The Town Drunk, August 24 & September 7, 2006

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"When Science Fiction Clichés Go Bad" by Jennifer Pelland
"Bugaboo, Electric Blue" by Chandra Renais

I have a deep, abiding love for ’50s science fiction.  There’s something immensely appealing about stories filled with plucky heroines, two fisted heroes, and scientists who conveniently turn up to explain the plot.  I suspect Jennifer Pelland shares my love for them.  Her story, "When Science Fiction Clichés Go Bad," takes three of the most ridiculous clichés (the mating pair, the last people on Earth, and the planet of the Amazon women) and turns them on their head in a way which is consistently surprising and extremely funny.

Pelland uses mostly dialogue to drive the stories along, relying on the reader’s basic familiarity with the plot to fill in the rest.  It works a treat too, especially in her own unique version of the last people on Earth.  Here, the last woman spends decades calmly evading and foiling the last man’s attempts to restart the species.  He thinks they’re Adam and Eve; she just wants to catch up on her reading.  The end result is effortlessly funny with a killer punch line.  Likewise, the Amazon woman story is short, to the point, and huge fun.

However, the star attraction here is Pelland’s unique take on the idea of the mating pair.  Butch and Alix’s patient interaction with their unseen captor is laugh-out-loud funny in at least three places with Pelland’s ear for dialogue really raising this story to the next level.  The banter is unforced, natural, and very funny, and the payoff to why exactly the breeding pair is a non-starter is both utterly logical and beautifully realized.  All in all, this is a great story, packed with energy and wit.

Chandra Renais‘s offering, "Bugaboo, Electric Blue," is very different, but maintains that energy.  Beth is looking after her nieces, Clara and Rachel, when something odd happens.  The odd thing in question looks like a large blue toad, has glowing eyes, and is hiding under the bed.  But of course, it can’t be what it looks like…

It’s easy to write children badly and very hard to do it well, and Renais succeeds.  Renais, like Pelland, has a great ear for dialogue, and the interaction between Beth and her nieces is a pleasure to read. There’s the absolute pragmatism, grounded common sense, and complete inability to notice when something strange is happening that almost every child I’ve met has, as well as a welcome dose of perception.  Anne and Beth get on, but there’s a hint of sibling rivalry which Renais brings to light through the eyes of the children, giving the characters depth and breadth.  Renais’s take on the monster under the bed is both unique and remarkably old-fashioned.  There’s a delicate hint of another world here, one tied to the childhood we all share and yet all see differently.  The resolution, while unsurprising, packs a real emotional punch and manages to be poignant without seeming forced.  More importantly, there’s a final twist that gives the resolution a shot of something darker, something which hides beneath the bed and has claws…

Elegantly written and observed, "Bugaboo, Electric Blue" is a quality piece of writing that brims with confidence and charm.  Along with "When Science Fiction Cliches Go Bad," it’s another strong entry in The Town Drunk‘s run of quality stories.  Recommended.