Review: Chimerascope

I just discovered Douglas Smith has a novel due out this year. I love his short stories, so I am excited to see something in a longer format. In order to share my excitement, here is a review I wrote for SFcrowsnest for his collection, Chimerascope.

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Chimerascope by Douglas Smith

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Last year I had the opportunity to read and review PS Showcase #5: Impossibilia by Douglas Smith. Had I been seeking fault in the slim anthology, I might have simply lamented the fact that there were only three stories. Of course, three stories from Douglas Smith are to be treasured but, like most human beings, I acknowledge and indulge in the sin of greed. I wanted more. My wish was granted and I did receive more, three hundred and thirty two pages of more.

Chimerascope is the first full collection of stories by Canadian Science Fiction and fantasy author, Douglas Smith. The anthology features a wonderful introduction by Julie Czerneda, another author whose writing I really enjoy. Her words properly describe Douglas Smith’s devotion to his craft through both his characters and stories; I really couldn’t say it any better. No matter who or what he’s writing about, his effort and care is always clearly evident. There is also a fine introduction by the author himself in which he defines the title of his anthology, Chimerascope. He likens assembling the collection of stories to ‘building a chimera’ and the manner in which we view it as the scope. Of course, his explanation is a lot more eloquent than mine.

There are sixteen stories in this collection and the author takes the time to not only introduce each one, but often comments afterwards as well. To me, one of the pleasures of reading an anthology of short stories is reading author’s comments on their own work. I enjoy hearing about the inspiration behind the stories and what the writer hoped to achieve afterwards, often echoing the thoughts I have been left with. It’s a richer experience.

It is rare to find a collection where all the stories resonate and truthfully, not all of these did for me. But I read all of them in an effort to appreciate the breadth of Mr. Smith’s imagination and talent. His mind wanders far! But though I normally pick my three favourite stories to talk about when reviewing an anthology, I honestly had a hard time choosing only three this time. Now, this does happen a lot. I’m addicted to short stories. I love them! Though my quest for the perfect short story has been resolved several times, many, many times, I keep looking for more (I acknowledged my greed earlier, remember?). I have chosen my customary three, but I’m sure no one will mind, least of all Mr. Smith himself, if I mention just a couple others as well.

The first story of the collection is called ‘Scream Angel’. This is one I want to mention. The first story in any anthology is carefully chosen. This is where the reader will either put aside the volume or eagerly move on. I enjoyed ‘Scream Angel’ and it did remind me of the reason I loved the author’s writing, his characterisation, attention to detail and recurring themes of love, faith and redemption. It also encouraged me to turn the page and read more. That’s a lot of praise for one of the stories that didn’t make it into my top three. There’s a wealth of such experiences in this collection.

My first favourite is ‘The Red Bird’. In the simplest possible terms, I loved this tale. It had a definite beginning, middle and end and while there were parts I’d love to see expanded, the life of Shirotori for example, it works beautifully as it is. In the author’s own words, ‘‘Red Bird’ is a fable set in what might or might not be late fourteenth century Japan’. It has the feel of a myth or legend about a boy who finds that his destiny is closely entwined with the destiny of a people. But rather than repeat a tale we’ve all read before, the author has written something subtly new. The boy has a personality all his own. He has a good relationship with his mentor, finds love, becomes a father and also has his trials. This story is filled with all the elements of a longer tale. Honestly, I could have read it forever. The ending was that perfect combination of sadness and hope.

My second favourite was ‘By Her Hand, She Draws You Down’. The author notes this is his first horror story and it’s creepy! A young woman has an unusual artistic talent, one that frightens her boyfriend. To tell you anything more would be to rob you of the pleasure of finding it all out for yourself. The ending had me chewing on my lip, even though I thought I knew what would happen, I didn’t really know. Which is just how it should be…

Before talking about my last favourite, can I just quickly mention ‘The Last Ride’? Valkyries. Need I say more? Really, it’s a good, good story and exemplifies the best elements of Douglas Smith’s writing. A Valkyrie falls for her hero, gives up her immortality for him then has to make that inevitable and awful choice afterwards. As always, even for such a brief time, there is so much life in these characters. I don’t bother to marvel at how quickly I come to care for Douglas Smith’s people anymore, it’s a given.

Hands down, my favourite story in this volume was ‘Going Harvey In The Big House’. I’ve always been fascinated by the concept of a city that encompasses what we know of the known world. J.G. Ballard wrote a couple good stories along this theme, as did David Wingrove. I’m sure there are others. In Douglas Smith’s version, the ‘House’ is well conceived, but as always, it’s his characters that drive the story. Big G is pitch perfect. Every aspect of his personality is just spot on. Though he’s not a completely accessible character, portrayed as being not as intelligent as a more usual protagonist, he is completely there and three-dimensional and his reactions and motivations are plausible. It works! The ending is just right. It couldn’t have been any other way and I agree with the author’s summary comments regarding such.

What is the story about? Big G discovers that there is a sky outside the ‘House’ and the story covers his growing realization that the world consists of more than four walls and the daily routine that has been instilled into him since birth. More than the truths that have been fed to him by those who are supposed to have all the knowledge.

The final two stories, ‘A Taste Sweet And Salty’ and ‘The Dead Man’ are also both wonderful entries. I had to just quickly mention them. ‘Taste’ has a flavour that lingers and ‘Dead Man’ was a wonderful example of the places this author is unafraid to go. Tempting as it is to sit here and tell you more about these stories, I really must and would rather encourage you to go out and read this volume for yourself. It is an experience well worth any effort required.

As always, I look forward to more from Douglas Smith. Yes, I am waiting for more.

(review written for and originally published at sfcrowsnest.com)

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