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the genre's premiere review magazine for short SF & Fantasy since 1993

Unidentified Funny Objects #7, edited by Alex Shvartsman

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Unidentified Funny Objects #7


 

Edited by

Alex Shvartsman

 

(UFO Publishing, September 2018, pb, 288 pp.)

 

"The Dragon, the Drudge, and the Drone" by Esther Friesner
"Chad Versus the Rebel Alliance" by Shane Halbach
"The Secret Destiny of Heroes" by Matthew Bailey
"Old School: an Oral History of Captain Dick Chase" by Val Nolan
"Take Meme to Your Leader" by Jennifer Lee Rossman
"Contractual Obligations" by C. Flynt
"Bimble Bimble Bop Bop!" by Richard Anderson
"The Sit Down" by Laura Resnick
"The Ebony Egg" by David Vierling
"The Day After Halloween" by Greg Sisco
"Falling’s Free, Gravity Costs" by Seanan McGuire
"Mission Log Nuptials" by Langley Hyde
"Quick Cash in the Old Kingdom" by Elin Korund
"Key Fang and Klaw" by Fred Stesney
"The Vampire’s Apprentice" by Gini Koch
"The Assassination of 2063" by David Vaughan
"Dethroning the Champeen" by Mike Resnick
"Spear Carriers’ Union #109" by Jamie Gilman Kress
"The Fermi Loneliness Problem" Beth Goder
"Three Ways to Leave Hawaii" by Zach Shephard

Reviewed by Chuck Rothman

Time flies. It's hard to believe that Unidentified Funny Objects is now up to its seventh yearly volume, but the number on the cover confirms it. Once again, editor Alex Shvartsman has put together a book that concentrates on one thing there's too little of in science fiction: humor.

The book starts out with "The Dragon, the Drudge, and the Drone." Esther Friesner has a long history of humorous stories and this one concentrates on Gavin Crane, whose flying drone somehow crossed into another dimension to bring back a real dragon. Gavin had a dead end job and a boss—Mr. Pendleton—who makes his life miserable. Of course, having a dragon allows him to get a little revenge. The story is amusing, but never really took off to achieve hilarity.

Shane Halbach's "Chad Versus the Rebel Alliance" tells about Chad, a cloned soldier in the Imperial Army, out to stop the rebel scum. As is everyone else in his unit: they’re an army of Chads, all gung ho, loyal, somewhat stupid, and willing to give their life for the empire. Repeatedly. Chad is captured by the rebels and begins to learn the truth of his background. This is a serious issue with a humorous veneer. It's well contrived, but a bit predictable.

The protagonist of "The Secret Destiny of Heroes" is an evil overlord who is about to meet his destiny in the form of a hero who invaded his bedchamber while he was sleeping in order to kill him. With only his words, he tries to convince the hero otherwise. Matthew Bailey deals amusingly with destiny and the idea that the villain may not actually be so.

"Old School: an Oral History of Captain Dick Chase" by Val Nolan is structured as a series of interviews by people who interacted with chase, an old fashioned pulp hero who leads human forces to a might victory. Chase had been frozen for millennia and has an approach to life that is out of the time, but he manages to use it to ensure victory. The form is probably not the best way to portray matters, since we don't really see Chase in action and I found the story unengaging.

"Take Meme to Your Leader" by Jennifer Lee Rossman is about Maddie Espinoza, who gives makeup tutorials on Youtube and who is suddenly faced with an alien who speaks only in Internet memes and who needs her help to defeat another alien. It's a nice conceit, and the memes are cleverly used.

C. Flynt contributes "Contractual Obligations" about an alchemist/lawyer who is called upon by Melvin Schmook to help with a deal he made with a demon, giving up twenty years of his life in exchange for the demon fixing his stutter. It turns into a legal case to try to find a way out. Pretty common ground, though the story is amusing as it deals with how Schmook will get away with it.

Some of the stories in the anthology try hard (sometimes a bit too hard) to be wacky, but Richard Anderson's "Bimble Bimble Bop Bop!" manages to pull it off. It's a strangd mixture of exploding penguins, mutant hedgehogs, and the world's worst earworm. The story is very pythonesque (especially with the exploding penguins) but somehow manages to make it all work.

"The Sit Down" by Laura Resnick is set in the wilds of New Jersey, where Vito and Joey the Chin are about to dump the body of a squealer. Their attempt is interrupted by a flying saucer, manned by aliens who were on a peaceful mission and don't want to create an interstellar incident. Misunderstanding ensues. An interesting juxtaposition, but the story seemed a little bit flat to me.

David Vierling tries his hand at a hard-boiled detective story with "The Ebony Egg," John Loathing is a private eye who learns of the death of his partner Justinian Fear (yes the agency is "Fear and Loathing") and meets up with Mila DeKnight, a femme fatale who hired Fear to find the Quetzalcoatl Egg, a priceless artifact, which is also desired by a fat man, Porno DuSgusto. Yes, it's a parody of The Maltese Falcon and follows the original in too many details. While it's fun to spot the references at first, there isn't much more to it, and I wonder how much someone unfamiliar with the original story would understand.

