Unidentified Funny Objects, science fiction and fantasy’s first and only annual humor anthology series, is back for a fifth year. Like the previous volumes, this year’s selection includes a mix of stories by well-known authors in addition to some newer names. Seven authors are repeat offenders, having had stories appear in earlier UFO anthologies, and a couple of them continue series exclusive to UFO. Also returning are artists Tomasz Maronski and Barry Munden, providing the cover art and internal illustrations (respectively).
About half the stories fall under the science fiction genre (broadly interpreted). The other half are mostly fantasy. The overall quality of the writing is solid, as it has been throughout the UFO series, although obviously it varies from story to story. For returning readers, this means that if you enjoyed the previous volumes, UFO 5 should not disappoint.
One change in this year’s anthology is that all the stories are original new works. Past volumes usually included two reprints. Editor Alex Shvartsman hopes to stick to the all-original format going forward. A total of eighteen stories are included in UFO 5. As is my custom, the following story descriptions are relatively spoiler free:
“My Enemy, the Unicorn” by Bill Ferris – Chad, a Peruvian chullachaqui (mythical shapeshifting forest creature) at the Jacksonville Zoo, has been depressed ever since he was forced to share his enclosure with a Unicorn who hogs the limelight. A delightful introduction to chullachaqui if you don’t know what they are (I didn’t).
“The Trouble With Hairy” by David Gerrold – Despite similarities in the title, this story has nothing to do with Gerrold’s “The Trouble with Tribbles” or Hitchcock’s “The Trouble with Harry.” Instead, it has everything to do with a brilliant idea (in theory) to fix Los Angeles’ chronic traffic problems. It takes a while to get going, but the payoff is worth it.
“B.U.M.P. in the Knight” by Esther Friesner – A unique and funny spin on the oft-told “knight saves damsel in distress from dragon” story. This is Friesner’s third UFO contribution.
“If I Could Give this Time Machine Zero Stars, I Would” by James Wesley Rogers – Told as a series of Amazon-like product reviews of a time machine. Explores the hazards of time travel, including a tip of the hat to Bradbury’s “A Sound of Thunder.” Unfortunately, the story does not add anything new to the multitude of already existing time travel stories.
“The Π Files” by Laura Resnick – Spoofing of TV shows and movies comes rapid fire as agents Mully and Scalder (x-files) visit Casablanca (movie) to investigate a UFO sighting and encounter characters like Hal (2001), Doctor What (Doctor Who), Duke Startrotter (Star Wars), and Captain James T. Quirk (Star Trek). If you have never seen any of these shows, then the story might not work for you, but then you probably also live on another planet and so might have difficulty having the book shipped to you.
“Prophet Margins” by Zach Shephard – A prognosticator whose method involves reading shards of broken glass seeks prophetic advice on how to make a marriage proposal. He is helped by a woman who divines the future by reading facial reactions to the bad jokes she tells. Funny, romantic, and a good excuse for some groan inducing jokes. Shephard’s third appearance in the UFO anthologies.
“The Deliverable” by Shaenon K. Garrity – Told in a series of inter-office emails at a software company trying to deliver a killer app for finding cold-brew coffee shops. Perfectly nails some of the quirks of the people and policies found at software startups, then goes science fictional in a way that I can’t even hint at without spoiling it.
“The Mayoral Stakes” by Mike Resnick – A bookie tries to figure out what line to offer on the coming mayoral election between rotten choices. His personal mage, whose office is the men’s room at a tavern, is not much help. Then a write-in candidate threatens to upset the applecart. Part of the fun is having everything political couched in the language of gambling. Resnick is one of two writers to have a story in all five UFO volumes.
“Rude Mechanicals” by Jody Lynn Nye – Fifth story in the Dena Malone series about a pregnant homicide detective with a worm-like alien implanted in her peritoneum. This time a murder victim’s remains have been arranged as a work of art in a glass display and the crime scene has been scrubbed clean before the police arrive. The only witnesses to the crime are household AIs that are rude and uncooperative. Along with Mike Resnick, Nye is the only other writer to have a story in all five UFO volumes, and in Nye’s case, all of them are part of an ongoing series exclusive to UFO.
“Kaylee the Huntress” by Tim Pratt – A disagreeable beauty queen accidentally kills the mythic Huntsman and is forced to take his place in the hunt. But she has her own ideas about how and what to hunt. Another good one from Pratt (his fourth UFO story).
“Best Chef Season Three: Tau Cetie” by Caroline M. Yoachim – A woman competes in a reality TV cooking show run by Tau Cetians who have conquered and destroyed earth’s civilization. The show’s judge is essentially Morbo from Futurama in all but name. This one didn’t really work for me, but then I have never watched a TV cooking show and so might have missed some of the intended humor. This is Yoachim’s third UFO appearance.
“Won’t You Please Give One of These Species-Planets a Second Chance?” by Nathan Hillstrom – Aliens put Earth in a cage and then ask the UN Secretary-General, “Where is your owner?” Finding none, they put humanity up for adoption. Whether the author intended it or not, this works fine as a satire of the Humane Society and human-pet relations in general.
“Fantastic Coverage” by Mitchell Shanklin – An insurance claim agent for a company that insures against damages from magic and magical creatures uses every possible loophole to deny client claims in order to get a promotion.
“Mistaken Identity” by Daniel J. Davis – An innocent assistant district attorney is hounded by Night Mallard, a superhero in a duck costume, who thinks he is involved in something nefarious. But the more the assistant DA tries to clear up this case of mistaken identity, the worse things get. One of my favorites in the anthology.
“Customer Service Hobgoblin” by Paul R. Hardy – Robin Goodfellow, aka Puck, once a major mythical figure, is down on his luck and forced to work in Heaven’s call center handling prayer requests. But his natural mischievousness gets him into trouble. This is Hardy’s first professionally published short story.
“The Lesser of Two Evils” by Shane Halbach – A man working in technical support gets transferred to the server room where his only responsibility is to make sure that a captive demon does not escape. The demon turns out to be an attractive woman.
“Appointment at Titlanitza” by Fred Stesney – A noir crime story based in Mexico during the Eisenhower administration and the cold war space race. A private detective is hired by a Mexican astronaut who thinks his ex-wife is trying to kill him.
“The Problem With Poofs” by Gini Koch – The story picks up where “Support Your Local Alien” in UFO 4 left off, though readers need not have read the previous story to enjoy this one. Captain Jeanette Thompson-Manning is now sheriff of a space outpost that has several problems, including a serious space cockroach infestation, frequent explosions, and a rapidly expanding poof population. This is the UFO 5 cover art story and Koch’s third appearance in the UFO anthologies.
With Unidentified Funny Objects 5, editor Alex Shvartsman has put together yet another successful humor anthology, a feat I hope he continues to replicate for many years to come. UFO 5 is available in trade paper and digital formats from UFO Publishing.