule of good story: every decision must have consequences. Claxton’s adheres rigorously, to reader delight. In a triumph of optimism about the power of humans to do good, “The Newsboy’s Last Stand” evokes hope and sympathy and, if you’re the sort, happy tears.

Jeremy Butler’s “The Full Lazenby” is science fiction set in a world in which being a testing-proven “match” to a famous historic personality affects career opportunity. “The Full Lazenby” opens on a philosophy major packing to leave school for want of scholarship, whose friend induces him to get tested in hopes of qualifying for subsidies based on similarity to some long-dead stranger. When the protagonist tests a near-perfect match for a long-dead Bond actor, the story flows like Cinderella prepped for a ball: he’s an overnight sensation, his dean reassesses his qualification for a scholarship, and creating opportunity not only knocks, it threatens to knock him over. Alas, the ensuing temptations are too much for his friend to handle with grace, and an enemy is born. Fans of the James Bond franchise will love the celebrity of Bond in the far future, and the intertwining of the tale with Bondia of old. Behind the nonstop silliness are serious themes: the (non)relation between opportunity and desert, the absurdity of taking celebrity seriously, the malleability and source of personal identity – all kinds of good stuff. The climactic fight evokes Bond beautifully, and the resolution fits the story like a bespoke glove.

Piers Anthony opens “DO NOT REMOVE THIS TAG” on a man forcibly removing that tag from his just-bought mattress. The ifrit he thus frees threatens to seal the insolent mortal himself within the mattress, but he bargains to act as its local guide as it seeks to fulfill its longstanding hunger. The ifrit, as it turns out, is a skirt hound. Those sensitive to gender issues will find female characters’ personal boundaries respected in a manner reminiscent of that displayed in such works as Anthony’s entertaining and irreverent For Love of Evil. The narrator has no monopoly on smartass: when he asks if the ifrit can speak in a modern dialect, it demonstrates. Their first foray into the modern world goes awry as the ifrit draws attention vanishing clothing from nearby women so they better match what he enjoyed on the porn channel. An assertive female paranormal investigator, intent on using the ifrit to prove the supernatural to a doubting public, leverages the ifrit’s interests to further her objective. The guide and paranormal investigator suffer the ifrit’s attention-drawing antics (he uses magic, for example, to make literal the humans’ figures of speech); gag follows gag. Eventually, the modern world tires the old demon, leaving the guide and investigator to scheme how best to make use of their find (fiend?). The resolution solves the protagonist’s poverty and loneliness by setting him on a path to adventure – and perhaps romance – with the paranormal investigator. Anthony displays the same word play and pun wrangling with which he has entertained for decades, for example in his Apprentice Adept series. “DO NOT REMOVE THIS TAG” is a lighthearted, upbeat romp.

Tina Connolly’s “Super-Baby Moms Group Saves The Day!” takes the form of an email exchange. Parents of young supers share kiddo troubles. Kiddos with weird powers cause the same types of trouble normals do, but the scale of their behavior is different: misbehaving and defiant kids can do a lot more with superpowers. The emails’ tone feels like a good match for parents trying to look friendly while discussing problems that look to have identifiable culprits. The “my kid is extraordinary” stuff one hears from parents is particularly entertaining in a group whose kids have superpowers. Between the sendup of kids’ parents and the mental image of what it must be like to parent children with various superpowers, there’s plenty to giggle about. The fun twist – the superpower behind the local surplus of supers – promises to grow the parent group quite a bit.

Oliver Buckram’s “The Choochoomorphosis” lightheartedly lampoons fictional properties from kids’ cartoons to Kafka. Buckram opens on cartoon talking animals and a train fond of pursuing criminals. Or zombie hordes. Buckram stocks track-side landscape with outlandish characters unsuited to a Thomas the Tank Engine episode – sexual and bloodthirsty and oblivious to the innocence of their intended targets. Quick and light, it’s hard not to like a visit to the bizarro dreamworld of “The Choochoomorphosis.”

The Fate Worse Than Death” is Kevin J. Anderson’s and Guy Anthony De Marco’s comic look at Vlad the vampire’s unsuccessful effort to get a good night’s rest in peace during his undeath. Electric blankets, alarm clocks, and electronic security sets the globe’s most famous vampire in a shiny, tech-laden world starkly different from the creepy gothic demesne in which he’s normally set. Genre-mixing giggles abound. Fun banter exposes the true story of George Washington’s teeth and the name of the author of all the vampire fiction underpinning current myth. And we get a look at the ambitious scheme of Vlad’s biggest fan. The laughs in “The Fate Worse than Death” come nonstop, building hilarious stakes while delivering some acidic outlook on some recent high-profile fiction.

Narrated by a one-time Goddess of Justice, Cat Rambo’s “Elections At Villa Encantada” depicts a Home Owner’s Association board meeting in a suburbia-feeling community full of old gods. Weren’t election fliers bad enough when they weren’t enchanted to manipulate recipients’ minds? And how do you suppose the supernatural neighbors want to spend the special assessment? Those who’ve suffered the practical application of real-world HOA proceedings will appreciate the story’s echoes of reality. When the HOA is inevitably swept into the orbit of a conscienceless killer – politics attracts the wrong types, doesn’t it? – but it’s handy to have a goddess of justice around. Though in “Elections” as in real life, she won’t stand for election. Alas. This piece is set in the same Sammamish, Washington community as Rambo’s “Eagle-haunted Lake Sammamish” and “Legends of the Gome,” familiarity with which may be helpful for understanding some of the minor characters.

Jody Lynn Nye’s “Infinite Drive” is a science fiction police investigation of a car wreck in a hotel’s penthouse pool. Nye treats readers to alien symbiotes who critique their hosts’ fashion sense, the perils of force-field swimming pools, contractor corner-cutting in a high-energy containment project, and press coverage in an era of swarming aerial news cameras. Dysfunctional organizations abound: serious projects’ grants are passed over in favor of funding swimming pool research, government organizations fail to explain benefits availability, employers conscript assistive devices they break in their off-hours sexual escapades, and so forth. The police-investigation plot arc isn’t funny, but it repeatedly presents gag elements likely to return a smirk to your face.

Unidentified Funny Objects 3 offers so many tales so funny or worthy that it’s hard to imagine passing it up. It’s common to find an anthology that struggles to deliver a story hit-rate of 50% within its covers; UFO 3 sets a high standard with tale after winning tale. If your appetite includes funny tales, you’ll want to look for the latest Unidentified Funny Objects.


C. D. Lewis lives and writes in Faerie.

*     *     *

{Illo from "Company Store” by Robert Silverberg}

*     *     *

{Illo from "On the Efficacy of Supervillain Battles In Eliciting Therapeutic Breakthroughs" by Jim C. Hines}

*    *     *

{Illo from "Infinite Drive” by Jody Lynn Nye}