Unpossible and Other Stories (2011) by Daryl Gregory

After reading and really enjoying Daryl Gregory’s 2017 novel Spoonbenders, I was eager to read more of his work. So I picked up his 2011 collection of short stories, Unpossible and Other Stories. I had a great time reading these stories. I found them very inventive, at times quite deep and thought-provoking, at other times bonkers and hilarious. The more I read by this author, the more I really appreciate his style. Recommended for fans of something a bit different, a bit out there; stories that not only entertain but make you think.

Publisher’s Synopsis

The short stories in this first collection by Daryl Gregory run the gamut from science fiction to contemporary fantasy, with a few stories that defy easy classification. His characters may be neuroscientists, superhero sidekicks, middle-aged heroes of children’s stories, or fanatics spreading a virus-borne religion, but they are all convincingly human. Includes two never-before published short stories.

I will write brief thoughts on each story in the collection. I’m also giving them a rating out of 10.

Second Person, Present Tense (2005) 8/10 – After Therese is discharged from a psychiatric hospital, her parents begin to question who she is. This opening story is a fascinating look into identity, altered states, personality change, and family. Great character work by Gregory.

Unpossible (2007) 6/10 – This one is a fun look back at childhood dreams and the power of imagination. It uses the device of a magical artifact that can transport you to another world.

Damascus (2006) 9/10 – After a pandemic hits America, a malformed protein causes people to start seeing their own version of Jesus. I found this a stunning and powerful tale about mental states, illness, belief, visions, and the search for meaning.

The Illustrated Biography of Lord Grimm (2008) 10/10 – A brilliant story about a Doctor Doom-esque villain and the attack by a group of American “Uber Men” on his city. It’s told from the ordinary workers’ point of view. Gives you a sense of what an actual super-powered attack would be like, the destruction and sense of helplessness by the citizens. The descriptions of the attacks are brilliantly imagined.

Opening lines: “The 22nd Invasion of Trovenia began with a streak of scarlet against a gray sky fast as the flick of a paintbrush. The red blur zipped across the length of the island, moving west to east, and shot out to sea. The sonic boom a moment later scattered the birds that wheeled above the fish processing plant and sent them squealing and plummeting.”

Gardening at Night (2006) 5/10 – It’s well-written but didn’t engage me at all.

Petit Mal #1: Glass (2008) 6/10 – This one is a very short story about an experimental treatment being tested on prisoners. The Bourne Identity meets X-Files, possibly?

What We Take When We Take What We Need (2010) 7/10 – A weird tale that would fit well in a Cthulhu or weird fiction anthology. It features some creepy body horror as well as an intriguing take on vampires. It’s also about family relationships.

Petit Mal #2: Digital (2011) 6/10 – Another very short and funny story about Franklin, a man who wakes up to find that his consciousness has relocated to the index finger of his left hand. Bonkers rating around 80%! 😂

Message from the Bubblegum Factory (2010) 7/10 – Another take on the superhero genre. It started out a little confusing, but improved as it went on. Gregory explores the idea of having super-powers in the real world. He also keeps the focus on relationships. Funny, meta, and also poignant.

Free, and Clear (2004) 7/10 – A funny, painful, slightly bonkers story about seasonal allergies. It offers an unusual “cure” for hay fever. Gregory writes it like he has lived the life of a hay fever sufferer. There are some laugh-out-loud scenes in here, like in many of his stories.

Dead Horse Point (2007) 8/10 – Julia is a mathematical genius. Unfortunately, she’s not always present in her body. Her brother has been looking after her but he is worried that these “absences” are becoming more frequent and lasting longer. Can Julia’s old college friend Venya help? Another intelligent story that explores themes of identity and consciousness.

In the Wheels (1990) 6/10 – An early story from Gregory, this one is about two friends and their adventures racing a car powered by a demon. Some novel ideas in this one. It gave me a bit of a Ghost Rider vibe.

Petit Mal #3: Persistence (2011) 8/10 – “What we see when we say we are seeing, is not a snapshot of transmitted light, not a slideshow projected on the inside of the skull. […] The image is a composite, a patchwork of snapshots, with the gaps filled in with expectation, embroidered with biases, colored and shaped by experience.”

The third very short story, this one really moved me. It’s a moving look at people suffering from visual disturbances. It asks questions about what “vision” is and how it works. It also features a memorable mother and daughter relationship. All that in only a few pages!

The Continuing Adventures of Rocket Boy (2004) 6/10 – A well-written but overall strange story about two friends who used to make Super 8 films together. One day, a terrible accident changes everything. But was it really an accident? This story explores childhood, friendship and returning to your childhood home.

As I wrote in my opening paragraph, these stories are intelligent, inventive, thought-provoking, sometimes deep and moving, often funny, occasionally a bit bonkers and never dull. Daryl Gregory writes in his afterword that he is fascinated by “consciousness”; how “experiments since the 1970s have proved that “consciousness” is in some cases a post-decision phenomena. […] if consciousness is an add-on, what would a brain and body look like without consciousness?” He informs the reader that he goes into a lot more detail about the science behind some of these stories on his website. So if you are interested, please check it out. I think some of his stories are available to read there.

Thanks for reading!

-Wakizashi, *still thinking about how much of a brilliant cinematic experience Dune (2021) was*

17 thoughts on “Unpossible and Other Stories (2011) by Daryl Gregory

    • Yes, some are influenced by comics. He admits he is a bit of a comic book geek, like me! But others explore consciousness and identity. Family and friends play a big part in the stories, too.


  1. I‘ve read two stories by him and never considered the author as a must-read.

    There’s a Hansel and Gretel retelling

    and a superhero story https://reiszwolf.wordpress.com/2020/12/19/the-illustrated-biography-of-lord-grimm-2008-superhero-novelette-by-daryl-gregory/

    Both are different and also interesting in a crazy way.
    That Damascus review brought me vibes of Depeche Mode‘s Personal Jesus. Boy, I love that band! https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=u1xrNaTO1bI

    Liked by 1 person

    • Oh, man, I went through a phase of loving Depeche Mode back in the day! Violator (1990) was an album I played and played!

      That Lord Grimm story is in this collection. I loved it! I read the other one you linked in a “Best of” collection a few years ago. If you can find the story Damascus, I really recommend it.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Glad to hear his shorter works are working for you just as well as his longer ones. I did find it a bit funny how the title story wasn’t at the top of your favorites, which has often happened with me, as well. I wonder how they pick “title” stories for these sorts of collections.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I’ve seen this around the blogosphere, but yours is the first exhaustive review, with ratings for each of the story. Looks like a good collection, too – I’ll definitely be on the lookout for this one.

    Liked by 1 person

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