MINI AT URES:
The Very Short Fiction of John Scalzi
SUBTERR ANE AN PRESS 2016
Miniatures: The Very Short Fiction of John Scalzi
Copyright © 2016 by John Scalzi.
All rights reserved.
Dust jacket and interior illustrations
Copyright © 2016 by Natalie Metzger.
All rights reserved.
Interior design Copyright © 2016
by Desert Isle Design, LLC.
All rights reserved.
See pages 141-142 for individual story credits.
PO Box 190106
Burton, MI 48519
To everyone who I made read my fiction in high school.
Sorry, folks. I got better at it.
Alien Animal Encounters
Missives from Possible Futures #1:
Alternate History Search Results
Pluto Tells All
Denise Jones, Superbooker
When the Yogurt Took Over
The Other Large Thing
The State of Super Villainy
New Directives for EmployeeManxtse Interactions
To Sue the World
How I Keep Myself Amused on
Long Flights: A Twitter Tale
How I Keep Myself Amused on
Long Flights, Part II: The Gremlining
Life On Earth: Human-Alien Relations
Introduction, or, Let’s Keep This Short
Morning Announcements at the Lucas
Interspecies School for Troubled Youth
Your Smart Appliances Talk About You
Behind Your Back
The AI are Absolutely Positively Without
a Doubt Not Here to End Humanity,
123 Important Holidays on Gronghu
131 Cute Adorable Extortionists
Let’s Keep This Short
’ve often thought that as a fiction writer I have two
natural speeds: Novel length—over 40,000 words,
and usually closer to 100,000 words—and really
short, as in about 2,000 words or less.
It’s not that I can’t write at other lengths; in my
professional fiction life I’ve written short stories, novelettes and novellas, enjoyed them, and have done
just fine with them. What I’m saying is that the easiest
lengths for me, and the ones that I enjoy the most in
terms of the act of writing, are the longest and the
The novels are not here in this collection (I mean,
duh). But a lot of the very shortest are.
In terms of the very shortest lengths, I think my
ease and enjoyment of them comes from two separate sources: Journalism and humor. Before I started
writing fiction I worked for a newspaper, where I was
a film critic and opinion columnist. In both cases,
you didn’t have a whole lot of space to make your
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point—a column was usually eight hundred words,
and reviews were often shorter than that. If you got a
thousand words to write something, that was a luxury.
Fast, punchy and to the point: That was the goal.
I wrote thousands of reviews and dozens of columns
as a newspaperman, and got used writing short.
As for the other source, humor: Well. If drama is a
marathon, humor is a sprint. Get in, make ’em laugh,
There are 18 pieces in the collection, the longest
of which is a whopping 2,296 words long, including
the title; the shortest, just 427 words. The average
piece length is 1,310 words. The forms of the stories—
interviews, memos, even Twitter posts and search
results—have brevity in mind. Nearly all of them are
meant to be funny (one’s not. You’ll know it when
you see it).
Four of the pieces are original to this collection;
they’ve never been printed elsewhere. Other pieces
have been in the archives long enough that this is
probably the first time most humans will see them.
The writing dates for the pieces here range from 1991
to literally this very afternoon. One of these pieces
was nominated for an award. And one of them is
a poem. Finally, I’ll be a published poet! This will
annoy real poets, I’m sure. Sorry, real poets.
In any event: These pieces are meant to be short
and sweet. Hope you enjoy them all. But if there’s one
you don’t like, don’t worry. It’ll be over soon.
April 17, 2016
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This is my first professionally published science fiction story,
which showed up in the Strange Horizons online magazine in
October of 2001. It’s also the very first science fiction story I
ever wrote as an adult; all the ones before this one were written
in high school and I never submitted them anywhere. Strange
Horizons was the first place it was submitted to (because I liked
the magazine and also, they took online submissions), so it was
a nice confidence boost to sell something right out of the gate.
