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Friday, March 19, 2010

"Chimerascope" by Douglas Smith (Reviewed by Liviu Suciu)

Official Douglas Smith Website
Read Excerpts from each Chimerascope story HERE
Order Chimerascope HERE
Read more about Chimerascope at Chizine
Read FBC Review of Impossibilia

INTRODUCTION: 2010 has turned out to be the year of awesome collections so far, with "Chimerascope" the 5th superb such that I read this year and 3rd published in 2010, while the other two have been published in late 2009. I have reviewed "In the Valley of the Kings" by Terrence Holt, "Things We Didn't See Coming" by Steven Amsterdam and "Objects of Worship" by Claude Lalumiere here on FBC and I wrote a detailed mini-review of "A Handful of Pearls" by Beth Bernobich on Goodreads, with a complete review to come here closer to the revised June publication date.

Douglas Smith's debut collection "Impossibilia" which I reviewed last year and which has in the lead story "Bouquet of Flowers in a Vase, by Van Gogh" one of those rare "become a fan for life" pieces, made reading "Chimerascope" a must as soon as I have found out about it. Adding that it has been published by Chi-Zine publications from whom I have read only quality works so far and "Chimerascope" came with the highest expectations for me and it matched them and more with several mind-blowing stories in an ensemble of all-high-level ones.

FORMAT/CLASSIFICATION: Standing at 332 pages, "Chimerascope" contains 16 stories (17 in the special limited signed hardcover edition), mostly
previously published and showcasing the author's versatility. There is an introduction by noted author Julie Czerneda and each story comes with author's notes about how it developed and reactions to it.

The stories range from far-flung sf and time-travel, to fantasy-like landscapes and even towards straight horror, so "Chimerascope" as befits its name is a changeable entity, one that cannot be easily confined into a narrow pattern and will appeal to fans to all kinds of speculative fiction.

ANALYSIS: If there is a theme to such a complex collection, it is "change and adaptability". And while the heroes and heroines of the stories here are confronted by major upheavals and challenges, not all manage to overcome them successfully, or sometimes the price is just too high.

I will present a short discussion story by story, while I recommend to check the excerpt site linked above for a taste of each of the pieces in the collection.

Scream Angel Chimerascope starts with a bang in this powerful adventure tale set in the author "Merged Corporate Entity/Rippers" future, in which the malignant "Corporate Entity" took power on Earth in a post-apocalyptic future and led humanity to the stars, only to exploit and rape all non-human life, sentient or not (IP aka Indigenous People) in the name of profit. Using special combat troops with an innocuous name (Rippers - Relocation of Indigenous People) that are addicted to Scream, a special drug that transforms all powerful emotions into highs , allowing the addicts to kill, torture or be abused, beaten by their superiors with a smile on the face so to speak, to exterminate or
at best imprison and use the natives, The Entity seems to have an unassailable hold on humanity. But one RIP Force officer who develops a friendship with the strange aliens providing Scream may prove otherwise. A dark and powerful story with a first line that sets the tone for what is to come:
"They stopped beating Trelayne when they saw that he enjoyed it." (A++)

The Red Bird Changing style and tone from the dark tale of the Rippers above, we move here to a mythical fantasy-like medieval Japan, a strange temple and the
even stranger bird from the title. Young Asai becomes the last warrior of the "Red Bird", but when the local warlord decides to sacrifice a whole village to get the secret of the temple, what will he do?
Powerful, moving and not quite predictable (A+)

By Her Hand, She Draws You Down This is a straight-out horror story about a painter who is compelled to draw people to feed a dark hunger in herself; her companion/lover fears he will be next. Well done and with a nice twist though farther
than usual from my sensibilities. (A)

New Year’s Eve A Y2K bug story based on the author's industry experiences and with overtones of Casablanca of all things, this story worked less well for me and it's more conventional. (B-)

The Boys Are Back in Town A partly funny, partly dark story in which various gods from several pantheons are "back in town", mostly enjoying themselves in a pub. Paulo narrates with Dino as main companion - I leave to the reader to figure out who are the two - I enjoyed this one a lot; one of the most "pure entertainment" tales of the collection, though it has its dark parts too. (A)

State of Disorder Another core story of the collection, this one involves time-travel, revenge and as nasty a villain as it gets on a personal scale. A chilling story of three dinners in the same place and time and a very satisfying ending made this another A++ story for me.

Nothing A short, more experimental story on the horror side, I did not really care for this one though it works as a mood piece. (B-)

Symphony A strong sfnal story about a "sentient light symphony" that objects to humans colonizing "its planet". How would you communicate with such and how would it react to a baby who lacks all "human baggage" are some of the issues addressed here. (A+)

Out of the Light Urban fantasy detective story that read well and was short enough not to be too annoying for me, but overall not my cup of tea. (B)

Enlightenment Another "Merged Corporate Entity/RIP Force" story and one with a very interesting genesis and reader feedback as the author recounts. This time we have strange aliens with supposedly mysterious powers who seemingly gave away all such to live the "simple life"; of course all that works out until nasty Rippers come from the sky and start the usual torturing and killing left and right to get to those secrets. While the general direction of the tale is clear, there are some unexpected twists and a superb ending; the story itself is as powerful as any in the collection (A++)

The Last Ride More mythology on the Nordic pattern with Valkyries this time; what price immortality and what would an immortal sacrifice to know a "regular life"? (A)

Jigsaw As the author tells it, the one YA story of the collection that came by specific circumstances, though it reads very, very well in the traditional derring-do of sf adventures, with Cassie Morant a leading Earth researcher in the ftl wormhole technology of the mysterious "Wormers" that gave humanity the stars and an expedition that encounters seemingly benevolent and less developed human-like aliens; fast and mostly fun traditional sf that shows the scope of the author's range and another favorite of mine (A+)

The Dancer at the Red Door What if there is a secret society of immortals that draw life from a magical dancer? What is the price of joining them? Ultra-successful businessman Alexander King finds out in this excellent story which is traditional urban fantasy at its best. (A)

Going Harvey in the Big House "Big G" is not that bright but he is content with his life inside the "big house" that is his universe until he stumbles upon the unknown; a partly strange structure, partly horror story this one did not work as well as I expected for me mainly because of the main protagonist; I tend to like this type of story and following the mystery of the structure to the end is worth it. (B)

A Taste Sweet and Salty Another superb story about a man that dies every night, only to wake up as someone generally different the next day; all happens in a town from which escape seems impossible until the main hero has an insight; unpredictable and with a great ending this story is another highlight of the collection and the one non-sf A++ for me.

Memories of the Dead Man I would say last and best, but several of the previous stories are on par with this one which is set in the beginning of the reign of the Merged Corporate Entity on Earth. All that you want in a sf short story is here from powerful characters, to action, mysterious happenings and a dark, violent but excellent tale. Read about the "dead men", revenge, superpowers and a woman fighting for survival with her son in a harsh and unforgiving world; a bittersweet ending adds to the power of the story. (A++)

In conclusion I would say that "Chimerascope" (A+ overall) confirms for me what "Impossibilia" affirmed, namely that Douglas Smith is an extraordinary author whom every lover of quality speculative fiction should read.


Calibandar said...

I should received my copy of this one yesterday. Looks really good. I bought it because earlier they had David Nickle's "Monstrous Affections" as well, which is also a strong collection, but it is mostly horror.

Liviu said...

I saw that one too but as straight horror it's less for me; I also loved the Lalumiere collection which has strong horror components, but it's still mostly sff-nal


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