Trigger Warning: Short Fictions and Discoveries written and read by Neil Gaiman
Date started: 4/6/15
Date finished: 4/10/15
Another enjoyable Gaiman book, read by Gaiman himself. I do so love that man’s voice. And his words, too.
There are 24(!) stories in this, Gaiman’s third collection of short stories. Here’s the list and my impressions of them. Enjoy!
This is not one of the stories, of course, but it is a rather lengthy introduction as introductions–outside of academics texts–go. Gaiman put effort and thought into telling us about the title and the stories coming up. I enjoy, as he does too according to the intro, learning about from whence authors’ stories come, the history behind the tale, inspiration and writing them, and all that. In one of the six (believe it was six, many more) parts of this introduction, Gaiman goes through each story, one by one, and tells a bit about it: why he wrote it, what inspired it, what had been going on in his life at the time of the writing, what happened after the story was done, etc. A wonderful introduction that really geared me up for the enjoyable listen to follow.
1. Making a Chair
This short poem about writing caught me off guard, as, while I listened on my flight home from Easter on Monday, I didn’t realize the introduction had ended and the collection had begun.
2. A Lunar Labyrinth
This reminded me very much of American Gods, with the odd, quirky local tourist attraction and the creepy darkness twisted in.
3. The Thing About Cassandra
I loved Gaiman’s description in the introduction about where this story sort of started. I enjoyed listening to this story. It felt very real, which is sort of ironic once you know how it ends. The twist–and of course, there is a twist–was just that: it twisted the heck out of my perception and assumptions about the world of this story. And I LOVE that. That is just what speculative fiction, good speculative fiction, should do. And once it happened, I wondered, a bit shamefacedly I must admit, at the ease into which I can be lulled to accepting things as they are presented and how readily I do so.
This story reminded me not to assume, not to take things at face value, not to be complacent–even when absorbing entertaining fiction, or maybe more especially then–and to question things, reality, preconceptions and assumptions–to realize I am assuming and forming preconceptions–and never stop.
Quite a lot from a short story. Well done, Mr. Gaiman.
4. Down to a Sunless Sea
This, along with the #23 of the collection, I have heard before from Gaiman’s own mouth at his and his wife Amanda Palmer‘s event “An Evening with Neil Gaiman and Amanda Palmer” at Bard College several years ago. Dark and sad.
5. “The Truth is a Cave in the Black Mountains . . .”
I have heard this one elsewhere, yet I cannot remember when or why or how. The reveal was new yet familiar.
A tale of revenge.
6. My Last Landlady
Starts out all fine and normal-seeming, then turns dark and brutal, though I expected it.
7. Adventure Story
Fabulous events are retold in this tale but in such a quiet, almost mundane matter-of-fact way that this story delightfully surprised me.
I wasn’t quite sure what was happening at first in this story. When I clued in that it was a list of answers to a questionnaire about a very odd event, I just sat back and enjoyed the unfolding of the tale in this unique format.
Some of the answers made absolutely no sense without their accompanying questions, but that’s ok. I enjoyed this one anyway. Quite amusing at times.
Highly recommended for listening to mean you are in the midst of mindless yet strenuous heavy labor. (At the time I was loading up carts full of heavy books and boxes in preparation for the local history archives where I volunteer to clear out of its basement room for two-months of renovations to the space. About 3 1/2 hours of sweaty work with some great entertainment courtesy of Mr. Gaiman, thankyouverymuch.)
9. A Calender of Tales
I was on Twitter watching as Gaiman solicited and received story ideas for this project he had undertaken in part with Blackberry a few years ago. It was great to finally hear the results of that kinda zany project. Some of the stories, each based on a month of the year, were too abrupt, some too unformed, but I am happy I experienced them all.
10. The Case of Death and Honey
This is a Sherlock Holmes story. I love Sherlock Holmes and Doyle’s original tales. I am not usually a fan of the knock-off stories, though I love the BBC’s Sherlock, want to read the much-lauded Laurie R. King‘s Mary Russell books, and I enjoyed this story. Perhaps I am just being too snobbish and would love the knock-offs. Same thing goes for my much-beloved Jane Austen, though I have tried it for her and found some BIG stinkers which put me off. Also I fear that, were I to start reading them, I may never stop. Good or bad, I don’t know.
This story starts in one place, goes back to another, and returns again. I liked it and I felt Gaiman didn’t get Sherlock wrong.
SPOILER*: If anyone could figure out how to thwart old age and death, it would be the inimitable Dr. Holmes, would it not?
11. The Man Who Forgot Ray Bradbury
This story embodies that whole problem you can get when you remember everything about a story, down to the very minutest detail, and yet cannot, for the life of you, recall the author’s name. This has not happened to me much; my memory has mostly been excellent. But I am starting to feel the touch of time on it and I fear this will happen more and more, so much so that its occurrences will be more frequent than not.
In the intro, Gaiman tells us that Ray Bradbury was read this story in his sick bed and liked it. How cool is that?
A very odd little story about a couple who went on vacation in Jerusalem. SPOILER*: The wife contracts “Jerusalem Syndrome” and becomes a sort of prophet.
13. Click-Clack the Rattlebag
It took me longer than I would have liked to see the end of this one coming. I was touched with how the sister’s boyfriend was himself touched by the trust and quick intimacy the young boy shows him. It resonated with me, for I am often struck my the marvel that is the closeness and love I have for my young nieces and their unafraid loving and caring. SPOILER*: Of course, it’s a Neil Gaiman story, so it was all a ruse. But still, the emotions felt real.
