I love science fiction, and I think by now that’s probably clear. But I’ll also be the first to admit that sometimes science fiction is, well… grim. It’s probably not surprising, given everything going on in the world that science fiction—and most of the genres, honestly—seem to be shifting to grim-dark (hello, DC Cinematic Universe), but I think this trend making me treasure the cute, light, upbeat stories I find all the more. Enter Melissa Yuan-Innes with “Humans ‘n’ Hot Dogs.”
This short story features an alien, ‘Charlie’ in his human guise, who has been given a rather specific mission: he’s to sell hot dogs to humans on that backwater little blue planet and get recordings that his supervisors are going to use to… uh… well, he doesn’t know what the point is, but he’s going to do this, okay? They’ve given him so many advantages (not the least of which is having his human guise look like the tall, tan, lead actor from the ‘Baywatch’ entertainment), and he is not going to fail. Except his cart ends up across the street from another hot dog cart—Earl’s Hot Dogs—and although his dogs are cheaper, and he offers great sauces, and he’s much, much faster than Earl… people prefer Earl’s dogs.
This will not stand, and no matter what it takes, Charlie is going to get to the bottom of this. What follows is one of the silliest, cutest, and whimsical little science fiction stories I’ve read in years, about an alien manipulating human capitalism for hot-dog gains, and a few clever reveals and a dash of social commentary to boot, all in a shiny, upbeat package. I listened to this one as an audio short, and the performer, Rico E. Anderson, put the perfect amount of genuine desire into Charlie’s voice, pushing right to the edge of parody without going too far. The end result? Some well-wanted laughs…and a desire for a hot dog.
I’m lucky enough to have met Melissa Yuan-Inness at a couple of conventions, so I asked her where the notion for this wee tale came from. Here it is:
Stuart McLean, of CBC’s Vinyl Cafe, wrote about loyalty, as illustrated by Ernie the hot dog vendor. My immediate response: “What a great idea! But what if the hot dog vendor was an alien?” Thus was born a story of an alien in Toronto, hawking hot dogs and learning about capitalism vs. friendship on earth.