Because all of life is stories.
I think I’ve mentioned before that I have a thing for short stories. I love bite sized tales that can make me feel in only a handful of pages what some novels fail to do in hundreds. I also love Neil Gaiman. As it turns out, this is my week. Gaiman has a new short story collection out, his third now. Trigger Warning is, I think, Gaiman’s best of the three. When I reviewed Rogues I mentioned that, with any anthology, some stories are always going to rise to the top, while others will sink to the bottom. Nobody is going to hit the mark every time, and Gaiman is no exception. That said, this one is, when compared to Smoke and Mirrors and Fragile Things, the stronger and most consistently good of the three. Let’s have a look at a few of the best stories.
My Last Landlady
I first heard this one when Neil was reading it at an event with his wife, Amanda Palmer. If you can track down the CD set for “An Evening with Neil and Amanda”, I suggest you do so. Like most of his tales, this one is dark and somewhat unsettling. It does what Gaiman does best, takes a seemingly unremarkable story, twists it to be dark, and then takes it a step further, making it unsettling. It’s one that can stick with you, if you’re in the right frame of mind.
A Calendar of Tales
A while back Gaiman did a project with Blackberry, soliciting story ideas from Twitter that he would turn into a story for each month. This is the first time I’ve sat down and read them all. From a mother grieving over her son lost at sea to a fantastical science fiction war that really needs another story, this one is twelve stories all in one, and they are each as unique as the months they are told for. And now my birthday has a story. Well, September does anyways.
The Case of Death and Honey
I love Neil Gaiman writing Sherlock Holmes stories. His first, “A Study in Emerald”, is a delightfully weird combination of the Lovecraftian mythos and Conan Doyle’s own “A Study in Scarlet”. This isn’t a retelling of a previous story, but something wholly new. It takes place during Holmes’ retirement, and shortly after the end of Mycroft’s life. (Don’t worry, that isn’t a spoiler. Not really.) A question for you? Just why does Holmes really pick up beekeeping in the first place?
The Man Who Forgot Ray Bradbury
I’ve heard and read this one three dozen times before it got put into this anthology. I’ve even had the pleasure of hearing Gaiman read it live. It was originally written as a birthday present for Ray Bradbury. It is the story of a man who is desperately looking for a way to put an author he has forgotten back into his head, back into the world. It is beautiful. It is moving. It is my favorite story of his. I hope you enjoy it as much as I have over the years.
Click Clack the Rattlebag
This is truly terrifying. It’s a story about a monster I’ve never heard of. For almost the entire duration of a child’s schoolyard story I was ready to move on to the next story. And then it ended. And then the chills came. Are you sure you know what’s going creak and groan in your home?
And Weep Like Alexander
This was a lighter story. It was quick, it was intriguing, it was clever. It’s the story of a man who celebrates that he has completed his life’s work. He has uninvented every invention he knows of that plagues humanity. Of course, you wouldn’t know about it. He hasn’t just taken them apart, he’s made sure they weren’t invented in the first place! So of course you don’t remember them existing. But what is an uninventor to do now that his work is complete?
Or so he thinks it is…
It’s another Neil Gaiman Dr. Who story! Gaiman has previously written two episodes for Dr. Who, and “The Doctor’s Wife” is one of the best episodes they’ve ever filmed, in my opinion. “Nothing O’Clock” features Amy Pond and the Eleventh Doctor returning to London, only to find that the planet has been sold to a species called “The Kin” who slip across time as easily as The Doctor. The Kin have reason to hate the Time Lords, and they have just one left to deal with. An excellent story on its own, it makes me long for Gaiman to write more episodes of “Who”.
The Sleeper and the Spindle
Gaiman’s retelling of Sleeping Beauty is spellbinding. I was given a copy of the picture book as a birthday gift, but I’m happy to reread it. Alarmed at a sleeping curse overtaking the kingdom closest to their own, three dwarves beseech the Queen to stop the curse before it envelops the world in its sleepy hold. This story may be a retelling of an old fairy tale with most of the set pieces in place, but there are quite a few changes and surprises that Gaiman works in to the story. No offense to the classic original, but I found this version to be thrilling. It’s everything a modern fairy tale needs, and is further proof that the genre didn’t die out with Grimm and Andersen.
I love American Gods. I really really love it. This is a novella about Shadow, set five years after the events of that novel. While it will still be enjoyable to those of you who haven’t read the original novel, there are definitely goodies inside for people who have. Small references, things that made me scoff or laugh, but nothing of a major plot point. Black Dog is good continuation of what has happened to Shadow since his last adventures in America. This one finds him in a small pub, hearing a story about one of my all time favorite (and sadly disturbing) creatures, the Barguest. A great hound spirit that watches over the place it was buried. It can also be named the Kyrkogrim, or Grim for short. Legend tells that if you see the dog, you are doomed to die. Shadow has been around the block enough to know never to discount old legends, especially when they all seem to have an interest in him.
There are many more stories in this anthology that I could have mentioned, wrote about. If I had to write this a different day, I might have chosen different stories. Trigger Warning is another excellent entry in to the growing repertoire of works that Gaiman is leaving the world. Gaiman understands the turning of story and the world. His mind works in fascinating and sometimes disturbing ways. I don’t hesitate to call him the living heir to Bradbury. If you’re looking for a palette cleanser in between novels or something you can savor one story a day, or even something you can devour in one voracious sitting, this should make its way on to your list, pronto.