Short Story Title: Black Friday – A Tor.com Original
Author: Alex Irvine
Publication Date: May 30, 2018
Indie Athenaeum Rating: 5 out of 5 Stars
The Mugs family stands ready to go. Caleb and his three children, ages twelve to fifteen, have a battle plan: grab limited-edition sports apparel, skates, and the latest reality gaming console with a virtual reality headset. They are ready to compete in the annual Black Friday Celebration!
This event is described as a “must-see TV, a festive patriotic commemoration and a sporting event and a holiday all wrapped in one.” Even though this competition takes place in the big Greenleaf Crossing Galleria mall, this is not your usual shopping event.
Armed with weapons, a strategy to maximize procuring the cool gifts, and knowledge of the other teams, their lives are on the line! As firefights rage and teams try to collect what’s on their wish lists, can they win?
But they’re a well-trained team, having competed in the previous eleven Celebrations. They’ve gained celebrity status based on their successful performance in previous competitions and for other mysterious reasons that eventually become clear. Will they succeed in their plan and escape with their lives?
This is a well thought out competition, with no limits on killing your competitors, puzzles to solve, and even loot caches hiding big prizes. But to win, you must complete your objectives and get out safely. All teams are made up of different families and their children, fighting for the best goods and for their own survival.
It’s a suspenseful, action-packed short story with an ending you will not see coming. I found myself sucked into the competition while still being horrified at the thought of children armed with guns shooting at me. The origin of this celebration is also surprising, having much relevance to the story.
On another level, this story is quite satirical, providing sly commentary about consumerism and holiday shopping. Featuring ferocious violence and demonstrating how society can change with the lack of gun control, it’s a Black Friday extravaganza like you’ve never seen.
It also pokes fun at reality shows and sporting events with their commentators, remarking on the state of the competition live as it plays out. It’s a popular event with millions of viewers, televised on YouTube with drones and cameras strategically placed throughout the entire mall.
But if you don’t care about the characters, it’s hard to invest in the story. That’s not a problem here. In this tale, the meaning of Black Friday is all about family and taking care of them. Caleb adheres to that code and has imbued that in his family.
Marred by a family tragedy dating back years ago, Caleb nevertheless is a man of ideals. While some teams are in it for the bloodlust, others are in it for revenge and will stop at nothing to win. Including flouting the rules. To Caleb, it not about the killing. He feels for each kill and wound he inflicts, regretting them all. This makes him an unusual protagonist for this kind of story, and I kept rooting for the Mugs to win as a result.
To set the mood, I also read this short story with Christmas music in the background. Just like it would be if I were doing Black Friday shopping in a mall with the sounds of Christmas music being piped in through the speakers. It enhanced the story and added a certain level of surrealness to the tale.
Overall, it’s an intense and enveloping short story that has a ton of heart, a strong sense of family, and consumerism that’s over the top.
Please note I read this short story on Tor.com where it was originally published.
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