Alien Animal Encounters
By John Scalzi, Staff Writer, Sol System Weekly Report
ach week, we here at SSWR step right outside
of our offices here on 54th and ask folks on the
street our Question of the Week—sometimes
topical, sometimes whimsical, always intriguing. Our
question this week:
What is the most interesting encounter you’ve
ever had with an alien animal species?
Rowenna Morello, Accountant, Staten Island:
That’s gotta be the time we got the cat high
with a glyph. My college roommate worked in the
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xenobiology lab and brought the glyph home one
night in a shoebox. It’s just this little mouse-like
thing, so of course the cat wanted at it right away.
It’s cat-food-sized. We pushed the cat away from it a
couple of times, but then I had to go make a call. I
left the glyph alone in its box on the table, and the
cat hopped up and started poking at the thing with its
paw, you know, poke poke poke.
Thing is, the glyph is a total predator, and it’s got
this mouth that opens up like a little umbrella and
surrounds whatever it’s going to eat. So there’s the cat,
batting at the glyph, and suddenly the glyph lunges
forward, opens its jaws, wraps them around the cat’s
paw, and clamps down hard. It’s trying to eat the cat.
Well, the cat’s freaking out, of course. It’s scooting
backwards, trying frantically to shake this thing off
its paw and wailing, you know, like a cat in heat. My
roommate had to use a Popsicle stick from the trash
to pry the glyph’s mouth open.
The cat ran away and seemed to be pissed off but
okay. Then a half hour later I caught him just staring
at a bookshelf and wobbling back and forth. Seems
that glyphs paralyze their prey with venom; it kills
just about anything on the glyphs’ planet but here
it just makes you hallucinate. It’s a chemistry thing.
After we realized the cat wasn’t going to die, it was
actually pretty funny to watch him bump into walls
and stare at his own paws. Although at one point
he sprinted right towards an open window and my
roommate had to make a lunge to keep him from
jumping out. It was a third-floor walkup. I guess the
cat thought he could fly.
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Alien Animal Encounters
Anyway, the glyph went back to the lab the next
day. The funny thing is that for the next couple of
days, the cat seemed to be looking around to find the
glyph, circling the table and poking into boxes and
stuff. I think he wanted a fix.
Alan Jones-Wynn, Copywriter, Manhattan:
My daughter’s third-grade class was taking a trip
to the Bronx Zoo and it was my turn to be a parent
assistant, so I got the day off from work and helped
her teacher herd a couple dozen kids around the
place, which, if you’ve never done it, is just as aggravating as it sounds. This was around the time that the
zoo was just opening their “Alien Animals” exhibit,
and the place was jam-packed; it actually helped that
we were on an official educational field trip, because
otherwise we probably wouldn’t have been able to
get through the crowds.
We filed through and the tour guide pointed out
all the popular alien animals, like those omads and
the revers and the neyons, right, the ones they make
stuffed-animal toys of to sell at the gift shop. But
then we came to this one habitat and the tour guide
stopped and pointed out what had to have been the
ugliest lump of fur in the whole zoo. She told us that
the lump we were looking at was called a corou,
and that it was an endangered species on Tungsk,
and that the Bronx Zoo and others were trying to
start a captive breeding program. As she was saying this, her eyes were welling up with tears, and
it seemed like she was about to break down right
then and there.
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Well, obviously, this seemed like pretty bizarre
behavior, but then I looked at the corou, and it
swiveled an eye stalk at me, and I swear I was overwhelmed with this wave of sadness and regret that
was so overpowering I can’t even describe it. It’s
like what you’d probably feel if you’d just heard that
a bus carrying everyone you ever knew just went
off a mountain trail in Peru. And it wasn’t just me;
all those kids, who you couldn’t have shut up if you
wired their jaws shut, were all just standing there
silently, staring at the corou and looking like they’d
just seen their dog run over by a car. One of the kids
actually tapped on the glass of the habitat and said
“I’m sorry” to the corou, over and over. We had to literally drag some of the kids away. I mean, I wouldn’t
call it telepathy or mind control, but something was
going on there.
