Humorous science fiction and fantasy can be a bit of a hard sell with certain readers, but certainly not with Alex Shvartsman.
Alex Shvartsman is a writer, anthologist, translator, and game designer from Brooklyn, NY. He’s the winner of the 2014 WSFA Small Press Award for Short Fiction and a two-time finalist (2015 and 2017) for the Canopus Award for Excellence in Interstellar Writing and he has been the editor of the Unidentified Funny Objects annual anthology series of humorous science fiction and fantasy since 2012.
The series is a passion project for Shvartsman. Each anthology includes a mix of headline authors, but Shvartsman always tries to make room for newer authors into the mix.
Unidentified Funny Objects 9 is the newest book of the series and it has only just found its way into print after a successful Kickstarter campaign. The stories range from the strange and bizarre, to the sweet and touching and some are even quite profound, which is not something one would normally expect of humorous SF and Fantasy. Some stories even fall more into the “Unidentified” categories, i.e.: defying categorization.
On the whole, the anthology contains a very high quality of prose. Some are better than others but none of them are disappointing.
THE HERO OF SMALL THINGS by Amanda Saville opens the collection with the absurd image of an Excalibur-like sword suddenly rising from the surface of the narrator’s cup of tea. Despite the silly imagery, the story manages to make a point about champions and what it means to be a saviour.
CHAI NOON by Esther Friesner explores and subverts the Jewish tradition of arranged marriage, as does THE SHADCHEN OF VENUS by Lavie Tidhar. Friesner’s story does so through the lens of a Space Western, while Tidhar’s story has a Noir Mystery as its template. Both stories are highly entertaining.
IF PAGES COULD BLUSH Kyle A. Massa is a very sweet story of a junior librarian who discovers that a copy of the Necronomicon has been misfiled. The junior librarian suspects that it has unspeakable designs on a copy of Alice in Wonderland. He must find it before it wreaks untold havoc on the library’s other books.
THE TIME LOOP DEVICE IS COUNTING DOWN by Beth Goder falls into the “Unidentified” category. The story follows several crew members of a spaceship as it finds itself in the throes of an increasingly bizarre time loop.
CROUCHING SWAN, HIDDEN POLKA by Jim C. Hines takes the mickey out of the superhero genre as his costumed heroes use super powered dance skills to defeat their enemies.
SGT. YETI by Gini Koch tells its story of a secret cabal of Bigfoot type aliens trying to maintain their status Quo on Earth in a series of memos sent from various agents stationed around the planet.
CORY SUCKS by Auston Habershaw was, for me, one of the more outstanding stories of this collection. Ostensibly the story is about a young man trying to navigate his way through high school while also being a vampire. Habershaw does a masterful job of subtly equating vampirism with the condition of being “other” in a sea of sameness. Prejudice from classmates as well as from teachers and counsellors makes Cory’s time in high school an absolute misery. This story illustrates the experience of being different in high school, be it by religious or ethnic background, but turns the whole experience on its head in a very clever way.
OUR MOST SINCERE APOLOGIES TO THE PEOPLE OF BRAZIL by Jane Espenson is another standout. A bizarre and surreal examination of life as an elf in the North Pole, this story tells what happens when Santa unexpectedly dies. Despite the stories absurdities, the underlying emotions of the elves are treated realistically as they go for one last cathartic Christmas ride along with the corpse of their leader.
RIGHT TO REMAIN SILENT by Jody Lynn Nye is another story in the “Unidentified” category. It’s a police procedural about a “silent” disco and some stolen sensitive data. Not all that amusing, but some very wild concepts weaved throughout.
AUNTIE ELSIE’S COMPLEAT GUIDE TO HEARTBREAK by Tim Pratt is an engaging story about a woman recovering from a breakup who takes advice, in the form of an enchanted book, from a modern urban witch.
TROLL BRIDGE by Adam Gaylord is a very short but very funny story about how a nervous troll creates a new bridge concept on his first day on the job.
DO GUMSHOES DREAM OF ELECTRIC SLEEP? By David Vierling is a very strange take on Bladerunner. Much of the humour will go over your head if you’re not familiar with the 1982 film, and even if you are the jokes are hit and miss. The story in the end is worth the effort of reading it.
The last two tales, HELL’S BUREAUCRACY by David Hankins and A CRISIS OF FATE by Zach Shephard are overlong but entertaining nevertheless. Hankin’s story of a demon sent to personally torment a hapless office worker does have the edge over Shephard’s story of a Fatescribe trying to live up to his overblown reputation and fix time, which is stretching out of control. These are probably a couple of the weaker stories, but they are still well worth the read.
As I said, some of the stories are better than others, but the quality of all is outstanding. I would recommend acquiring a copy of this collection however one sees fit to do so, be it electronic or print. These tales are all very much worth the cost of admission.
You can check out Alex Shvartsman’s website at: alexshvartsman.com