A Large Review of “Miniatures – The Very Short Fiction of John Scalzi”

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

A Series of Tiny Stories

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

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

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

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

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

“When the Yogurt Took Over” is a 1000-word hypothetical scenario showing what life would be like if a breakfast food ruled man, while “The Other Large Thing” concerns a cat’s thoughts and interactions with a helper robot.

“The State of Super Villainy” is another transcript style story featuring the opposite side of the “Denise Jones, Superbooker.” Hilarity ensues, but it seems a long way to go for the rather stale joke at the end.

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

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

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

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

The next few stories continue the levity and brevity with sentient computers, guidelines for working with aliens and establishing a line of credit at a lemonade stand.

The collection ends with, “Penelope,” a heartfelt love poem to the object of Scalzi’s affection in the early 90s. The poem is quite touching and ends the collection on a sweet note.

Writing Style

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

By the time we get to the Twitter-based stories and the transcripts of speeches/skits, we see the humorist version of Scalzi truly shine.

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

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

Illustrations

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

My favorite illustrations are attached, quite aptly, to my favorite stories. All of them are great, and it’s up to the reader to decide what they like the best.

Check out the book, available from Subterranean Press and Amazon. And please try to refrain from talking to the produce next time you’re at the supermarket.

Listen to the Audio Book

The Audible audio book version that came with my e-book purchase is well produced and high quality. The author even reads a few parts of the book. Overall, this is an excellent package and well-worth the $10 I spent on it.

“Miniatures” is available on Amazon Kindle here and be sure to check out John Scalzi here.
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End of Watch by Stephen King (Review)

Note: Contains Mild Spoilers. This post is also available on my Good Reads page.

I find iEnd of Watch by Stephen Kingt increasingly difficult to put a Stephen King novel down. Despite its over 400 pages, its shifting perspectives, and its relentless thrills throughout, 2016’s “End of Watch” the third book in the Hodges/Mr. Mercedes trilogy is a solid and satisfactory conclusion to the series.

The novel opens with a vignette style flashback to the night of the Mercedes Massacre, where the now catatonic Brady Hartsfield drove a Mercedes into a crowded job fair line, killing several people and injuring countless others.

Following this, the story flashes forward to 2015, where our hero, Bill Hodges, awaits the results of a medical test, a terrible, biting pain gnawing away at his side. As he sits in the waiting room, Hodges receives a phone call from his old police partner Pete about a murder/suicide. The reason for the call: one of the injured victims of the City Center Massacre.

Thus, begins the final chapter of the Hodges storyline. A theme of perseverance and healing permeates the story. The reader can see it in the way Hodges acts, in Brady’s evil schemes, and in Holly Gibney’s actions and evolution as a character.

As the story unfolds, the suspense growing with each mini chapter, we see a gradual shift of character attitudes. The bonds of the protagonists strengthen significantly over the previous book. King always writes good characters. These are people you probably know from your own life: your shy cousin, your intellectual friend, your older, nice neighbor, or your slightly snotty doctor. The portraits of modern life painted by King can certainly draw you into the story.

King’s villains are also great. The villain experiences growth and learns from his mistakes, albeit in a supernatural capacity. He does not simply stagnate and become the ‘big, bad, evil guy’ that only exists to further the plot. Brady is a creature of habit, with strong personality traits and a goal. We have a run-in with several characters from previous books and King expertly ties all the threads together by the end of the story.

The themes of depression, loss, and suicide all appear throughout the book as well, with the goal to prevent them. Some interesting technology (the Zappit Commander sounds familiar) and a bit of a critique on the smart phone junkies of the world round out the story.

The prose is conversational and cohesive, but a bit long for what it is. The language also follows modern culture, which lends a certain human quality to the story. There are a few parts that are a bit on the grisly side, though, but if you’re reading a Stephen King book, then you are probably already expecting such things.

Reading this novel is like having an old friend tell you a compelling story on a cold, rainy night, when the power is out. There are certainly some terrifying moments, but at the end of it all, you can merely close the book, satisfied with the experience. “End of Watch” is a fitting conclusion to the trilogy and I would highly recommend it for this year’s reading list.

