In “No Time Like the Present,” by Carol Emshwiller, a group of strangers come to a small town or suburb in Washington or Oregon. Everything seems so quotidian, I had time to wonder how this story would be received in a non-SF setting. To an SF reader, the strangers are obviously time travelers. At first, the main thing that sticks out is that they’re all tall and blond. Are they Viking time-travelers? We never find out who they are or why they came. When you realize that they seem to come from a not so distant future, their uniformity is even more creepy.
The main character, a teenager surnamed Smith (we never get her full name), is one of the few to reach out. The general community is, of course, suspicious. Men begin to attack the strangers. It all seems so predictable. And since the narrator escapes barely ruffled, rather safe.
Maybe the story wants to be mystifying and unexplained, but for me it all seemed so vague, I couldn’t really engage with it. So I skimmed Installment Eight in the Torque Control short story club.
I couldn’t help thinking of “Out of All Them Bright Stars“, another story about strangers where the narrator is one of the few to reach out. It’s more moving, but perhaps because the narrator is an adult, she is filled with rage and despair at the end. Both stories leave me wishing for an SF story about xenophobia that’s somewhere in between.