Genre: Science Fiction
Rating: 4/5 Rating
The Sienfeld of short stories
About the author:
Eric Schaller’s fiction has appeared in such magazines as Sci Fiction, Postscripts, Shadows & Tall Trees, and Rest, and Fantasy: The Best of the Year. His illustrations can be found in Jeff VanderMeer’s City of Saints and Madmen and Hal Duncan’s An A to Z of the Fantastic City, among others. He is coeditor of The Revelator. This story was first published in Sybil’s Garage #7 in 2010.
It’s like the Sienfeld of short stores: it’s about nothing, but it’s hilarious! I don’t know if this was meant to be funny or a satire, but I took this story as making fun of how lazy people are and how short their attention spans are. This is only 3 1/2 pages long, and the plot is essentially is about a family and their neighbors coming over to watch the TV – but the narrative voice of young boy, and humor of family dynamic, is something that cannot be ignored.
FoTax is going live tonight and it is going to be a big event. Our narrator – a young boy – his mom and dad, grandma and grandpa, little sister Susie and big sister Elizabeth, and Uncle Walt, are all gathered together to watch it. After they finish dinner, they all gather around the TV – which Elizabeth is sure to reminded her to mom to set the receiver to 5 minutes – to watch it. Before the FoTax starts though, the Willards – Pa and Ma and the littles – ask if they can join (because Pa Willard forgot to sign up). As they are all sitting around the TV, finally the clock strikes 6(!), and the screen is still blue…
I know, I know; try to control yourself people. Riveting plot 😛 Like I said, it’s about a group of people around a TV, waiting for this FoTax to come on. However, the strength of this story is not plot (surprise!) but from the stereotypical characters, the dynamic of the narrator’s family, and how genuine and real Schaller made this whole situation feel.
We all have or know an uncle Walt: loud and obvious, but we love him because he’s so dang funny. When we fist meet Uncle Walt, he is cracking jokes to himself, complaining that he has to eat dinner early for the FoTax – or, “Your taxes fo’ nothing” as he likes to say – and is digging his hand in the basket for a warm bun.
We all have or know a big sister Elizabeth: little miss perfect and show-off. She insists on being called Elizabeth, with all four syllables, not Liz or Lizzy. As they set the TV up for FoTax she is sitting right there with the instruction manual in her hands waiting to gives orders, and is the first to notice if something happens.
We all have or know neighbors like the Willards: generic family next door, will generic kids. Pa tries to play off coming over by saying there was a shipping problem, but Ma is quick to call him out that (he forgot to order it), and the twins are, well, just a pair of twins.
What makes all these characters and that family dynamic come to life is the young boy narrator. How he describes his Uncle Walt, you can tell he think’s stupid, but still loves him; you can feel he is completely irritated by his big sister E-liz-a-beth alway wanting to be right by the little remarks he makes; his comments regarding the Willards are so uninterested but also so innocently mean and honest, in the way only a kid can be. I found the narrator to be an incredibly lovable character, and the way he tells this story, was a big reason why I like it.
What about time-travel? This isn’t spoiler, – it’s on page 2 and you should have guessed it by now – but the FoTax is a time-travel program, and with that receiver, it allows them to see into the future! What future is this? Well, if you put a camera behind the whole family on the wall, so the video frame would have the family’s backs and the TV in from on them in it, and fast forward 5 minutes into the future – that’s what the FoTax is apparently. It lets you see 5 minutes into the future; it lets you see 5 minutes into the future of you watching a TV that shows another you 5 minutes into the future watching a third 3 you watching… etc. It’s like two mirrors side by side. The reflection goes on for infinity.
The real humor, and what I thought almost satire, comes in everyone’s reactions to this. (Which is approximately half way down page 2). If you could imagine the initial reactions people would have to this but how bored people would get watching a future of them watching TV, well, that pretty much what it is. But it very very funny to see a group of people meticulously looking at TV to try to find a change i.e. if any of them will stop looking at the TV and get up XD XD And with this cast of family member we have, and the narrator’s voice, it’s GOLDEN XD
Spolierific Speculations: (Highlight to read)
I really wish the Mom hadn’t sat down when she started to fade out. Was that why she fading out? Or did it have something to do with the set up that the sister Elizabeth was talking about – to avoid the blurs.
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How the time-travel works, we don’t know. Can you move this unseen camera filming them to different locations? Does it follow around certain people? Can we get someone else’s broadcast of a different living room? What if we set there receiver to more than 5 minutes back? We don’t know any of these thing. Many holes regarding the actual time-travel. It does kind of answer some questions: like, if you refuse to wave your hand after you see the TV you do it, or if this is even showing them time-traveling and is not just filming them as is 😉
If this story were ever 5 pages long instead of 3, I would have given it 2. There is only so much family bickering you can put in leading up to the FoTax and so much reactions for after it, but I think for what this story is, it was told perfectly. This really should have been plot for Seinfeld – I thought it was just about as funny – I loved how realistic and genuine the whole family and their reactions to everything felt.
And I have to say, I found the ending to be surprisingly touching, with a nice *ba dum tss* too
I must implore you all to read this! Its only 3 pages!
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See you next Thursday for Pale Roses by Michael Moorcock