That’s it for today.  Until next time, don’t forget to pour another cup of coffee and play yourself some music! Follow me on Twitter, if you’re into that sort of thing.

Finders Keepers by Stephen King – Book Review #1

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The below review has been written to keep things relatively spoiler-free. However, there may be a few items which spoil the first book, “Mr. Mercedes.” You have been warned.

“Finders Keepers,” the second book in Stephen King’s “Mr. Mercedes” trilogy seems like an altogether different novel than its predecessor, 2012’s “Mr. Mercedes.” At first, it seems disjointed, bouncing back-and-forth through different time periods and focusing on a character unrelated to the previous adventure: novelist wannabe, faux intellectual, angry, and irrational Morris Bellamy.

The story begins in 1978, when Bellamy, with two of his cohorts in tow, stage a home invasion of renowned author, John Rothstein. In the context of this story, Rothstein is the author of the “Jimmy Gold Trilogy,” a story chronicling the life of the titular character. The first two books show Jimmy making his way in the world; the third shows him settling down and selling out.

The cohorts are after his money, but Bellamy has other things in mind: disappointed with the way Rothstein ended the Jimmy Gold novels, Bellamy wants to confront the author and find out why. In doing so, he kills John Rothstein and thus begins a chain events that takes the reader through Bellamy’s life from being jailed in 1978 up to his parole in 2014.

At least one-third of the novel sets up the background of Rothstein, Bellamy, the manuscripts, the money and how the Mercedes Killer is involved. In the second part of the story, we meet our original characters: Retired detective Kermit “Bill” Hodges and the obsessive, socially awkward Holly, who now run their own business called, “Finders Keepers.”

Following the events of the “Mr. Mercedes,” Hodges has settled into a life of low profile cases of theft, bail jumping and private matters. Hodges also tends visit the near-comatose Brady Hartsfield often. Having been paralyzed by a smack to the head at the end of the pervious book, Hartsfield says and does nothing. However, eerie things seem to be happening around the hospital and it may just be Hodges’ imagination, but that picture does seem to be falling all by itself. But, that is a story for another day, which King expertly weaves into the narrative.

Between vignettes of the exploits of Hodges, Pete Saubers, Bellamy and other characters, King draws the reader into the story. Eventually, the threads of the story begin tying together, primarily through the characters.

Character development is strong, as is typical of King’s other works. Through the course of the story, we learn all about the history, motivations, lives and personalities of these characters. There is Morris Bellamy, the criminal, who buries the money and Rothstein’s notebooks. Then comes along Pete Saubers, the young boy who stumbles upon Bellamy’s hidden treasure and is faced with some interesting decisions.

The connection to the previous book is a bit tenuous here: it is revealed that Pete’s father, Tom was a victim of the Mercedes Killer and became injured as a result of the massacre. This eventually leads to severe marital tension between Tom and his wife, and significant financial troubles for the family. It’s a forgone conclusion for Pete to anonymously give the found money to his parents. Pete then begins to read the manuscripts contained in the notebook and falls in love with English Lit.

Of course, things have a funny way of working out, when Pete’s sister wants to attend a fancy school and Pete tries to find a way to raise money. Pete ends up falling in with the wrong person at the wrong time, which ultimately leads to a rather satisfying climax to the story.

In true King fashion, the prose delivers an understandable, relatable, interesting narrative. King begins in with a third person view, telling the story as it happened. Later, during the parts of the narrative featuring Hodges, Holly and Jerome, he switches to second person, similar to the style of the first book.

Though King is typically pigeon-holed into the horror genre, this book shows off his talents at writing a suspense/thriller. There are humorous elements sprinkled throughout, which match the tone of the previous book and stays consistent with what I’ve come to expect from this series.

This book is just as good as its predecessor, and in some places, much better. I found it compelling, unique, interesting and I simply could not put it down. Unlike some of King’s other stories, this one is brief and has a satisfying conclusion that makes you want to pick up the next one, “End of Watch.”