CLUBHOUSE: Review: “Dogs vs. Aliens, Grandma Othello, & Shaolin Monks in Space” by Melissa Yuan-Innes

Occasional Biased and Ignorant Reviews reflecting this reader’s opinion.

Dogs vs. Aliens, Grandma Othello, & Shaolin Monks in Space: Imaginative & Inclusive Science Fiction by Melissa Yuan-Innes

Published by Windtree Press, Ontario, Canada, September 2022.

Note: All stories and poems in this collection are by Melissa Yuan-Innes

Hunting and Gathering on Earth — Poem


 Not your usual hunters.


 A whimsical poem, light-hearted and amusing, dealing with the difficulties of predation.

Iron Monk


 Expendable misfits are sent on a space voyage previous attempts by heroes had failed to accomplish.


Two of the misfits (or “traitors” as the Chinese government regards them) are Shaolin Monks. To be precise, a monk and his young acolyte “Little Tiger.” The story opens with a zero gravity Kung Fu lesson which suggests not all human activities are easily transferable to a confined spaceship habitat. To make matters worse, it is revealed that Little Tiger is suffering from a rash which self-medication and meditation have failed to heal. They dare not inform Mission Control. The authorities would insist on termination to prevent the mystery disease from infecting the rest of the crew. What to do?

Since the entire crew consists of malcontents being sent to almost certain death, inspiring cooperation and joint effort is tricky. Especially when some hold Shaolin Monks in contempt. “Iron” Monks indeed. How an “Iron Hand” is achieved convinces me I never want to join. And the ultimate “Iron” practice makes me cringe just thinking about it. The Shaolin Monks are renowned for their “Iron Discipline.” Good for them. I want no part of it.

Which is not to suggest the elements in the above paragraph are meant for serious contemplation. For the monks, yes, but for the reader, no. They are introduced in an offbeat manner which is both humorous and revealing of the characters discussing the matter.

This is what I like most about the story. Characterization is first and foremost, with the context of the premise being explained through small details scattered throughout. No info dumps in this story. Just a gradually dawning awareness of the true nature of the characters and what problems they face. Excellent writing technique.

Cardiopulmonary Arrest


William Hetherington III is dying. He relies on neither his doctors nor his relatives. He trusts only his personal black box.


Melissa is an emergency care doctor. She knows how lives end. Not everyone is a saint on their death bed. Certain individuals, accustomed to manipulating others for the sake of sadistic power, carry on to the very end. In this case, a unique piece of futuristic medical technology is part of William’s final plan. But where he sees final triumph, others see opportunity.

Traditionally, the central drama associated with death is death. But not if the lessons of Machiavelli are applied. Sometimes the flaws in human nature outweigh human mortality. That may be the key to what immortality we possess. Definitely a sophisticated take on what lies beyond popular assumptions. An unexpectedly thought-provoking story. Subtle but powerful.

 Humans ‘n’ Hot Dogs


 An alien is sent to Toronto to study humans in preparation for a planned invasion. He disguises himself as a street-corner hot dog vendor.


 He quickly discovers that Earl, the old guy selling hot dogs at the next corner, is effortlessly retaining his customers of many years standing. A few people try the alien’s dogs, admit they’re good, but claim Earl’s are way better. They never come back. The best he can do is sell hot dogs to people walking their dogs, critters that appreciate his 100% beef product. But what make’s Earl’s hot dogs so special?

It has to be more than brand loyalty, or even loyalty to the somewhat crusty and not-very-approachable Earl. What’s going on? Are humans uniquely perverse and consequently unable to appreciate glib glad-handing? The alien resolves to find out.

A short but humorous story which says much about human nature, and possibly something about aliens.

These Delicate Creatures


 Mem, one of the pioneers of nanotechnology applied to body alteration, is preparing to act in a version of Othello designed to bring down the dictator of her space colony. All of a sudden, she is receiving anonymous warnings to give up acting. Are these death threats?


 There are two themes under examination here. One is the role of art, in this case acting, in resisting authoritarian regimes. Needless to say, very topical for our time.

The other question is the social complications of universal nanotechnology such that we wind up over-controlling the nature of our bodies, perhaps to the extent of reducing our sanity and rendering it impossible to have genuine emotional relationships. Is this the price we will pay for our technological ingenuity?

