Robin Wayne Bailey & Bryan Thomas Schmidt
(Baen, March 2017, tpb, 292 pp.)
“The Fine Art of Politics” by Robin Wayne Bailey
[Editor’s note: I have asked for this review to be split between two reviewers. Michelle Ristuccia reviews the first half of the anthology while Jason McGregor takes a look at the remaining stories.]
Reviewed by Michelle Ristuccia
Little Green Men—Attack! brings readers an entertaining collection of absurdity, hyperbole, and inverted tropes, set everywhere from Oregon to Mars, and all starring aliens that are often green and little.
In “The Little Green Men Take Their Hideous Vengeance, Sort Of” by Mike Resnick, hot-tempered aliens knock on the door of surprised citizen Nelson, who is definitely not the obscure science fiction writer whom they seek to assassinate for slander against their race. Finding that they are in the wrong time and place, the aliens become amenable to Nelson’s wild suggestions of how to best make use of their time on Earth. A tale of bad tempers, cultural misunderstanding, and flippant opportunism.
In “Little (Green) Women” by Kristine Kathryn Rusch, Oregon teen Joanne May Michaels meets arachnid-sized aliens who think they’ve landed in Massachusetts and want directions to the Orchard House, where Louisa May Alcott wrote Little Women. Through the style of an informal essay in which nothing is sacrosanct, readers share in Joanne’s disdain for local laws that tell her she shouldn’t help in her parents’ bar because of her age, and that she should enjoy, of all things, Little Women. Rusch captures teenage cynicism in a way that will have readers questioning—and laughing at—our truly ridiculous universe.
“Good Neighbor Policy” by Dantzel Cherry shows how Texan hospitality and good pie can thwart the most belligerent of little green men, who, on second thought, might not want to rule land already infested by those biological weapons we call fire ants. Cherry’s physical comedy propels alien leader Targ and his crew to the end faster than they can learn to pronounce ‘manipulation.’
“Stuck in Buenos Aires With Bob Dylan On My Mind” by Ken Scholes is a humorous escapist piece with a nostalgic beatnik feel. Scholes’ first-person narrative pulls readers in with a compelling, in medias res opening that efficiently sets the tone while explaining that the protagonist’s space ship is now a guitar. Disguised as a human, our crash-landed alien narrator comes equipped with an encyclopedic knowledge of Buenos Aires—and Bob Dylan’s music—but soon realizes that the Seine river is nowhere near Argentina. Shole entertains with a plethora of timely detail, from the guitar-ship that can’t keep his parts off of Dothari Belt-class Schooners, to the asides in French, to surprisingly soulful depictions of the universal appeal of music for the way it can move musician and audience alike.
In “Rule the World” by Jody Lynn Nye, small, furry, charismatic aliens manipulate Earth into one large fan club on the precipice of signing a so-called Peace Treaty at Central Park. But when genetically engineered Psychic cats meet the alien showmen on a TV show spotlight, the cats set out to convince the public that the aliens are predators and humans their naive prey. Nye depicts cat-like manipulation with an accuracy that straddles morbid and comedic. Nye’s unique premise and detailed execution will appeal to cat lovers and haters alike.
“School Colors” by Seanan McGuire brings readers a classically surreal cheer-off between the Johnson’s Crossing Fighting Pumpkins and the Battling Norgwrathors, of Mallallallal, Betelgeuse. Told in charming first-person by cheerleader Colleen, the narrative off-handedly mentions mole people and vampires before diving into aliens in skirts threatening to blow up Earth as, like, just another episode in Colleen’s zany life.
Fixer Doug Brinks doesn’t know martians exist until Mack interrupts his evening drink in “Meet the Landlord” by Martin L. Shoemaker. When Mack demands back payment for humans’ use of Mars, Doug scrambles to find a legal counterargument for Mack’s outrageous demands. Meanwhile, alien cronies measure Governor Griffin’s office to redecorate it as their own. Set primarily in Helen’s bar, where no one dares tell Helen what they really think of her beer, Shoemaker’s tale of one-upmanship zips along with clever dialogue and running jokes.
In “Big White Men—Attack!” by Steven H Silver, aliens the size of moon dust attempt to deter gargantuan astronauts from carelessly stomping around on the ball of rock they call home. Silver switches between a third person account of astronauts Buzz and Neil and the first person perspective of an alien who finds themselves caught up in an impromptu army aimed against the human invasion. Absurdity builds upon itself in hyperbolic imagery, with a dark hint of fatalism on the periphery.
