Six strangely related stories about six encounters that could or should have never happened. A post mortem encounter with a clerk who has a most bizarre offer; an elusive encounter with oneself, only decades older; a seemingly innocent encounter with a bookshop visitor who is desperately looking for an ordinary SF story; a memorable encounter with God in a train which, unfortunately, has to be forgotten; a dreamlike encounter with Devil in a Church as a first step on a road which doesn’t lead to Hell; finally, a forbidden encounter of a dying author with one of his protagonists who brings an impossible book as a gift.
“[The stories] are fun to read, witty, and […] quite beautifully written.”
“Although the reader may not be aware of it as he or she progresses through the book, it becomes clear in retrospect that Zivkovic has consciously built towards his final story. His themes interlock neatly: the necessity of making vital decisions without adequate information; the importance of considering the possible results of those decisions; finding the proper response to the impossible or the transcendent; remembering that death comes to everyone; the mysteries and responsibilities of creativity. The interjection of the author into his own work, not only in the final story but, more subtly, in several of the earlier chapters, moves the book into the realm of post-modernism.”
—The New York Review of Science Fiction, USA
Stories from the book have been published in the UK (Interzone: February, May, July, September, October, November and December 2000), in the USA (Year’s Best Fantasy anthology, Harper-Collins, 2001), in Poland (the magazine Nowa Fantastyka, July 2000), and in Japan (an anthology of the Middle European “fantastika”, 2011).
The story “The Train” was broadcast by BBC Radio 4 on 29 September 2005.
- Polaris (Serbian and English, 2000)
- Blic (Serbian, 2000)
- Izvori (Croatian, 2001)
- Minotauro (Spanish, 2004, as a part of the Historias imposibles omnibus)
- Laguna (Serbian, 2004, as a part of the Nemoguće priče omnibus)
- PS Publishing (English, UK, 2006, as a part of the Impossible Stories omnibus)
- Istiklal (Turkish, 2007)
- Aio Publishing (English, US, 2008)
- Zavod (Serbian and English, 2009, as a part of the Nemoguće priče / Impossible Stories omnibus)
- DuMont Buchverlag (German,2011, as a part of Der unmögliche Roman omnibus)
- TEA (Italian, 2014)
- Cadmus Press (English, Japan, 2016, as a part of the Impossible Stories I omnibus)
An excerpt, translated from the Serbian by Alice Copple-Tosic:
I died in my sleep.
There wasn’t anything special about my death. I hardly even noticed it. I dreamed I was walking down a long hallway closely lined with doors on both sides. The end of the corridor was invisible in the distance, and I was alone. On the wall next to each door hung a framed portrait, slightly larger than life, and lit from above by a lamp.
I looked at the paintings as I passed by them. What else could I do? Only the portraits disturbed the endless monotony of the corridor. There seemed to be male and female portraits in approximately equal numbers, but randomly distributed. The people were mostly of advanced age, and some were very old indeed, but here and there was a younger face, or even a child, though these were quite rare. The images were formal studio-portraits, and the people were all elaborately, even ceremonially dressed. They looked conscious of their own importance, and that of the occasion. Most of them were smiling, but some faces were simply not suited to smiling. They looked grimly serious.
I was not overly surprised when I finally saw my own portrait next to one of the doors. I hadn’t actually expected it, but it didn’t seem out of place. After all, if so many others had their portraits hanging there, why shouldn’t I? Where else can one hope for a privileged position if not in one’s own dream? The only thing that momentarily confused me was that I could not remember when the portrait had been painted. I must have posed for it, I supposed. But maybe that hadn’t been necessary. It’s hard to say. I don’t pretend to understand much about portrait-painting.
Regardless of its origin, I liked the portrait. It did me full justice—more, it showed me in exceptional form. Although I was depicted at my current age, the painter had skillfully diminished some of the more unpleasant aspects of aging: he had slightly smoothed the wrinkles on my forehead and around my eyes, tightened my double chin, removed the yellowness and blotches from my cheeks, darkened some of the gray streaks in my hair. This was not to make me look younger. The years were still on the painting, but I bore them with greater elan. And most important of all, there was no sign of the debilitating disease that had taken such heavy toll of my looks. No effort on the part of a photographer could ever have produced the same effect, however great his skill.
I stood in front of my portrait for a long time, gazing in satisfaction. But all things have their measure, even vanity. I couldn’t stand there forever. Someone might pass by sooner or later and find me in this unbecoming position, which would certainly be embarrassing. But where could I go? Continue down the corridor? That did not seem promising; it appeared to extend endlessly before me, with no destination to make for.
Should I go back? That possibility hadn’t crossed my mind before. I turned around and immediately understood I could not count on going back. Just a few steps behind me the hallway disappeared, turning into deep darkness, as though all the lamps above the paintings had turned off as soon as I passed them. Maybe the lights would go on again if I headed in that direction, but I had no desire to find out.
I turned around facing forward again—and suffered a new surprise. The same thing had happened to the corridor in front of me. It had turned into a dark tunnel that began at the edge of the small, conical beam of light illuminating my portrait from above. This sole remaining source of light covered the painting, the door beside it and myself in front of it—a tiny island of existence bounded by an opaque, black sea of nothingness.
I had lost the right to choose; there was only one path before me. The moment I touched the doorknob, I was overcome by the feeling that something important was about to happen, but I had no immediate inkling of what it could be. It was only after I opened the door and entered the room that I realized I had died. It happened in the middle of raising and lowering my foot as I crossed the threshold. I was still alive when I started the step outside, and already dead when I finished it inside. I barely felt the transition itself. Something streamed through me, a wave resembling a light trembling or momentary shiver. It lasted a split second, then passed, leaving behind no other trace than the certainty of death.