Strange Horizons, October 19, 2020
Reviewed by Tara Grímravn
For this week, Strange Horizons brings readers a tale by Noah Bogdonoff titled “Ask Not What the Penguin Horde Can Do for You.” This short work of SF tells the story of an apocalyptic future Earth that has lost a vast number of its species due to the carelessness of humans. In various cities across the world, groups of people dress up as these lost species, like penguins. Called “pinguinos,” these pretend-penguins amble down the street dressed in black and white sweatsuits and wearing beaked masks to remind others what has been lost—a display that’s not exactly considered respectable. Our narrator, an unnamed man, is one such pinguino. Society has collapsed, and the government is just a powerless figurehead waiting for the end of humanity. The sky is grey and rumbly, and the trees are dead. People are just waiting to die, including our narrator. Given the horrendous circumstances the world is in, all he can do is navigate what’s left of it as best he can.
In short, Bogdonoff’s story is about life in an apocalyptic world; nothing more, nothing less. This makes it very hard to summarize, as nothing particularly notable happens. The narrative is focused entirely on how the narrator feels about everything from relationships to never having the chance to see a live specimen of the animal he and the others imitate daily. It’s about searching for solace even when facing the end of the world. There’s no real action, no tense or frightening scenes. This tale is all about the human experience. For those who enjoy bleak contemporary drama with an apocalyptic flair, this story will be right up their street. Those looking for something that’s definitively typical SF may not be quite as enthusiastic about it.