I quite enjoyed Daryl Gregory’s first two novels, especially the weird and uniquely inventive The Devil’s Alphabet. His collection Unpossible and Other Stories (2011) has turned me into even more of a fan. He has an unusual array of interests and brings them to life in diverse and unpredictable ways.
Gregory seems to have a particular fascination with the mysterious ways the human body and mind work, and many of his stories riff interestingly on this subject, in ways both scientific and fantastical. This starts with the memorable opener, “Second Person, Present Tense,” a thought-provoking tale of a teenager whose personality is erased and rewired by a mind-altering drug, and how her parents attempt to “restore” her to her old self. In “Damascus,” a woman contracts a virus that alters the very fabric of her beliefs, while “Glass” is a short, sharp story of a prison study to chemically implant empathy in sociopathic criminals. In the funny “Free, and Clear,” a man visits a touchy-feely, New Age massage therapist seeking relief from allergies — and gets more than he bargained for. One of my favorites in this vein is the quick little oddity “Digital,” about a man whose sense of consciousness mysteriously relocates itself from his brain to his finger. And “Dead Horse Point” tells a poignant tale of a brilliant mathematician who enters into lengthy dissociative fugue states, and how this impacts the people in her life.
One step removed from this interest in the human body and its workings is the concept of superpowers, and some of the collection’s most entertaining stories veer into comic book territory. Early in the volume there’s “The Illustrated Biography of Lord Grimm,” a savage political allegory set in a ficitionalized Balkan nation, an inventive and vicious response to American anti-terrorism policy overseas. Perhaps my favorite story in the volume is “Message from the Bubblegum Factory,” a clever, frantic adventure set in an iconic supervillain prison. This one’s funny, colorful, and wildly entertaining, a meta-deconstruction of a comic book universe.
The volume concludes with “The Continuing Adventures of Rocket Boy,” a nostalgic and thoughtful piece about a man who returns to his hometown — there to wrestle with memories of a childhood friendship, and other demons from his past. It makes for a strong finish, heartfelt, elegiac, and intriguing. Overall it’s an excellent collection, a diverse mix of unique, insightful, and unusual genre stories. Definitely recommended.