Friday, January 20, 2012

Unpossible and Other Stories - deliciously dark and surprising

Unpossible and Other Stories
Daryl Gregory
Fairwood Press (November 2011)

Reviewed by Ann Wilkes

Daryl Gregory is an exceptional storyteller. I enjoyed every story in Unpossible and Other Stories. The title story left me with warm fuzzies long afterward. All of the stories in this collection had a speculative element, though in some it was slight. However, his characters, voice and storytelling made it a non-issue for me.

His clever turns of phrase also left me smiling. Here are some examples:

From "Second Person, Present Tense":
She regards me with that standard-issue look of concern that doctors pick up with their diplomas.

From "The Illustrated Biography of Lord Grimm":
Only after her parents failed to come home did she realize that the note was a kind of battlefield promotion to adulthood: impossible to refuse because there was no one left to accept her refusal.

From "Petit Mal #2: Digital"
He was bald except for a gray ponytail, as if his hair had given up on general coverage and decided to specialize.

The other thing that really struck me about these stories is that they were not the usual, soon-forgotten fare that we have seen too much of. Gregory's stories have truly unique situations, and he isn't predictable.

In "Second Person, Present Tense", a girl is changed by a drug into a different person, detached from that girl she used to be. Her parents bring her home after she's had extensive therapy, still hoping to get their little girl back. She tries to humor them at times. Tolerate them. After all, she's still walking around in their daughter's body. It must be tough.

In the title story, mid-life crisis men seek to return to their childhood. In this tale, it is a physical place that they are no longer able to enter. I found it sad, poignant and deliciously tragic.

In "Damascus" Gregory introduces elements of religion, pseudo-vampirism, epedemic and feminism into one dark and tragic tale of questing and redemption.

I especially enjoyed "The Illustrated Biography of Lord Grimm". It's a sort of steampunk, superhero alternate history with half-mechanical men and castles. And the Americans send their superheros on air-raids over the impoverished, communist island state of Trovenia. I could read that one several times. My favorite line is below.
He claimed to have suffered the injury fighting the U-Men, though others said he'd lost the tusk in combat with vodka and gravity: The Battle of the Pub Stairs.

In "Gardening at Night" I was delighted by the twist on an old premise. The usual is that robots unexpectedly exceed their programming and rise up to declare independence. I don't want to say too much because I hope you will all read it for yourself, but his pulling in of the temptation in the Garden of Eden and the line of logic that followed: Superb!

I loved this exchange in "What We Take When We Take What We Need":
"That's not love, Paxton. That's addiction."

"Explain the difference."

This is a creepy tale of dysfunction, addiction and family curses.

I couldn't get enough of the superhero banter and the blob called Plex in "Message from the Bubblegum Factory" although I scratched my head a bit at the ending. This was the only ending that baffled me in the whole collection. I don't like being baffled, but the journey was worth the head-scratching.

"Dead Horse Point" was about loyalty and care taking. The spec element in this was thin, but the story was extremely engaging and the ending surprising.

In "Petit Mal #3: Persistence", I admired Gregory's treatment of the subjects of loss and memory, his unique premise and thoughtful ending.

I highly recommend this collection to anyone who craves something different from the tired tropes and wants to be pleasantly surprised.

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