"The Day After Halloween" by Greg Sisco shows that the children of the town are hyper but not just from the usual sugar rush. The candy turns them into goblins, screaming out "Treat! Treat! Treat!". Roger Wilkes and the other parents of the town try to find out the cause, and to change things back. The story doesn't have a lot of laugh lines, though the situation is a good one.

"Falling's Free, Gravity Costs" is set on the Mercury Midway, a spaceship that visited other planets as a traveling carnival. Nora, who loves the life, is one of many clones of a famous actress. But things get complicated when they are attacked by pirates, is left by her own clone and has to come up with a way to survive. Seanan McGuire's story works generally well as an old-fashioned adventure, but is only mildly amusing.

"Mission Log Nuptials" by Langley Hyde is the story of a man who falls madly in love with Maggie, a Sheshmin woman whose dating habits are obscure. He quickly learns that they have some odd requirements that the narrator works hard to fill. There's a lot of wackiness that hides the fact that the basic story is pretty conventional.

Elin Korund's "Quick Cash in the Old Kingdom" is set in ancient Egypt, where Akmut—poor and starving—prays to a beetle talisman that comes to life with the personality of his great grandfather, Ratsup, a shady character who convinces the desperate Akmut to rob the Pharaoh's grave to find the money he needs, using spells from the Book of Moon. The magic helps, but not really enough. The story is fast moving and Ratsup is a lively character—a con man who has an answer for everything, even if it's not the answer Akmut wants. Definitely a high point of the anthology, cleverly plotted and well handled.

"Key Fang and Klaw" by Fred Stesney shows Dr. Malicivious, the master of the island Key Fang, a mad scientist to end all mad scientists, who works across a strait from Muldida Gor Bracken, mistress of Key Klaw, a mad wizard to end all mad wizards. Naturally, the two have to destroy each other. The result is a bizarre and wacky battle as science tries to defeat fantasy and vice versa. Giant robots and zombie gorillas are part of the ride. Nice over-the-top humor throughout.

I was very impressed with Gini Koch's "The Vampire’s Apprentice," designed as a series of letters from Willoughby, who has been taken on by Count Alucard as his apprentice. Willoughby is so impressed that he takes on the role with gusto, doing everything to help the count and being fiercely loyal and unwilling to believe the slanders about him. Willoughby is a great character—not as smart as he thinks he is (it never occurs to him to spell the count's name backwards), and much of the humor arises from reading between the lines of the narrative as he refuses to accept what the reader knows is going on. Excellent overall.

"The Assassination of 2063" by David Vaughan is based on the old meme of coincidences between John F. Kennedy and Lincoln. Melvyn Hickory is elected president in 2060, leading an America that self-destructed years ago. This was at the behest of General Neriya Varman, who wants to return the US to glory. With his running mate, Android Johnson, Hickory wins, but is slated to die like the other two. The worldbuilding is interesting, but I don't think enough was done with it.

"Dethroning the Champeen" is one of Mike Resnick's Lucifer Jones stories, where the missionary/ne'er-do-well antihero finds himself in Australia, just about the only country that will let him within its borders. He is immediately exiled to the miniscule town of Gumly Gumly, where he is dragooned into boxing the town's champion. The plot is nothing special, but the character of Jones keeps the entire story lively and fun to read.

"Spear Carriers’ Union #109" falls right into a favorite subject of mine: metafiction. Henrietta Daily is part of the title organization, where she happily goes around on the periphery of the protagonists and villains of the novel, not wanting to be dragged into the story. But soon things become difficult. Jamie Gilman Kress starts with the concept and runs with it, with good success.

"The Fermi Loneliness Problem" by Beth Goder is a first contact story which actually deals with a fairly serious issue: how can we make contact with aliens if we don't recognize them as aliens? We are shown various alien races visiting Earth, starting long before there was human life, and making their own judgment on the planet. Time passes and by the 21st century Mathilda Snodwell manages to be the one who makes contact. There are amusing incidents on the way and the voice manages to keep it light.

Zach Shephard finishes out the volume with "Three Ways to Leave Hawaii." Jennifer is trying to leave Hawaii for home, but her travel plans fall apart and she has to find a ride. But she runs into Russ Beliniski, the Voodoo King of the Northwest, who offers her three different routes that lead to three different realities, where she has three different jobs. And realities start to intertwine. I had a hard time keeping track of what was going on and didn't care much for it.

So here the Reviewers Guild requires me to say that humor is subjective blah blah blah. The best stories here tickled my funny bone, and even the ones I didn't much care for made a strong attempt to be fun, something I love to see.


Chuck Rothman's novels Staroamer's Fate and Syron's Fate were recently republished by Fantastic Books.