Reviews

The Universe in Miniature in Miniature by Patrick Somerville

Did you know that Albert Einstein originally used Gedanken experiments to explore his illegal sexual fantasies? No? Neither did I.

According to the book jacket of Patrick Somerville’s excellent short story collection The Universe in Miniature in Miniature, it’s true. It is, apparently, a fun fact. Since these stories have elements of science (groan), did you also know that on August 11, 1960 a 350lb payload became the first object successfully recovered from orbit? If you didn’t, now you do. Feel free to thank me.

Universe in Miniature

This is a collection that defies categorization; it is part science fiction, part fantasy, part contemporary literature. It’s interesting and odd and confusing and funny. I won’t pretend to have understood it in its entirety or to have caught all the connections between the 30 stories. It’s my understanding that all the stories are intertwined in some fashion. While I noticed several of the connections, the most obvious being a victim of violent crime, I’m quite certain I missed a few. I will, at some point, need to read these stories again. This is a good thing.

The novel examines life’s big questions, albeit indirectly. Compassion and understanding are addressed in the short novella “The Machine of Understanding Other People”. How different would the world be if we could be inside the heads of others? Would it be a better place? I’d like to think so. But, then again, maybe not.

She’s never actually known an American. Funny. Just as she’s never actually seen, say, a polar bear. But this specimen of American lives up nicely to her expectations. Blond-haired, blue-eyed, cavalier, obnoxious, drunk. Skeptical, mediocre, twenty pounds overweight. Self-centered, conservative. Not as funny as he thinks.

The timeless ‘Why are we here?’ is addressed in “Confused Aliens”, which is very, very funny and quite possibly my favorite of the bunch.

I suffer from free-floating low-morale, and the last few week have been pretty dark, plenty of gloom-and-doom, bedroom-and-cookies-and-molting time. Pathetic. If I’m really being honest this could easily be the beginning of another full-blown breakdown for me, which would just be fantastic, just great timing, considering everything else that’s going on with outer space and the universe right now, but as Admiral, you’re not about to admit you’re on thin psychological ice to a crew of disparate, idiot extraterrestrials who rely on you for everything.

Other highlights include “The Son” and the story from which the collection takes its title, “The Universe in Miniature in Miniature”. There are less-than-stellar aliens, a former mercenary trying to save his marriage, a briefly kept pet goat, and a Dr. Octagon reference (nicely done, Mr. Somerville). To add to the appeal, the cover art and book jacket design are brilliant – you can turn it into a planetary mobile if you’re so inclined (I wasn’t, but it’s the possibility that counts).

The writing is straightforward, clear, concise, yet never overly simple. Somerville writes female characters quite well, which is always refreshing in science fiction. I was very impressed with The Universe in Miniature in Miniature and would highly recommend it for readers who like their fiction a little different, as it definitely spans genres. I bought this book because I really enjoyed Patrick Somerville’s novel This Bright River. The two books are worlds apart (I just can’t help myself, obviously), yet equally enjoyable. Read The Universe in Miniature in Miniature and then discuss it with me. If you’re feeling up to it, maybe make that mobile. 5/5. It would’ve been a 4.5/5, but the brilliant cover gives it that something extra. If you’re curious about the book and it’s not available at your local library (and you’re hesitant to purchase it, though you should if you find any of the above appealing), you can print out a significantly shorter version of the book here.

Chocolate Chip CookieWhile indulging in cookies is not something I’m wont to do when I completely botch a space mission, thereby eviscerating 17 billion conscious beings, the Admiral might consider it necessary. So I’m recommending the best chocolate chip cookie you’ll ever have. The recipe is a bit daunting, but the best chocolate chip cookie in the world might be worth the added effort.

*This book is part of my personal library and thus my TBR stack shrank by one. That may deserve a cookie.

1/2

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