14. An Invocation of Incuriousity
Like the Sherlock tale, this story starts somewhere, jumps to another, but, unlike in “The Case of Death and Honey,” it does not bounce back and forth a bit, but stays in this different place and time until the very end.
Yes, I was confused. I got caught up in the seemingly separate second story, only remembering halfway through that where this tale had begun. It made me wonder where the heck it was all going.
I loved how imaginative this story was. I expected different from it, I’m not sure how, but I was happy with what I received instead. A very good example of Gaiman’s work.
15. “And Weep, Like Alexander”
The title of the story gave me nothing to go on when I tried to figure out how this story was going to go. It’s about a marvelous type of person Gaiman invented: an uninventor. Yes, this guy’s job is to unmake things. SPOILER*: I love this as an answer and explanation from Gaiman on why we do not have all the wonderful inventions, like hover cars and rocket packs, that science fiction has promised us. A lovely story with some social commentary in there.
And yes, you do find out why it’s called that.
16. Nothing O’Clock
A Doctor Who story! A few months ago I wouldn’t have cared and may even have skipped this one. I’ve read a few spin-offs novels and stories based on my favorite TV programs, but mostly I stay away because the experience is hit or miss and has averaged out as unsatisfying for me overall.
BUT! My husband Mick and I had decided to pick up with Doctor Who again in the second half of last year.
We had watched the new series with Chris Eccleston as the Ninth Doctor when the series was first rebooted back in 2005 and liked it ok (me better than him). Then David Tennant came in for the second season and we both gave up, unimpressed by his extreme silliness and not getting over the loss of Our Doctor.
I (though not Mick) eventually warmed up to the Tenth Doctor, but by then, we were almost finished with his seasons. I loved Donna; I am not particularly happy with any romance, whether hinted at, unrequited or what, between the Doctor and his companions. Perhaps I just bought too heavily into Rose and the Doctor.
We started watching the Matt Smith, Eleventh Doctor first season with some trepidation. We had heard it was different under the new showrunner Steven Moffat and that the Doctor was *gasp* hipster. Well, both are true.
And, much to both of our surprises and delight, we found that we REALLY LIKED Doctor Who now! Matt Smith is my favorite of the doctors. We are now close to the end of his run, however. I fear I cannot keep my impending sadness at bay much longer.
This is all prelude to saying that I really enjoyed listening to this Doctor Who story. I was unexpectedly pleased to find how delighted I was to listen to a new tale about the Doctor, Amy, and the new odd and threatening escaped prisoner Gaiman created. Silliness–but not too silly–charm, heart, cleverness, and all that one would expect from a Doctor Who story.
I am even now thinking of checking out some of the Eleventh Doctor novels I scoffed at when I saw them on the shelf of our local library. Fancy that.
17. Diamonds and Pearls: A Fairy Tale
A very short modern-and-yet-not fairytale reminiscent of Cinderella in that is shows the virtue of a good, kind step-daughter and a selfish, self-absorbed daughter. A bit abrupt. The good daughter is named Amanda, like Gaiman’s wife. I do not know if he wrote this before or after they got together and if this was intentional or not. Just wanted to throw that out there.
18. The Return of the Thin White Duke
This story felt like an epic space opera–or at least, what comes after the end of an epic space opera. It is touching and then so very surreal. I almost thought I had missed something and started listening to a new story right near the end of the story I had been listening to. I also loved seeing David Bowie as the Duke in my head.
And the memory bugs and snake were neat.
19. Feminine Endings
This story starts out odd and I thought I knew what was up a bit, as the tale unfolded and new layers were revealed. Ultimately dark and disturbing. I kept thinking of how Amanda Palmer, Gaiman’s wife, once made money as a living statue and of the Weeping Angels from Doctor Who. CREE-PY!
20. Observing the Formalities
A prim and proper Maleficent sort of tells us why she does what she does. At least I think it is a Maleficent type character. I hope so, as I prefer this one to Angelina Jolie’s.
With this fairytale like short story right before the next also fairytale story, I got the impression that this was the prelude to the next tale. Odd.
21. The Sleeper and the Spindle
I very much enjoyed this fairytale mash-up of Snow White and Sleeping Beauty. Snow White has agency, can kick ass, and doesn’t settle for her fairytale ending. Sleeping Beauty’s fate is much grimmer and her Maleficent trickier though still ultimately defeated in this tale. I really liked this one. I also enjoyed the non-goofiness of the dwarves.
22. Witch Work
Another poem, this time about a powerful witch and the cool-ass magic she sells.
23. In Relig Odhrain
As I mentioned earlier, I heard Gaiman recite this in person at Bard College a couple of years ago. Creepy and sad, just like saints and religion. Or is that just me?
24. Black Dog
Shadow, the protagonist who is put through hell in American Gods, is finally back! In this long story, the man finds himself in rural England and uncovers something dark and strange there. And good ol’ Bast makes a cameo of sorts.
Dark and creepy and disturbing, conjuring up The Hound of the Baskervilles, ancient magic and evils with dash of wonderful and dark historical facts all blended with the modern and deranged.
Check out my Goodreads page.
*The spoiler text is in white, so just highlight the blank space if you want to read the spoiler text. You’ve been warned!