"You Gotta Believe Me!" That is the name of the short story I'll be reading today. It's also a notion that is pretty common in Goosebumps. Kids are seldom believed when things go wrong in R.L. Stineland. Mummy comes alive? Weird green ooze running amuck? Garden gnomes come to life? Parents never believe it. I don't have any idea what this story is actually about... but I'm sure it's pretty unbelievable. See what I did there? Anyway, time to read.
Stanley is a relatively normal kid but his parents are weirdo hippies. This means he doesn't have a TV in his house, which can cramp a kid's style quite a bit. Especially when you consider this is the 90s so he also has no smartphone, tablet, or likely even a computer. To "make up" for this, his parents bought him a nice telescope to look at the stars. It's not just stars up there though. He frequently sees lots of movement in lights. Sure some are satellites and what have you but some... some are genuine UFOs. Problem is, no one believes him.
Late one hot night a crack of lightning roused Stanley. Then another light, except this time it wasn't lightning. Armed with his telescope he determines the light to be a flying saucer. It was hanging over Mr. Tribble's (Star Trek reference in that name?) corn field. The spaceship flew away but Stanley just had to check things out. Trouble is that Mr. Tribble is the "angry run kids off his property with a pitchfork" kind of guy. Oh well, it'll be fine. At the cornfield Stanley spots some crop circles. Amazing! He also spots Mr. Tribble with his trademark pitchfork. Drat. A wise time to call it a night and run home.
Now naturally no one believed his tale. Even his friends wanted to humor him they sure weren't gonna risk a pitch forkin' going to check things out for themselves. Stanley had a plan though. His dad owned a camera. Photoshop isn't even really a thing yet, they'd have to believe photographic evidence!
The next night he scoped things out while Mr. Tribble was distracted watching TV. Once again the alien spaceship landed, but this time Stanley was there to see it. Actual aliens emerged from the craft, strange beings with tentacles, claws, and many legs. Oddly, they spoke english. Odder still, they felt the need to explain their plan for world conquest outloud where a human could hear. It seems that they have been receiving television transmissions from earth for years. They have been imputing subliminal messaging into TV programs for years, and tomorrow their final message to earth will secure its defeat. Stanley's hippy parents are right, television IS the downfall of civilization!
An errant sneeze betrays the boy's presence to the aliens. His punishment? The aliens make him watch TV aboard their ship. They seem to think it will sap his will or something, but it doesn't really have any effect. He plays along though, and they let him go after 3 hours in front of the boob tube.
Free now to defend his country, he'll have to stop the aliens by himself as no one believes his tale. The plan? Aluminum foil. LOTS of Aluminum foil. He borrows money from friends, buys out the grocery store's full stock of it, and even steals his brother's foil ball. This all has a purpose though. No it's not tin foil hats for the entire population. He makes a giant shield to repel the broadcast the alien ship will make. The damn thing actually works too. The aliens fly away, thwarted.
Once again, no one even believes he saved the entire world. Problem is, they could always try it again. In fact, look, hey, there is a flying saucer! If only some one would believe him.
This story may not stray terrible far from the familiar territory of Goosebumps but it did something I really enjoyed. It played with the format a bit. A lot of the story was him pleading his case, and wishing to be taken seriously. It pushed that aspect of a Goosebumps story to an extreme that made it stand out. Now clearly they couldn't and shouldn't do that with every story, but to make one feel unique it works pretty well.
Beyond that, it also doesn't exist as a story purely for a twist. In fact there really wasn't much of a twist in this story. The last little "stinger twist" at the end was merely that the aliens have returned. Even this was used primarily to further express how Stanley is never taken seriously.
Now if there are any flaws (and there are of course) I would say it is primarily in the plan of the aliens and the thwarting of that plan. TV being used for the purposes of world conquest is a fun idea. The whole "ruins your intelligence" thing kind of works. But it doesn't really come across as a convincing threat. If they used their plan elaboration to explain just a little bit more how it would work, I think it could have instilled some genuine concern (at least a little.) And Stanley's plan to use foil? It comes out of nowhere. It's not a half baked enough plan to be truly funny, nor is it a smart enough plan to actually make sense.
Goosebumps villains continually come across as underwhelming because they are so inept and foiled so easily. I mean sure you don't want to make your story too darn scary for 9 year olds. It would help them to be taken seriously as a threat though if it took something more elaborate as "a bunch of tin foil" to stop planet conquering aliens. Or you could make the aliens come across as horribly mean and nasty BUT horribly stupid to a funny degree and that might work. As things are, it is just a little unsatisfying.
Still, these gripes I have are generally kind of gripes that could be applied to any number of Goosebumps books. The positives I have for this book, mainly that it feels a little bit different in a vast sea of Goosebumps sameness just help make this stand out a little in the pile of 30 stories I'm reading.
My rating: 3 aliens out of 5
Well, I am starting to get a little tired of writing these reviews but alas I'm only halfway in. Perhaps tomorrow's story called "Suckers" will reinvigorate me. I do like suckers, especially tootsie pops. I used to like blow pops quite a bit but somehow I now feel like I'm "too old" for them. Then again, I do run a blog where I regularly read Goosebumps books so am I really too old for anything? Probably not. Oh well, check back tomorrow and see what "Suckers" is all about.