My kid and I went back a couple of years later
and the corou exhibit wasn’t there anymore, and I
was sort of glad—it’s never a good thing to worry
that you’re going to get clinically depressed at the
zoo. At a dinner party a little later I met a vet who
worked at the zoo, and I asked him about the corou.
He said that one zoologist working with the habitat
committed suicide and another was placed on leave
after she took the zoo’s breeding pair, drove them up
to Vermont, and tried to release them into the wild.
She kept telling everyone afterwards that they told
her it was what they wanted. They eventually had to
get rid of the exhibit altogether. I haven’t heard about
the corou since. I think they’re extinct now.
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Alien Animal Encounters
Ted McPeak, Community College Student, Jersey City:
Some friends and me heard that if you smoked the
skin of an aret, you could get monumentally wasted.
So we bought one at a pet store and waited a couple
of weeks until it shed its skin. Then we crumbled up
the dry skin, put it in with some pot, and lit up. We
all got these insane mouth blisters that didn’t go away
for weeks. We all had to eat soup for a month. Though
maybe it wasn’t the skin; the pot could have been bad
or something. We flushed the aret down the toilet after
we got the blisters, though, so we’d have to go buy a
new one to try it out again. I don’t think we’ll bother.
Qa’ Hungran Ongru, Cultural Attaché for Fine Arts
and Literature, Royal Kindran Embassy, Manhattan:
Well, I am myself an alien here, so I suppose you
could say that my most interesting incident with an
alien animal was with one of your animals, a dog.
Shortly after being assigned to the embassy here,
I was given a Shih Tzu by a human friend. I was
delighted, of course. He really was an adorable thing,
and he was very loving and devoted to me. I named
him Fred. I like that name.
As you may know, the male of the Kindra species is a large non-sentient segmented worm which we
females attach across our midriffs during the mating
process; the male stays attached while a four-part fertilization process occurs over several days. It’s not very
romantic by human standards, but obviously it works
well for us. Shortly before one of my ovulatory periods,
I had managed to score a rather significant diplomatic
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coup when I convinced the Guggenheim to tour selections of its collection among the Kindra home planets.
As a reward I was allowed to choose a male from
the oligarchical breeding stock for my next insemination. The one I chose had deep segment ridges and a
nicely mottled scale pattern; again, not something a
human would find attractive, but deeply compelling for
Kindrae. He was attached to me in a brief conjoining
ceremony at the embassy, attended by selected Kindra
and human friends, and then I went home to Fred.
Fred came running to meet me at the door as he
always did, but when he saw the male across my belly,
he skidded across the tiles and then started growling and barking and backing away slowly. I tried to
assure him that everything was okay, but every time
I tried to reach for Fred, he’d back away more. At one
point he snapped at my tendrils. I was surprisingly
hurt; although it seemed silly to want Fred and the
male to “get along” (considering that the male was
doing nothing but lying there), I did want them to
get along. If for no other reason than that the male
would be attached to me for the next week or so. But
for the next few days Fred would have nothing to do
with me. He wouldn’t eat from his bowl until I left the
room. He even peed in my shoes.
On the fourth night of this, I was sleeping when I
suddenly felt a sharp pain in my abdomen; it was the
male, beginning to unhook himself from me. Then I
heard the growling. I snapped on a light, looked down,
and saw Fred attacking the male; he had managed to
get a bite in between two of the male’s ring segments
and punctured an artery. The male was bleeding all
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Alien Animal Encounters
over my bed. If the male managed to completely
detach himself, it would be disastrous—my impregnation cycle was not yet complete, and it would be highly
unlikely after a noble male was attacked in my bed that
I would be entrusted with another ever again. So with
one arm I lodged the male back onto me and struggled
to keep him in place, with another I reached for the
phone to call my doctor, and with the third I scooped
up Fred and tossed him off the bed. He landed up on
the floor with a yelp and limped away, winding up a
perfectly charming incident for all three of us.