Nanotechnology is one of the few remaining “Gee Whiz” SF concepts offering all manner of “miracles” such as conquering disease or converting ourselves into cyborgs who don’t require spacesuits to function in the vacuum of space, or so it seems to true believers. Problem is we humans tend to screw up every advancement in science. Remember how early advocates for the internet promised it would end ignorance and make it impossible for totalitarian regimes to exist? What liars they turned out to be.

Point is every general advancement in science transforming our lifestyle has consequences, often positive, but invariably and inevitably negative as well. This story examines the potential effects of nanotechnology living up to its promise. Fortunately for me, it won’t happen in my lifetime. But you youngsters out there, you should read this. It may well have more bearing on your future than you want to believe.



 Young Luna Yu is bored. Nothing ever happens in the Lunar colony except homework and more homework. Now something has crashed on the Moon and the whole colony is on lockdown. Why won’t her parents tell her what is going on?


 One event triggers multiple questions. Is it a natural event or a spaceship crash? If it is a spaceship, is it human or alien? Are there any survivors? Even one survivor poses all sorts of problems. Just how vulnerable is a century-old Lunar colony anyway?

In the old pulp-fiction days, the primary approach to writing about a Lunar colony was to describe how it would be possible, given better technology, to set one up. Oh, there might be a foreign saboteur to add some fisticuff drama, but the sense of wonder came from the basic concept itself. Gosh, wow, a colony on the Moon!

We’re beyond that now. We take the prospect for granted. Of course, it can be done. The only drama is frustration over why it is taking so long. Should have happened by 2001, dang it!

Fact is a colony on the Moon isn’t going to be like Los Vegas miraculously sprouting out of the desert. That simply required highways and rail lines being extended so that everything required could be transported in from well-established factories elsewhere. There is no real equivalent available for construction on the Moon. Capacity will be rationed strictly according to need, and every ounce of material brought to the surface of the Moon will cost a hideous amount of money, itself a limiting factor. One word suffices to describe the first Lunar colony: Spartan.

This story deals in part with the psychological conundrums of living in a community where every human is merely a cog in a complex machine which has to work 100% of the time or else everyone dies. Air goes bad? Can’t step outside for a fresh breath of air. Technology breaks down? There’s no mother nature to come to the rescue or offer respite. It’s man and machine and nothing but. Not quite the utopian paradise some optimists envision.

This story is a sobering reminder that humanity expanding off-world will not be an instant success. Yes, it can be done, at great expense and effort, but colonists will be living on the razor’s edge one step from disaster for many generations. It’s not like expanding from one continent to another. Even Antarctica is an infinitely safer and friendlier environment than Luna or Mars.

The best we can hope for in the foreseeable future are small bases enabling scientists to explore. They better be sane, stable individuals. It will be centuries before Lunar cities will be resource-rich enough to house lunatics like real estate developers or used Moon buggy salesmen.

Heinlein wrote “The Moon is a Harsh Mistress.” It may well be that his title may turn out to be more accurate than he intended. This story explains why.

You, Robot


 Does a robot really know how to incubate a patient?


First of all, this is the most detailed and graphic description of an intubation I’ve ever read. There’s more to it than just sticking a tube down your throat. All you people out there who refuse to wear a mask because “freedom,” I, personally, don’t see anything gung-ho heroic about risking the need to have a machine breathe for me via a tube stuck down my throat into my lungs, but if that is what stirs your sense of wonder, go for it and refuse to wear a mask. I, on the other hand, reserve the right to wear a mask whenever and wherever I deem necessary. That’s my definition of freedom.

But the main point of this story is that, yes, medical science will ultimately produce wonders in terms of extremely sophisticated technology, in this case robot nurses, but economics and human nature will probably dictate it will only be available to the elite. Who knows? Being chronically ill may someday be a badge of egalitarianism, a political statement.

Be that as it may, a doctor’s life is an endless series of ethical judgements. Paradoxically, as medical science improves, ethics seem more and more at play. Maybe because life itself is trending more and more toward triage-style decisions? Hmm. A very thought-provoking story.

Lizardesque – Poem


 Adapting to Earth environment not easy for an alien.


 The poem explores the problem in minute detail from a medical point of view. It is the psychological aspect which I find most fascinating. Yes! Exactly what an alien would think.



 A 15-year-old pregnant mother wants to sell the embryo of her unborn child so that another woman can birth it into a world of family love and a normal life. No doubt routine and nothing to worry about. Right?


