Wednesday, November 5, 2014

When at First You Don't Succeed

One thing I really enjoy is watching writers grow. I am far quicker to forgive a failed first story or novel than a clunker by an established author, especially if the beginning writer then follows that problematic first work with pieces that show learning and development.

Recently, I blogged about my frustration with serious structural problems in Pierre Comtois's short story "Alan Shepard's Golf Ball." It had so much promise that I felt really frustrated to see it fall short of the mark.

Thus I was happy to discover that his latest science fiction story, The Future that Used to Be. It has much of the same flavor of nostalgia for the futures imagined by classic science fiction such as the early short stories of Robert A. Heinlein, but this time the setting is firmly here on Earth, in American suburbia.

Joey Ixbee is hanging out at a friend's place, watching classic science fiction movies, specifically an alien invasion story. They're watching it on an old-fashioned CRT TV, the kind that doesn't go dark instantly when you turn it off, but instead leaves a little glowing dot in the middle of the screen for a moment before the electron guns cool down entirely. The kind of TV I spent many hours watching when I was a child.

And the friend's mom shoos both of them outside, where they get to play unsupervised -- yet another suggestion that their TV isn't an older model they're still using because it still runs, but that the story is in fact set some decades in the past, when CRT's were still current technology, when most TV's still had vacuum tubes for all the electronics and transistors were still new and rare. No wonder the kids can play around the neighborhood until it's time to head home for supper, if it's set in a time before fear of kidnapping led to a severe restriction on children's freedom to roam and play outside adult-organized activities.

When Joey gets home, his parents have news -- they are expecting a visitor, and want the kids to be on their best behavior. And then we discover that Joey's family aren't ordinary suburban Americans -- they're in fact refugees from another world, one which is more advanced than our own, and which is troubled, such that his parents decided to come to Earth, to the US. They are literally aliens -- Joey was just old enough to remember a little of the technology they used, the flying cars, the crystal dome house, the total-immersion entertainment cap. But Earth has become home for him, so he's not exactly happy about having a family member from the old world, one who may not share their attitudes about coming to Earth and America.

The rest of the story is about how Joey deals with the  prospect of a visitor from a world he left behind, and how bringing back the old memories affects his relationship with his Earth-native friend, who has no idea he is anything but the all-American kid he appears to be. And the ending does suggest that there could be more to the story, although it works as an ending where it is.

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