Skip to main content

New Yorker Fiction Review: "This is an Alert" by Thomas Pierce

Issue: March 30, 2015

Story: "This is an Alert" by Thomas Pierce

Rating: $/Meh

Review: I always love to see another young gun getting some acreage in The New Yorker. Thomas Pierce, author of the short story collection Hall of Small Mammals, is a product of the University of Virginia MFA program, a veteran of NPR, and his work has appeared in The Atlantic, The Paris Review, and Best American Non-Required Reading, among other places.

I also always love read to some good spec fiction; stories set in a somewhat plausible and usually unpleasant near-future. "This is an Alert" tells the story of an afternoon in the life of a family in what could easily be the year 2020 or so, a year in which country-less drones wage war in the skies miles above and, down on earth, people are slaves to an electronic alert system admonishing them to put on their gas masks every few minutes to avoid being gassed by drones fighting overhead. They dutifully obey the alert system...until they don't. But in the end they find out it doesn't even matter; they're on their own.

On the surface, it's a pretty simple "day in the life" type story with all the gimmicky little made-up futuristic details about "snake" drones and "headsocks" and other such things that make spec fiction so fun to read. Digging a little deeper, however, Pierce deals with -- or at least attempts to deal with -- the true nature of Faith, a heavy topic to tackle in three or four thousand words but he makes a decent attempt. The debate, however, is not in the sentences and paragraphs of "This is an Alert"; instead it's a debate the reader has to wage in her own head and in her own time.

Mixed rating here, simply because the story took so long to get interesting. Once we're introduced to
the skewed reality, once the "jig" is up and we've been let in on the conceit, it's best to move the story along as quickly as possible, and in my opinion Pierce waited a little too long to get to that. And by the time the "bomb" gets dropped in this story, it's already too close to the end. The center of gravity should have come earlier, and if it weren't for the fact I had to write about it, I may not have forced myself to push through to the good stuff.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

New Yorker Fiction Review #151: "The Bog Girl" by Karen Russell

From the June 20 issue...

My loyal readers (if there are still any, which I doubt) will know I'm usually not a fan of Magical Realism, which, as you may also know, is Karen Russell's stock in trade. That said, there's nothing I love more than having my antipathy for magical realism shattered by an awesome story like "The Bog Girl."

Briefly, an Irish teenager discovers the body of a young woman who as been buried in a bog for over 2,000 years and begins to date her. What more do you need, right? If I'd read that one-line description somewhere else, and wasn't on a mission to review every New Yorker short story, I doubt I'd have read "The Bog Girl." But maybe I should start doing a George Costanza and do the opposite of everything I think I should do.

Where Russell succeeds here is in two main areas: 1.) Making us really love Cillian, the teenager who falls in love with the bog girl, and 2.) pulling the unbelievable trick making the characters…

Holiday Q&A, Volume 1

These questions come to us from Grace. Thanks for sending your questions!! Answers below:
What is the most thrilling mystery you have read and/or watched?
The Eiger Sanction (book and film) by Trevanian is what's coming to mind. International espionage. Mountain-climbing assassins. Evil albino masterminds. Sex. Not a bad combination. Warning, this is completely a "guy" movie, and the film (feat. Clint Eastwood) is priceless 70s action movie cheese. But in case that's your thing...
What's the deal with Narcos?
Narcos is a Netflix show about the rise and fall (but mostly the fall) of Columbian cocaine kingpin Pablo Escobar. Thus far there are two seasons of 10 episodes each. RIYL: The film Blow, starring Johnny Depp; the book Zombie City, by Thomas Katz; the movie Goodfellas; true crime; anything involving the drug trade. My brief review: Season 1 started out a bit slow and I know a bunch of people who never made it past the first few episodes. Some of the acting is a…

A Piece of Advice I Learned From My Grandfather

My grandfather was one of the most learned men I know. He read widely and voraciously, and not just in the sciences (he was a doctor); he loved politics, philosophy, and great literature as well. Whenever he finished a book he would write his thoughts about the book in the front cover and then sign and date it. To this day every once in a while I will open a book from my bookshelf or my mother's bookshelf, or at one of my family members' homes, and there will be my grandfather's handwriting. He was also a great giver of his books; if you remarked that you liked a particular one or wanted to read it, you were almost sure to take it home with you.

Reading is a very solitary pursuit but my grandfather was not a solitary person. He relished having family and friends around him which is convenient because he was blessed with a lot of both. And he carried out his intellectual life in a very "public" way as well. He was, in some ways, an intellectual evangelist. If he r…