Magic for Martians: 49 Short Fictions by A. W. DeAnnuntis. Los Angeles, CA: Giant Claw, an imprint of What Books Press, 2022. 182 pages. $16.95, Paperback.
From the first sentences of Magic for Martians, a particularly satisfying combination of personality traits shine through; this collection is delightfully strange, fresh, and, somehow, each piece of fanciful short fiction leaves the reader with a bit of unavoidable, poignant truth. DeAnnuntis has mastered the art of fabricating ridiculousness with relevance. These stories satisfy the craving for literature that feels new and current and will surely retain its contemporary feel in future years.
Though the beautiful weirdness of these stories gives them the essence of unfamiliarity, many of the characters within reference character archetypes we have all seen before. But we certainly have never met these characters before. Each story is rooted closely enough to reality to be compatible with our reasonable expectations of logic and meaning, but the realities of the works in this collection veer into unexpected versions of those familiar roots. In “Henry and the King’s Missing Army,” the story plays on the familiarity of a fairytale-variety ruler, but the King’s personal concerns about his missing Army are peculiarly, vulnerably human in nature. DeAnnuntis parades the perceptive and kooky truths of bureaucratic power as a monarch deals with the disappearance of an entire military force, writing, “Such a thing had happened before and reflected poorly on him by marking him an object of humorous disdain for every other king. Anyway, besides a castle and a queen, having an army is the main way any of us know we’re king.”
Like most real human beings, the King, along with the rest of the characters in the collection, has deeply interior personal concerns that engage in conversation with even the most stoic readers’ private issues and insecurities. Even the existential values of nonhuman characters force the reader to contemplate personal shortcomings, egocentrism, authenticity, responsibility, and even larger societal concerns such as bureaucratic institutions and the afterlife.
In “Jake’s Backhoe Never Had a Chance,” a piece of heavy machinery is forced to experience embarrassment and feelings of inadequacy. Early in the story, the narrator explains why Jake’s backhoe was predestined for ineptitude: “That is, his backhoe would never be recognized by its peers for any of those qualities and experiences by which an inanimate object becomes a celebrity. Sort of almost resembling yourself, but more completely.” The backhoe experiences feelings of guilt for the impact of its deficiencies on the humans around it. Here, readers are curiously gifted with the opportunity to connect with a piece of dirt scooping equipment through one of the most common problems a person can have: a self-esteem issue.
Each story in Magic for Martians is the perfect length for an enjoyable and thought-provoking read. With forty-nine pieces of fiction, the works are just long enough to fully explore each new and strange emotional situation without feeling heavy-handed. This collection is astute, imaginative, and incredibly fun to read.
–Meg Sharman, Mid-American Review