Local Tennessee yokel Bo interrupts pontificating tractor salesman from the city to tell them that aliens do, indeed, exist in “The Green, Green Men of Home” by Selina Rosen.
Rosen’s dark humor takes a jab at American classism while inverting common assumptions in popular science fiction and alien conspiracy theories.
Michelle Ristuccia enjoys slowing down time in the middle of the night to read and review speculative fiction, because sleeping offspring are the best inspiration and motivation. You can find out more about her other writing projects and geeky obsessions by visiting her blog.
♣ ♣ ♣
Reviewed by Jason McGregor
“A Fine Night For Tea and Bludgeoning” by Beth L. Cato
In 1901, at a summer dance, Miss Rosemary Hardy meets the green-skinned Mr. Elvis Wibbles. It turns out he needs a favor from her and it involves battling her nemesis, Miss Verily Pumpernickel, in that most improper way to which they have become accustomed.
At first, I thought this would be a silly story that I wouldn’t enjoy but it became still sillier and I did mildly enjoy it though it’s not particularly great and is much more interested in its fractured Victoriana than its green men.
“The Game-a-holic’s Guide to Life, Love, and Ruling the World” by Peter J. Wacks & Josh Vogt
Merrily, merrily, merrily, life is but a game. A gaming addict is at a Game-a-holics meeting when he thinks he’s hallucinating but it turns out that everything really is a video game and an alien, on a mission to grab a great treasure, is trying to control him.
This tries very hard to be funny and creates a very stereotypical character in a very hackneyed setting but its energy and sardonic tone may work for some, especially if they haven’t read many of the other similar stories or seen very many Futurama episodes.
“Day of The Bookworm” by Allen M. Steele
One day, when a couple of librarians are down in a private room checking each other out, the aliens arrive. Outside, the government and military are going hysterical around the supposedly evacuated library. Inside, first contact is happening.
This is a tricky story to review. It is lightly funny, yet tells a serious tale, and is interesting and has several memorable and imaginative events/images. On the other hand, the story is constructed “as luck would have it” (which the story says once and which it uses several times, and in which “luck” means “the author”) and it does either odd or forced things such as having the aliens land in Boston (our setting), New York, and London (rather than just at the Library of Congress for the US and maybe Canberra for a third site) and having them be familiar with only alien invasion movies and not any peaceful first-contact movies and having them, for some reason, provisionally assume as true something which flies in the face of every bit of their interstellar historical knowledge. Further, it’s a bit too overtly didactic and is yet another in the very long line of Steele’s SF stories about SF. Finally, although it’s not necessarily relevant to the story’s quality, I actually question its point: “The idea of one race going to all the trouble to invade another planet lightyears away, for no practical reason that would make it worth the time and effort, is a stupid meme that’s been stuck in our heads for more than a century.” Whenever I hear something like that, I hear an aboriginal person saying, “The idea of one race going to all the trouble to invade another continent oceans away is stupid.” Even if that seems to be comparing continents and worlds in a way similar to “sound barrier/lightspeed barrier” false analogies, we don’t know what technological developments might occur that might have an effect on how much or how little “time and effort” interstellar conquest would take or what needs might drive it. In sum, this story has so many delights that I feel like a curmudgeon for focusing on its many defects but I feel they nearly cancel out. (And I only spend this much time and effort calling this tipped ball because I’m such a fan of Steele when he hits them out of the park and this one has such great stuff it really should have been.)
“A Greener Future” by Elizabeth Moon
When the “Leprechauns” appear on TV as a musical dancing act, they seem very cute and some other things change for the better. Our two protagonists become great fans (along with most everybody else) and, when they’re offered a chance to win a trip to the Jovian colonies to meet the little green men in person, they jump at the chance.
This is a dark story, despite an initial whimsy. Even in that vein it isn’t especially “funny.” I suppose this could be seen as welcome variety in the anthology (which necessarily hits certain motifs repeatedly but does have great variety, considering) but could also be seen as an uneasy fit. The title and some of the “good consumer” messaging seems to be a developing central satirical theme but turns out to be an undeveloped element at worst or misdirection at best. But it is effective at the one thing it ends up trying to do. Mixed, overall.
“A Cuppa, Cuppa Burnin’ Love” by Esther M. Friesner
Two Seattle hipsters are looking for a new place when their old coffee joint is shut down and they stumble into a very strange conspiracy, leading one of them to be drained of his will, among other things. The other friend enters into a conspiracy of his own to try to free the victim.
