Tangent Online

  • Increase font size
  • Default font size
  • Decrease font size
the genre's premiere review magazine for short SF & Fantasy since 1993

Strange Horizons, June 2011

E-mail Print

Strange Horizons, June 2011

“Peerless” by Karen Munro (June 6, 2011)
“The All-Night Truck Stop Polka Band” by Shaenon K. Garrity (Pt. 1/June 13--Pt. 2/June 20, 2011)

Reviewed by Sherry Decker

“Peerless” by Karen Munro

If one can choose between a show-off profession and a safe profession, it’s wise to play it safe.  Unless, that is, you cannot be what you want to be in either case.  Peerless Pesterton came from a family of flamboyant window washers.

That was Pesterton & Son, window-washing with a flourish, no ladders, aerialist stuff.

But Peerless is not happy with himself, even though he is proud of the quality shine he puts on people’s shoes. Some people call him Hunchy, because of how his back looks beneath his coat. His coat was handmade by his mother to fit the unusual contours of her husband’s back, and later, when Peerless inherited his father’s shoe shine corner, Peerless inherited that coat. The coat holds a clue. The coat conceals something.

Only a few people ever took notice of it, or what was belted down beneath it. Doctor Fessenden, who liked to poke and prod. Who once picked up a stray feather from the ground beneath my feet, studied it, then tucked it in his pocket with a grave look at me.

Peerless has a chance for romance with Maisie, the cross-eyed peanut vendor from the opposite corner.  Maisie makes it clear she’s interested, but Peerless avoids intimacy of any kind, even friendship.  Peerless barely speaks to his own mother, who meets him every day after they both get off work and walk home together.

This story started out hinting at opportunity and a chance for happiness, but halfway through I sensed disaster. Can’t put my finger on the exact moment, but it may have been when Maisie invites Peerless to a church picnic and he says he has to ask his mother first.  I felt Maisie’s disappointment.

We already know Peerless’s father made the choice to leave the window-washing business and go into shoe shining.  

My dad was below with the pails and sponges. He watched his dad go through a newsstand and break open on the pavement.

Shining, you can’t fall off of anything.

You can, if you decide to.  I’m uncertain what happened to Peerless.  Did he fall or did he fly?  Read it yourself and decide.  

I enjoyed the writing style, the characters, the build-up and the curious ending. A definite thumbs up.

“The All-Night Truck Stop Polka Band” by Shaenon K. Garrity

Ever listen to UFO experts on television and shake your head? To me it seems, their expertise leaves them in dire need of defense, because . . . well, I mean . . . who really knows when it comes to UFOs. Those experts seem so childish. I’m embarrassed for them.  So, here we have a lazy, beer-guzzling, four-member band claiming to be victims of an alien abduction. The band’s motives are honorable but their methods are comical. They’re going to save the world from exploding and there isn’t much time. There never is.

Thirteen years earlier, Ari used to be the band’s one and only roadie.  Now, she is thirty-one years old with a decent job, her own apartment and a full refrigerator – all the things the band seems to need. One thing that gives credibility to the band’s bizarre claims, is they don’t seem to have aged or matured in the last thirteen years.  But, they were bestowed with supernatural gifts by the aliens, they say.  One claims to have received Super Voice, which we never hear, of course. One has received a most dubious hyperintelligence – never proven.  One of them has the Third Eye (visions) and one can breathe under water, a talent wasted in this story.  For the most part the band members lie around Ari’s apartment and empty her refrigerator.  When Ari mentions she could use some help with the shopping and bills, the band chips in for a dozen Krispy Kreme doughnuts.  

The All-Night Truck Stop Polka Band clearly felt that it had done its duty.

Just when you think Ari is going to snap out of her trip down Nostalgia Lane and kick the band’s collective butt out on the street, she is visited by a UPS delivery man.  First, he rings her doorbell.

Ari had her hand on the knob before she remembered that her apartment didn’t have a doorbell.

Someone had clearly put a lot of work into the uniform, but it was the wrong shade of brown and some of the insignias read PSU. He had two lobes on each ear, which was probably another mistake.

That’d be my guess. The UPS man says,

"What you have to understand, ma’am, is that they’re unbalanced. Mentally unbalanced. You can tell, can’t you? All those wild stories about being abducted by UFO people who want to blow up the Earth?”

The ongoing conversation Ari has with the UPS man is probably the most amusing part of this story – and there were several amusing parts.  

By the end of this tale, Ari is missing work and enlisting herself in the all-out effort to keep the aliens from blowing up the earth.

Clever.  I enjoyed it.