Review of Small Town Problems by Chris Ritchey

Small Town Problems, from the title, might elicit expectations of a sitcom drama.

In a sense, you would not be entirely wrong. But at its heart, it is a fun, popcorn novel about people running into and responding to trouble, where their innate curiosity plays as big a part as their ingenuity. The characters strike me as realistic and most of their reactions contain various levels of predictability. It is unique among the first contact books I’ve read for containing less menace and more kooky oddities. This type of scenario hearkens back to Galaxy Quest and more Hollywood films than books. While the book is not overly ambitious, the author does inject the plot and style with a lot of personality.

The first ingredient is vivid description, and an intriguing opening. This short novel’s wacky aesthetic can only be compared to low-budget films of alien invasion scenarios. Twilight Zone-esque in execution, the small town atmosphere is pulled off marvelously. I am a big fan of American classic Golden Age of science fiction vibes which fewer books are going for nowadays, even with the success of Netflix shows banking off nostalgia. I picked up tones of Stranger Things, reminding me of ham radio farmers, long empty highways, fields, barns, guns, and aliens. Here are all the familiar trappings equipped with cinematic aplomb. We are given well-paced scenes that entertain and infuse the story with mystery, keeping us turning pages. The traces of humor in the first person perspective are everywhere evident, along with witty dialogue and quirky characters. A treat for conspiracy theorists and soft s-f enthusiasts alike. At its core, it explores the extraordinary alongside the mundane, and is an effective satire on the genre, while also being a spooky look at human relationships when faced with the unknown. I detected a bit of Twin Peaks in the preoccupation with character, the blase acceptance of the supernatural, and the relentless, albeit goofy humor. In the end you are left with an enjoyable and refreshing read. If you enjoy films like Eight Legged Freaks, you will feel right at home in this novel.

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