Explaining Cthulhu to Grandma and Other Stories
by Alex Shvartsman
Review by Carolyn Frank
UFO Publishing Paperback ISBN/ITEM#: 9780988432857
Date: 01 February 2015 List Price $15.99 Amazon US / Amazon UK
Science fiction, fantasy, romance, a bit of horror, Alex Shvartsman has compiled a rollicking cornucopia of his short fiction in the anthology, Explaining Cthulhu to Grandma and Other Stories. The science fiction winds from star ships to time travel, from mysterious aliens to worlds without end. The fantasy flits from pixies to poker-playing robots, from a Kabbalistic hacker to modern-day druids. Diverse aspects of love are vividly portrayed: a father’s loving pride for his son, a lover’s boundless need for their matching complement, a young woman’s love for her community. Although a few stories end on the darker side, the space operas provide a broad canvas for his humor.
In the lead story,” Explaining Cthulhu to Grandma”, Sylvia, the granddaughter of the owner of the oldest magic pawn shop in the world, accepts Cthulu as the basis for a pawn. Her grandmother is both unaware of what Cthulu is as well as unimpressed by its potential to make any money for the shop. But Sylvia perseveres. This story won the 2014 Washington Science Fiction Association’s Small Press Award.
In “Ravages of Time”, Security Chief Jake Turner interviews an off-worlder, a woman whose teen-age son had literally missed the boat after a 45-year earlier mid-flight weeklong stay on this planet. Mrs. Grobinski had completed her trip on the starship but refused to disembark, staying on board to return to this planet as the starship made its way around the settled worlds. The issue is time dilation; for her a year had passed, for her son on the planet nearly half a century had gone by. How to convince her that she should leave her now retirement-aged son behind and go on with her own life?
In “The Tinker Bell Problem”, Herbert is the unwitting captive of a demon, who summoned him believing him to be a magical sorcerer. The demon, Murzivel, wants Herbert to change his real name to something truly powerful. Herbert, being a completely normal human, an accountant, convinces Murzivel that he does not have any magical power. At this point, Herbert’s central problems are that the incantation cannot be reversed and that the pentagram used to summon him and in which he is stuck is steadily shrinking over time. But magic can happen, if someone unconditionally believes in it.
Each of these forty stories brings the reader to an understandable although not-quite-actual place, where life, maybe not quite as we know it, proceeds according to its own internal logic. Although most tales are filled with the humor for which Alex maybe best known, others realistically portray deeper emotions and convictions. With many stories already published in a diverse set of electronic magazines and themed anthologies, this compendium provides an optimal place to enjoy this set of well-crafted, witty and wonderful tales.