“Sweets from a Stranger”

Sweets from a Stranger coverSo 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.

Reading Nicholas Fisk

Sweets from a Stranger coverOver the past few weeks, I’ve been reading a lot of books by Nicholas Fisk. It’s one of those projects I’ve always meant to get around to; with Trillions and A Rag, A Bone and a Hank of Hair Fisk was one of my formative sf reading experiences. I’ve always wanted to go back and see how he holds up, and perhaps write an essay about his work. What I hadn’t appreciated, until quite recently, is just how prolific Fisk is. I’ve read nine of his books now, and that only really scratches the surface.

Anyway, book number ten is a short story collection, the only one by Fisk I’ve come across: Sweets from a Stranger, first published in 1982. I’ve decided to blog it story by story this week, as a start on getting my thoughts on his work into some kind of shape.

First up: the title story. There seems to be precious little about any of Fisk’s work online, but “Sweets from a Stranger” has obviously been taught at some point, since googling it brings up this pdf of the full text, which comes complete with questions for discussion. My thoughts later today, when I’m confident I’ve arrived at answers at least as good as the ones a ten year old would come up with.