The editorial headnote to this story says, “Unarguably, Esther Friesner is one of the funniest writers working in the sf/f genre,” and many readers may find it so, but this only produced a few half-smiles. Oddly, this is completely different from the others in making the green beings fantasy creatures rather than aliens, yet it is very similar to the preceding story in the sense of being darker underneath though it tries to make light of it all. It’s also at least the second “kappa” (Japanese river creature) story I’ve read in less than two years. Amazingly, there’s not even an overt kappa/cuppa pun. The title is about the funniest thing to the story (and could be implicitly punny) but is unfulfilled by it, as there is nothing else Elvis-related. The characters are unlikable. The plot climax is played with the net down, suddenly going science fictional out of nowhere besides not being especially convincing despite an entire paragraph of desperate efforts to convince. Basically, this was nicely paced and easy to read but didn’t work for me, though I may be in the minority.
“Little Green Guys” by K.C. Ball
Around 1947, a thief nicknamed “In-And-Out” tells a barkeep a tale, which sometimes results in free drinks. This tale involves little green men appearing on his shoulder and recruiting him for a task.
“In-And-Out smiles. He has a soft spot for anyone or anything the same shade of green as money. His smile fades, though, when he notices both green guys hold tiny silver guns, both pointed at his nose. Cherry-red lights blink on both guns. In-And-Out reads Amazing Stories every month. He knows a ray gun when he sees one.”
The rest of the tale involves the execution of the task—stealing back their stolen flying saucer from a different kind of thief.
This is another frustrating story in that, as in the quote above, this hit me as one of the funnier stories but a deal is made of In-And-Out’s reading of Amazing, yet when they explain about a gizmo they’ve given him to speed him up relative to the rest of the world, he’s “not sure he understands a word of that.” So he must have missed the first issue of Amazing which included H. G. Wells’ “The New Accelerator.” Worse, in this state, the aliens tell him to hit someone “on the chin as hard as you are able.” The guy who’s been hit falls ass over teakettle when, by physics (the exact amount of acceleration isn’t specified, but it’s a lot), the guy’s jaw (and skull) should disintegrate. (I’m not even going to address the anti-grav gizmo and will handwave how it almost immediately “de-explains” a problem that had just been explained regarding why they needed human help at all). But what’s a likely plothole, a little busted physics, and skipped issues among friends? It was otherwise good and, like I say, funny.
“The March Of The Little Green Men” by James E. Gunn
The Little Green Men arrive and a junior State Department official is given the job of dealing with the very polite alien tourists. They enjoy our culture but, despite the official’s frequent requests, refuse to provide any gifts or much information. But they finally do leave one gift of sorts (and a joke).
This has a very peaceful, quiet sort of “conflict” and so is a little lacking in drama but it keeps the reader busy and the penultimate reveal is quite good. The ultimate “reveal” may produce great laughter or groaning or both.
“First Million Contacts” by Bryan Thomas Schmidt & Alex Shvartsman
Little green men arrive and start accosting everyone in a most familiar way (familiar from TV, as well). It’s up to FBI agent Estrada and her slightly cracked friend to decipher the aliens’ protocols.
Amusing enough, but somewhat underwhelming. Also, while this may appeal to some, the nature of the humor coarsens quite a bit.
“The Fine Art of Politics” by Robin Wayne Bailey
Once more, aliens (this time, cat-like) arrive and one lowly person (Air Force Major Thomas Kincaid aka Major Tom) is left to face the invasion after the executive and legislative branches of the US government flee (no word on what the judicial is doing). He takes a rather proactive and undiplomatic approach, seconded by his dog-loving Captain.
While the Major’s description of his cat and the hard-bitten soldiers’ reactions to it were funny and there was a sense of frenetic movement, it didn’t amount to much and, again, the nature of the humor coarsens still further. There were several things in it (whales, cats other than the Major’s, dogs, collateral damage, etc.) that I just didn’t find funny at all, but your mileage may vary.
To sum up my half of the anthology, it’s an odd thing. Except for the reprint of “Hannibal’s Elephants” by Robert Silverberg, there’s nothing in here to truly love as a great work of art or a laugh-riot but about half the stories are at least pleasant and sometimes a little more, while those in the other half sometimes have at least something going for them. For those looking for first contact/alien invasion/comic classics, this is unlikely to satisfy but is likely to suit many who are looking for light entertainment.
More of Jason McGregor‘s reviews can be found on his Featured Futures blog.