I was rushed to the embassy infirmary, where the
male’s injuries were sutured and he was sedated to the
point where he would again willingly reattach himself
to me. By some miracle the fertilization process was
uninterrupted; I was confined to an infirmary bed
for the rest of the process while doctors made sure
everything went as it was supposed to. The ambassador came to visit afterwards and I expressed my
shame at the incident and offered my resignation; she
declined it, and told me that no one blamed me for
what happened, but that it would probably be a good
idea to get rid of Fred.
I did, giving him to a retired human diplomat I
had worked with for many years. I visit them both
frequently, and Fred is always happy to see me. He’s
also always happy to see my daughter. Who is also
named Fred. As I said, I like the name.
Dr. Elliot Morgenthal, Doctor, Stamford:
Oh, God. I worked the ER as an intern right
around the time of that stupid fungdu craze. Here’s
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the thing about fungdu: they’re furry, they’re friendly,
they vibrate when they’re happy, and they have
unusually large toothless mouths. You can see where
this is going. About two or three times a month we’d
get some poor bastard coming in with a fungdu on
What people apparently don’t know about fungdu
is that if they think that what they’ve got in their mouths
is live prey, these little backward-pointing quills emerge
out of their gums to keep whatever they’re trying to
eat from escaping. These dumbasses get it into their
heads to get a hummer from their fungdu, and then
are understandably surprised to discover that their pet
thinks it’s being fed a live hot dog. Out come the quills,
and the next thing you know, there’s some asshole in
the emergency room trying to explain how his erect
penis just happened to fall into the fungdu’s mouth. He
tripped, you see. How inconvenient.
Here’s the truly disgusting thing about this: All
the time this is going on, the fungdu is usually desperately trying to swallow. And that animal has some
truly amazing peristaltic motion. Again, you can see
where this is going. The nurses wouldn’t touch any of
these guys. They told them to clean up after their own
damn selves. Who can blame them.
Bill and Sue Dukes, Plumbing Supplies, Queens:
Bill: There was this one time I was driving through
Texas, and I saw the weirdest fuckin’ thing on the
side of the road. It looked like an armor-plated rabbit
or something. It was just lying there, though. I think
it was dead.
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Author John Scalzi Isbn 9781596068124 File size 2.88MB Year 2016 Pages 144 Language English File format PDF Category Other Book Description: FacebookTwitterGoogle+TumblrDiggMySpaceShare The ex-planet Pluto has a few choice words about being thrown out of the solar system. A listing of alternate histories tells you all the various ways Hitler has died. A lawyer sues an interplanetary union for dangerous working conditions. And four artificial intelligences explain, in increasingly worrying detail, how they plan not to destroy humanity. Welcome to Miniatures: The Very Short Fiction of John Scalzi. These four stories, along with fourteen other pieces, have one thing in common: They’re short, sharp, and to the pointscience fiction in miniature, with none of the stories longer than 2,300 words. But in that short space exist entire universes, absurd situations, and the sort of futuristic humor that propelled Scalzi to a Hugo with his novel Redshirts. Not to mention yogurt taking over the world (as it would). Spanning the years from 1991 to 2016, this collection is a quarter century of Scalzi at his briefest and best, and features four never-before-printed stories, exclusive to this collection: Morning Announcements at the Lucas Interspecies School for Troubled Youth, Your Smart Appliances Talk About You Behind Your Back, Important Holidays on Gronghu and The AI Are Absolutely Positively Without a Doubt Not Here to End Humanity, Honest. Download (2.88MB) Logic Named Joe Geoffrey Brooks Hitlers Terror Weapons: From Doodlebug to Nuclear Warheads Doctor Who Short Trips: A Day in the Life The Winds of Marble Arch and Other Stories The Truth About Our Schools: Exposing the myths, exploring the evidence Load more posts