Douglas Smith opens his new collection of stories with a cheeky definition of the imaginary titular object: “An instrument, in book form, used for viewing a disparate (but hopefully, not grotesquely so) collection of impossible (but hopefully not foolish) fantasies.” This playful classification veers toward the insufferably clever, but rest assured, it is the Toronto-based author’s only instance of overt self-indulgence. The remainder of Chimerascope is a massively enjoyable trek through the far-fetched, the horrifying, and the flat-out weird, all filtered through Smith’s remarkable imagination and prodigious talent.
Chimerascope is primarily made up of fantasy and science-fiction stories. Although Smith’s tales focus on the fantastic, what is immediately evident is his steady grasp of character, which lends humanity to even the most absurd situations.
The stories in this collection traverse genres and styles – from outright horror to witty surrealism to martial-arts mythology – without missing a beat. “The Boys Are Back in Town,” set in a tavern managed by a fallen god, posits a reality where “lawyers flirted with nymphs, tourists played pinball with satyrs, and professors debated hydras.… Hydras aren’t too bright, but just try getting a word in against multiple heads.”
“The Dancer at the Red Door,” with its mix of oblique horror, urban fantasy, and monsters equipped with pincers extending “from each side of a slit-like mouth,” recalls Clive Barker at his most disturbingly fanciful. “State of Disorder” layers a time-travel scenario over a polite dinner between colleagues, with unsettling results. The closing story, the post-apocalyptic narrative “Memories of the Dead Man,” contains echoes of Stephen King.
Chimerascope is a sterling set, with nary a weak or disposable entry. Smith’s writing, evocative yet understated, gracefully brings to life his imagined realms.