Alien Bootlegger: A Novella by Rebecca Ore

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Alien Bootlegger by Rebecca Ore               

Accepted wisdom runs that first contact will change society forever; whether the aliens are hostile or benign, the world will be unrecognizable as first contact leads us to a golden, Utopian age. Alien Bootlegger by Rebecca Ore takes accepted wisdom and asks one simple, devastating question: What if it’s wrong?

For the inhabitants of Franklin County, first contact comes not on the White House lawn but in the local hardware store. The alien in question, later named Turkemaw or "Turk," is a tourist, one of a number on the planet and under the strict protection of the State Department. What Turk is doing in Franklin County is anyone’s guess, but his presence is quickly reduced to nothing more than a piece of gossip. The alien in town becomes part of the rich oral history of the County and little else. Until, that is, he starts bootlegging. Not only is there a long tradition of illegal alcohol production in Franklin, there’s also a strict hierarchy, and when Turk challenges it, he changes everything.

Ore’s novella neatly renders Turk down to an almost conceptual character, the alien as "Alien," a new element in a town where there’s normally no such thing. Her descriptions of Franklin County are rich and heavy with detail, and she uses this to strong effect to portray the vast net of history that its inhabitants are caught in. Franklin is a place where what your grandfather did has as much effect on you as what you do, a place where history is a blanket that either protects you and lets you know your place in the world or smothers you. The various inhabitants of Franklin all bear this out, from Lilly, a lawyer who ends up representing Turk, to Dennis Despain, the chief bootlegger in the region. Every Franklin County resident is forced to examine their place in the world and how happy they are with it.  Turk’s presence changes not only the bootlegging balance of power, but also their very perceptions of who they are.

Ore cleverly implies that something in Turk’s makeup may drive people slightly mad but it’s interesting to note that the changes that do take place seem to be drawn from the characters’ deepest desires. In this way, Ore uses Turk as a means of breaking her characters down to their most basic elements and then building them back up. He becomes less a character and more an opportunity, a chance for her characters to redefine themselves both in the eyes of the County and the world.

Alien Bootlegger is a supremely clever, elegant piece of writing that uses one of the oldest staples of science fiction in a genuinely new way. It’s intelligent, funny, extremely dark at times, and offers an unusually honest view of personal history and the way that it traps us.

Highly recommended.

Publisher: Aqueduct Press (Volume #9 of the Conversation Pieces series)
Price: $9.00
ISBN: 19335000184

[Editor’s Note: This novella was first published in Alien Bootlegger and Other Stories, Tor, 1993 and also appeared in The Year’s Best Science Fiction: Eleventh Annual Collection, ed. Gardner Dozois, St. Martin’s, 1994]