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.
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.
“West of Arkham the hills rise wild, and there are valleys with deep woods that no axe has ever cut. There are dark narrow glens where the trees slope fantastically, and where thin brooklets trickle without ever having caught the glint of sunlight. On the gentler slopes there are farms, ancient and rocky, with squat, moss-coated cottages brooding eternally over old New England secrets in the lee of great ledges; but these are all vacant now, the wide chimneys crumbling and the shingled sides bulging perilously beneath low gambrel roofs.”
-H.P. Lovecraft, The Colour Out of Space
These are the opening lines to H.P. Lovecraft’s 1927 short story The Colour Out of Space. It is said to be the author’s personal favourite out of all his stories.
Set in 1870, the story begins with the reporting of a meteorite that “fell out of the sky and bedded itself in the ground beside the well at the Nahum Gardner place.” Miskatonic University sends three professors to investigate the fallen rock. When they arrive at Gardner’s place, he insists that the rock has shrunk overnight, a claim which the learned men laugh off as impossible.
They take a small fragment back to the university to investigate. This piece of the meteorite produces some strange effects in the laboratory where we learn “it displayed shining bands unlike any known colours of the normal spectrum”. These “bizarre optical properties” provoke much excitement among the “men of science” as they speculate about possible new elements and discoveries.
“When I’m online, Aksha keeps me company. Anyone who says cats can’t go online is an idiot. Twenty years ago, people said humanity couldn’t go to Mars. Ten years ago, people solemnly swore that there was no way to connect a human mind to the network. Five years ago, people said that cats and dogs couldn’t speak.”
Xuejiao is a “Master Hacker”. She lives in a small apartment with a cat called Aksha. The cat joins Xuejiao online as backup guarding her against “government surveillance programs.” Master Hackers dive into the Net, searching for “ancient abysses” to “excavate data from and turn them into cash.” The author likens it to “spelunking” and makes it clear there are dangers involved in the process:
“Some abysses absolutely must not be tested. Hiding there are vast existences beyond our comprehension. All the jackholes who go there are drawn into a vortex of data, forever gone. They leave behind stiff bodies, lying comatose in hospital ICUs.”
‘In the bottom compartment of her jewellery case he came across a small flat gold-cased object, equipped with a wrist strap. The dial had no hands but the twelve-numbered face intrigued him and he fastened it to his wrist.’
-J.G. Ballard, Chronopolis
In a world where timepieces have been abolished, Conrad Newman is in jail, waiting to stand trial for murder.
The story opens with the protagonist Conrad Newman in jail awaiting trial. We learn that he has fashioned a sundial in his cell which he uses to keep track of the “daily roster.” It’s clear that Conrad is obsessed with time, as he worries about “going mad” if he is unable to tell what time it is “at any given moment.” There are no clocks in the prison.
*This is my review of the novelette published by Lucius Shepard in 1985. The Jaguar Hunter is also the title of Shepard’s 1987 collection of short stories, a book I’m very interested in after reading this novelette.
This is the story of Esteban, a retired hunter living with his wife in Honduras. His wife gets into debt with a local businessman and Esteban agrees to hunt and kill a black jaguar to settle the debt. After entering the jungle on the jaguar’s trail, he meets a beautiful woman who begins to question him about his intentions toward the jaguar.
This was my first experience reading Lucius Shepard (1943-2014), an American writer whose work was first published in the 1980s. The Jaguar Hunter was nominated for a Nebula Award in the Best Novelette category in 1986. I read it in “The Year’s Best Science Fiction: Third Annual Collection” (1986) edited by Gardner Dozois. At only 22 pages, the story can be read in one sitting.
“Gray Matter” first appeared in the magazine Cavalier in October 1973. It’s taken from Stephen King’s first collection, Night Shift (1978), which contains twenty of his earliest short stories. These stories were originally published between 1970 and 1977. This collection includes Children of the Corn, Quitters Inc., The Lawnmower Man, Trucks, The Ledge, Jerusalem’s Lot, and more.
My Summary & Thoughtson “Gray Matter”
A young boy runs into a 24-hour convenience store during a heavy snowstorm. He looks terrified and asks the owner, Henry, to sell him a case of beer for his father. Henry and the two locals in the store know the boy well. He is Richie Grenadine’s son Timmy, and his father often sends him to buy his beer, making sure it’s the cheapest beer in the store. Richie used to come and buy it himself until fairly recently.
‘Outsiders visit Dunwich as seldom as possible, and since a certain season of horror all the signboards pointing toward it have been taken down.’
Lovecraft wrote The Dunwich Horror in 1928 and it was first published in the April 1929 issue of Weird Tales. He is said to have rated it highly and described the story as being “so fiendish” that his editor at Weird Tales“may not dare to print it.” It is now considered one of the core tales of the Cthulhu Mythos.
‘It is a mistake to fancy that horror is associated inextricably with darkness, silence, and solitude. I found it in the glare of mid-afternoon, in the clangour of a metropolis, and in the teeming midst of a shabby and commonplace rooming-house.’
A foul-smelling leak from the apartment above leads our protagonist to hear about the reclusive Doctor Munoz. A famed physician from Barcelona, he now spends his days in his rooms, only occasionally venturing out onto the brownstone’s roof.
One day, the narrator suffers a heart attack and seeks assistance from Doctor Munoz. He is surprised by “a rush of cool air” which hits him after the doctor opens the door to his apartment. Doctor Munoz saves the narrator’s life, telling him that he is “the bitterest of sworn enemies to death,” and needs to keep his apartment below 55 degrees Fahrenheit.
‘On August 9, we espied the ocean floor, and sent a powerful beam from the searchlight over it. It was a vast undulating plain, mostly covered with seaweed, and strewn with the shells of small mollusks.’
I first got interested in H.P. Lovecraft’s weird fiction when I was in my early teens. Like most readers, I started off reading a volume which contained a selection of his more popular stories. This journey into Arkham horror began with a copy of “Omnibus 3: The Haunter of the Dark” which includes The Rats In The Walls, The Call Of Cthulhu, The Haunter Of The Dark, Pickman’s Model, and The Lurking Fear. These are some of Lovecraft’s most famous tales. (I’ve never forgotten this cover illustration by Tim White!)
Recently, I was looking for some lesser-known gems by the author and I came across this one. It’s called “The Temple” and was published in issue 24 of Weird Tales back in 1925. It is dated as being written in 1920. I read it in the Delphi Classics kindle edition of the Complete Works of H.P. Lovecraft, which I highly recommend. Continue reading →
‘The planet Tandy was a gas giant as big as Jupiter, a beautiful object when it rose into Tandy Two’s skies, but uninhabitable and unapproachable.’
“O Moon of My Delight” is a character-driven short story with an interstellar setting. It is one of eight stories found in Brian Aldiss’ 1963 collection “The Airs of Earth“. The story opens with Murragh Harrison preparing to watch the arrival of a Faster-Than-Light starship. He is on the moon Tandy Two, a place which is used as a kind of braking device for the incoming F.T.L. ships. Harrison, a wannabe poet, is there for the spectacular display.
‘The F.T.L. ship burst into normal space on automatic control, invisible and unheard at first. Boring for the world like a metal fist swung at a defenseless heart, it was a gale of force.’