So how about those discussion questions? I’m going to take the suggested starting points first, then come back to the main question.
Write a short summary of the story
Girl meets alien; alien tricks girl; girl fails to trick aliens.
Note down what you think the sci-fi elements in the story are
In order: an alien; space travel (imagined technology); another planet; aliens. A nice bag of tropes. Is it a story that could not have happened without its speculative content? I think so; the intended real-world reference is explicit, but without the sf I don’t see how you’d get the reversal of Tina’s position to be so effective.
Draw character profiles of Tina and Talis
Tina: relatively unusually for Fisk, a girl-protagonist. That’s her all solarized on the cover, I think. Less unusually, she’s sharp — knows what story she’s in, at the start; isn’t fazed by the change in scenery; comes up with a proactive plan — but overconfident. “Tina, knowing she was behaving foolishly, went closer to the car.”
Talis: deceptive in appearance and in manner, but not about his true purpose. Everything we seem to learn about him in the first half of the story — his haplessness, his friendliness (his loneliness) — must be a lie for the second half to stick.
Compare the story to other science fiction stories, novels or movies you know
I think that if I worked out what it reminds me of, I would be closer to getting under the skin of the story than I am. It feels old. It feels very different to contemporary YA sf (strictly speaking, it is written for a younger audience). There’s something of Wyndham in the tone; that city of soaring glass towers is how I remember the end of The Chrysalids. There’s something of early-nineties BBC children’s drama (Dark Season, or the adaptation of Archer’s Goon) in the intrusion of core sf tropes into utterly normal British (English) (middle-class) suburbia. I recognise this world.
Therefore (and finally): Do you consider “Sweets from a Stranger” a science fiction story to be taken seriously?
Odd question, isn’t it? A very teacher-ish question. We must be serious. The story certainly wants to be taken seriously; any story so straightforwardly moralistic must want to be taken seriously. I think what allows me to take it seriously is its playfulness: Tina’s knowingness; the matter-of-factness of the journey, or of Tina’s initial escape attempt; the teasing suggestion that it might not give you the moral you’re expecting all along. The last line is perfectly judged, I think.