By Justin Howe
Smith, Douglas. Chimerascope. ChiZine Publications, 2010. USD $16.95; CDN $18.95. ISBN: 978-0-9812978-5-9.
In this book’s introduction, Douglas Smith defines a chimerascope as “an instrument used for viewing a disparate collection of impossible fantasies.” This title proves aptly chosen, as there is not only something here for everyone, but something good for everyone, as Smith consistently displays his comfort and competence, working within multiple genres.
“Scream Angel” won Canada’s Aurora Award in 2004; nine of the other stories have been finalists for the same award; “By Her Hand, She Draws You Down” was also a 2002 Best New Horror selection; and numerous others have received Year’s Best honourable mentions. The stories range from science fiction (multiple varieties) to fantasy (multiple varieties) to horror, with dark themes tinting nearly all the stories, regardless of genre. Smith’s characters tend towards regular men and women caught in desperate situations, often fallible, sometimes likable, but always portrayed with, if not sympathy, then enough clarity that the reader may understand why the characters behave as they do.
All of which echoes the chimerical nature referred to in the collection’s title, although it makes it a bit difficult to review the collection as a whole. If any one story didn’t appeal to me, all I needed to do was keep reading, because it was a safe bet that the next story would suit my tastes.
Of the 16 stories, eight are science fiction, with three taking place in the same shared, and rather grimly-depicted, Homo-sapien-dominated universe, where drug-addicted human shock troops aggressively “relocate” extraterrestrial species, in order to open their planets to exploitation. “Scream Angel”, “Enlightenment”, and “Memories of the Dead Man” all depict men and women fighting against this oppressive human empire, with often mixed results.
The remaining SF stories feature two alien-contact narratives, the geology-themed, YA “Jigsaw” and “Symphony”, about an alien that cripples colonists by sensory manipulation; a City-of-Endless-Night-styled dystopia, and certainly the collection’s most intriguingly-titled story, “Going Harvey in the Big House”; a flawed, AI-virtual-reality story, “New Year’s Eve”; and the stylish, time-travel story, “State of Disorder”.
The fantasy stories range from a martial-arts fable, “The Red Bird”; “A Taste Both Sweet and Salty”, about a man cursed to live in a world he doesn’t understand; and the mythic-creatures-in-the-world-of-mortals stories, “The Boys Are Back in Town” and “The Last Ride”.
Another contender for collection favorite would have to be the horror story, “By Her Hand, She Draws You Down”. It provides a nice twist on vampirism, reminiscent of Fritz Leiber’s “The Girl with the Hungry Eyes”. (It’s also been made into an award-winning short film). Other overt horror stories include “Out of the Light”, where a police officer skilled in hunting supernatural entities encounters a new breed of shape-shifter specifically adapted to the urban environment; the flash-length “Nothing”; and “The Dancer At the Red Door”, about a man who has everything, but winds up getting a lot more than he bargained for.
Now, not every story worked, in my opinion. “New Year’s Eve” and “The Last Ride” didn’t engage me, and “Memories of the Dead Man” read too closely to a post-apocalyptic rendition of Shane, with added mutant powers and overly generous swathes of the man-pain brush, for my tastes. However, as stated, this could simply be attributed to personal taste and the variety within the collection. “Scream Angel”, “Going Harvey in the Big House”, and “By Her Hand, She Draws You Down” all stand out as highlights, with each featuring engaging characters and interesting settings.
Ultimately, genre fans eager to read work by a talented author, who consistently writes top-notch prose, will be well-pleased to see the strange beasts lurking within Douglas Smith’s Chimerascope.
Bio: Justin Howe’s fiction has appeared in Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Crossed Genres, and the anthology Fast Ships, Black Sails. Peripatetic by nature, he currently teaches English in South Korea and sometimes even blogs about it: http://justinhowe.livejournal.com/.
Chimerascope is available from Amazon.com