Palindromic by Peter Crowther
Section: Mazes and Traps
Genre: Science Fiction
Rating: 4/5 Rating
Try to wrap your brain around this one
About the author:
Peter Crowther is a British journalist, short-story writer, novelist, editor, publisher, and anthologist. The founder of PS Publishing, he is also there recipient of the World Fantasy Award, the HWA Bram Stoker Award, and the British Fantasy Award. His work has been widely translated, and his short stories have been adapted for television on both sides of the Atlantic and collected in several collections. “Palindromic” was first published in the anthology First Contact, edited by Martin H. Greenberg and Larry Segriff, in 1997.
This story is going to stretch your brain. I mean, this one even gave me a headache trying to figure out! But I was loving it! Finally a story where I had to get there gears turning to analyzes the time line. The narrative voice was unique, and plot was okay, but it was the time-travel that made the story me.
Derby McLeod and his two good friends, Jimmy-James Bannister and Ed Brewster, are hanging out with some other friends and locals at Ma Chetton’s restaurant, when what sounds like a giant firecracker goes off! Outside, across the street, lands what can be can only be called a “U.F.O”. This U.F.O is not the frisbee you are accustomed to in movies, and nor are it’s inhabitant of the tall, green, and large-eyed kind; they are alien.
As they go to approach them though, the aliens turn their backs; and when they leave, that is when the aliens turn around. They cannot seem to communicate with them by any means but they seems friendly (and also seems to have the ability to read humans minds). What is most mysterious though is this foam substance that one of these tentacle/jelly-fish like aliens keeps taking out a box and consuming(?) as the days go on. Jimmy-James, who is getting his masters at Princeton in language and applied maths, wants to get his hands on this box, to decipher what it is and what the aliens true reason for visiting Earth is.
This told is from the first-person perspective of Derby, somewhere in the 1960’s. This means that both the narrative voice, and dialogs, all have some hints of dialects and idioms of the time-period. What made the narration unique though, was Crowther’s prose: he like to use grammar and make fancy sentences. I.e., he uses a lost of dashes (-), colons (:), semi-colons (;), and periods (…), in each sentence.
“… into the far corner as I recall… all the other pockets being covered by Ed’ Brewster’s stripes: funny how you remember details like that – and he stood up ramrod tall…”
“… group of smaller vegetable things – smaller by still twice the size of Jimmy-James… and, at almost six-four, JJ is not a small – came sliding down the platform onto terra firms… and into the heart of Forest Plains.”
As you can see from those example, Crowther’s likes to break off, mid-sentence, into brief side-notes and tangents. I know I can be a bit of a comma-whore myself, but because of all the grammar, it can get a little confusing when reading a sentence, noticing when the side note start and finishes, and a couple of times, it was hard to remember what the subject of the sentence was, because the tangent went on too long/off track too much.
Despite all the aliens coming down, and the time-travel theory present here (I’ll get to that soon), I did NOT believe the people’s reactions to the aliens. There was ZERO panic. Aliens just walking around town, and no one has decided to shot a gun or chuck a rock at them? No one has a major freak-out of this event? Even when a invisible, cell-membrane-like dome appears around the town, the people do not panic. That was entirely too unbelievable too me. What did save the story for me, was not the plot – which is the basic first-encounter, what do the aliens want – but the time-travel!
The title of the short is “Palindromic”. “Palindromic” is a word, phrase, number, or other sequence of characters which reads the same backward or forward. As much as I wish, wish, wish(!) I could tell you what Jimmy-James’s theory about the time-travel is, it would completely ruin the story; and to discuss it the in the “Spoilerific Speculations” would taken eons to write and to sort my thoughts out. But, it does have to do with relativity and palindromic 😉
When JJ finally revealed what his theory was about with aliens, I basically had a brain-explosion. And it was hard, super-difficult trying to figure out how it could be possible, and if it was, wether or not what was happening made sense. And after 30 minutes of brain-storming during and after the story, I am still not positive if Crowther’s time-line adds up. The only thing stopping me from saying no, is that he does not claim that time runs in a straight-line (like a railroad’s track), but that there may be multiple-demissions, or different time-progressions… Look, it’s confusing as anything, but I loved it, and brought up a few questions on fate and pre-destination.
Spolierific Speculations: (Highlight to read)
If your comments contains a spoiler, please type “SPOILER:” at the start of your comment to alert fellow readers and comments. Thanks!
If you are like me, and enjoy time-travel that will make you sweat with a headache trying to add things up, this story is totally for you; if you are not, then you can still read this one, and accept JJ at his word, and be amazed at the possibilities of this. Either way, this is a story I believe sci-fi fans would enjoy.
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See you next Thursday for Augusta Prima by Karin Tidbeck