 An interesting alternative to abortion requiring only a minor operation on the actual mother. Medical science isn’t quite there yet but probably soon will be. The whole abortion debate goes away. Instead of laws allowing abortion or forcing a young mother to give birth even if underage (I’ve heard it’s possible to get pregnant as young as 13 these days – something to do with excessive hormones in popular food products), young mothers will be able to have the fetus removed at an early, tiny stage and transplanted into the womb of a woman eager to have a child. Problem solved and happiness abounds. Right?

Except reproductive medical science is fraught with fanatical judgements derived from religious and ethical stances that automatically translate into political action. Former Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Elliot Trudeau once famously said “The State has no business in the bedrooms of the nation.” Would that it was so. In fact, sex and its consequences are the one thing most people do want the government to regulate. Either for or against, so to speak.

Once again, Melissa is making the point that progress in medical science will approach the near miraculous, at least by today’s standards, but that human interaction with the new technology will remain tawdry and petty, or at least problematic. Better medical science means more frequent ethical demands on the doctors. In some ways life will get tougher for them.

I am reminded of a simpler time, circa 1780 B.C. in Babylon, where the law code of Hammurabi stated that if a patient died, the attending physician was to have his right hand cut off. Back then doctors routinely assessed patients and, unless they determined for certain they wouldn’t die, refused to treat them. Made for a very efficient medical system. No time or effort wasted on the dying. The very fact your doctor was willing to treat you was excitingly good news, an instant morale boost. Life not so simple nowadays and getting more complex as we progress.

Anyway, the kicker to this story is that the doctor has problems of her own at the cutting edge of both science and ethics. Quite fascinating.

The Smallest Atom in the World


 We die if we run out of pollinators for our food crops. And it seems we are running out. Bees, especially. Why?


 Melissa offers a novel explanation. One for which there is no solution. Oh, well. We had a good run.

Technically, this is more in the realm of fantasy rather science fiction. And yet… and yet… what if it were true? Unlikely. Most would say impossible. And yet…

Incision of Labour – Poem


 What does it mean to be under medical care these days, or to administer it?


 Melissa comments that this poem “was tough to write and even tougher to read.” Indeed. Powerful.

Growing Up Sam


 Life isn’t easy for a human/chimpanzee hybrid. People make all sorts of assumptions.


This story is based on the idea that expanding human populations will remove the habitat for Bonobo chimpanzees and that the only way for them to survive as a viable species is to “improve” them into a race of Primens (short for human-like primates) who are intelligent enough to rationally interact with humans.

The fundamental problem being, of course, that humans aren’t all that rational to begin with. Sam, who it turns out is at least as intelligent as your average person, decides to take the initiative and become exceedingly proactive on behalf of the project which created him and is attempting to create a mate for him so that he can procreate. Even if that fails, they can always create others like him. He wants to be merely the first of a numerous tribe of sentient Primen and demands humans accept their coming into existence. Will he succeed?

Sam as point-of-view protagonist tugs on the reader’s heart strings. Of course, one roots for him. He’s definitely the underdog, or underape as it were.

Yet this is a world which often rationalizes genocide against fellow humans on matters of principle and faith. All that’s required is to convince people that the “enemy” deserve their fate. This is accomplished by stirring up fear and a sense of threat, which leads to hate, which leads to violence. I don’t think it’s psychologically possible for a race of Primen to exist. To be sure, medical science could advance that far, but not the human mind. We barely tolerate our own existence, let alone a separate intelligent species on a par with our own.

Yet, hypothetically, sooner or later we’ll invent such (probably in the form of machine A.I.) or experience first contact with an alien species from some other world. We will finally be face to face with the “other,” a species equal or superior to us that doesn’t depend on us for their continued existence. Could be we might have to do some fast talking to prevent our going extinct. We might wind up like Sam, hoping for the best but unsure of the outcome. There are no guarantees.

in a sense, pondering the implications of this story could well turn out to have a practical application sometime in our future. I dare say most people would be very surprised.


 The title of the book informs the reader to be prepared to be entertained. But there’s so much more to this collection than just entertainment value. Melissa’s own experience as a medical professional permeates and informs almost all the stories and poems with ethical conundrums spawned by our burgeoning technology. True science fiction at its best.

This adds to the entertainment, in that all the implications raised are extremely interesting and intellectually stimulating. Something of a learning experience, in fact. Definitely stirs my sense of wonder. Highly recommended.

Check it out at:  Dogs vs. Aliens






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