Schindler’s debut sci-fi novella explores what might happen if the aliens are already here, watching us.
It’s hard for new sci-fi authors to dodge long-established tropes, but Schindler manages it by sketching a one-of-a-kind villain within the first few pages, describing it as “a soft-spoken SpongeBob SquarePants on stilts with football shoulder pads and arms four feet long.” Even with that description, the story’s sci-fi roots aren’t immediately visible, as the main character, Mark, rationalizes his encounter with that villain as a mundane mugging. He puts the event behind him as quickly as possible, focusing instead on his blooming relationship with Beth, an attractive, intelligent student. But when Mark and Beth take their first trip out of town together, they encounter the strange mugger again and must decide whether to trust his claim that it was all one big misunderstanding. This book is a quick, easy read. Once established, the plot moves smoothly, but some facets of the story beg for further development and a more thoughtful timeline. For example, there seems to be almost no separation between the moment Mark and Beth tumble into bed for the first time and their decision to look for an apartment together. Schindler has some enjoyably out-of-the-box ideas; he just hasn’t polished them (Mark was “unable to refrain from reflecting somewhat Magoo’s infectious smile”). He also abruptly switches to lowercase for Mark’s and Beth’s names in some instances, but doesn’t explain why until a fleeting mention in the afterword, so it looks like a recurring typo. A little editorial help would smooth out those anomalies, along with the occasional true typo, and develop this promising novella into its fullest potential.
Rough prose undermines this sci-fi tale and its inimitable villain.