Filler content with the power of three

A review that originally appeared in Black Static #9:-

Impossibilia by Douglas Smith
(PS Publishing hardcover/jacketed hardcover, 97pp, £10/£25)

A collection of three novelettes by a writer who has appeared in various TTA publications make up this latest PS Showcase volume.

‘Bouquet of Flowers in a Vase, by Van Gogh’ is the tale of Maroch and Laure. He is a former CIA man and distant viewer, haunted by the responsibility he feels for the death of his wife Elise. Laure is a distant viewer with huge potential and a Van Gogh obsession. They are hired by former associate Karsh to find ‘missing’ paintings by Van Gogh, but Laure has an agenda of her own, rooted in the past and her relationship with an abusive father. The scene is set for tragedy, and it is up to Maroch, who has fallen in love with her to find a way set things right. This is a clever story and a moving one, with the character of the two leads put over well, and the ghosts that haunt them brought to effective life on the page. Smith is adept at tying together the different plot strands and filling in people’s back story in a way that doesn’t interrupt the narrative flow, and he appears to have thoroughly thought out how this form of distant viewing would work, the implications and ways to sidestep the paradoxes that might occur.

The second story, ‘Spirit Dance’, is more routine, with the Herok’a, a race of shape shifters co-existing with mankind, but the uneasy peace is threatened when one of their number pursues a revenge killing. Gwyn Blaiid is charged by the Herok’a chief with stopping this chain of events if he possibly can, and things get tangled. I enjoyed this story, but there is a feel about it of familiarity, with plenty of elements that we have seen before and Smith doing nothing new with them, while the instant love affair between Gwyn and a local woman with Herok’a potential was a step too far for credibility. It was fun, but nothing special, the filler between two superior pieces.

‘Going Down to Lucky Town’ is the story of conman and grifter Charlie ‘the Pearl’ Perlman, who is trying to build bridges with his daughter Brighid, and set her up for life with one big score. In a plot reminiscent of The Cooler he finds a man who is infested with a parasite that drains bad luck and exploits the situation, only to have it all blow up in his face before ultimately finding a form of redemption. This is another, good solid story, with some novel twists in the plot, Smith taking a simple idea and finding potential that many other writers would have overlooked in favour of some easier option. At the story’s heart is the relationship between father and daughter, and the things they do to make this work, rendered with a singular care and tenderness, the appreciation that sometimes we muck up without meaning to and that sacrifices are required. It was a strong finale to a book that ably demonstrates what Smith is capable of as a writer, added to which, anyone who references Springsteen songs in their titles is going to get the thumbs up from me.

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