Sunday, August 5, 2007

Smoke And Mirrors by Neil Gaiman


"Stories are, in one way or another, mirrors. We use them to explain to ourselves how the world works or how it doesn't work. Like mirrors, stories prepare us for the day to come. They distract us from the things in the darkness."

Smoke and Mirrors is Neil Gaiman's first collection of short stories, or as he subtitles the book: Short Fictions and Illusions. This book was perfect! It was just the book that I've been waiting for after the reading slump that I've been in. I knew that I wouldn't be disappointed with Neil Gaiman, but I was even more pleased with these than I thought I would be.

As I read through these stories, I found myself continually amazed by the scope of Neil Gaiman's work. The man has an endless array of the most unique, far-fetched, bizarre, fully entertaining, haunting, and genius ideas and he writes them all so well. Put in the wrong hands, some of these story ideas could turn out really awful, but Gaiman makes them true literature (I'd love to hear what our Once Upon a Time basher blogger friend has to say about that sentence!). I have no doubt that Gaiman will live on as one of the great fantasy/horror writers of our time...he's already secured the title for himself in my book and in many others'.

Smoke and Mirrors starts off with a wonderful introduction that includes one of my favorite stories in the book "The Wedding Present". He then goes on to give a little history behind each short story in the collection which I absolutely loved. One very cool thing that I noticed from the intro is that 3 of the stories in this collection are based on sculptures by Lisa Snellings-Clark. He also mentions a sculpture of hers that he has sitting on his mantelpiece that he "suspects is a novel"....I'd be curious to know if that will see the light of day.

I enjoyed nearly every story in this collection, and counting "The Wedding Present", you get 31 stories in this book! Some of my favorites were:

Chivalry: about a woman who buys the Holy Grail at a thrift store

The Goldfish Pool and Other Stories: about a man who flies to L.A. to meet with Hollywood execs who are interested in a screenplay he has written. While there, he meets a very interesting janitor who holds age old secrets of the hotel he is staying at.

Troll Bridge: a young boy runs into a troll under a bridge and makes a deal that his life will be spared until the next time he crosses.

Changes: A man invents a cure for cancer that also changes the gender of the person who uses the drug...the drug soon gains a street value.

Shoggoth's Old Peculiar: A tourist happens upon an English pub and meets a couple of strangers who buy him a couple of drinks....a strange night ensues.

Looking for the Girl: A man spends the better part of his life looking for a girl that continually pops up in Penthouse as a nineteen year old model.

Bay Wolf: Modern take on an ancient epic.

We Can Get Them For You Wholesale: I really liked this one. A man decides to put a hit out on one person and decides that he can't pass up a bargain....

One Life, Furnished in Early Moorcock: Another favorite, this one was nostalgic...about a few young boys at school, their favorite author and the problems of life.

Foreign Parts: Alien STDs...

When We Went to See the End of the World: Written by an "11 1/4 year old", a tale of a young girl who goes with her parents for a drive to the end of the world. Very sad at times...deals with issues of abuse.

Babycakes: Very disturbing, but meaningful story about animal cruelty.

Murder Mysteries: The investigation of a fallen angel's death

Snow, Glass, Apples: Another absolute favorite, Neil's much darker telling of Snow White. The kiddies won't like this one ;)

OK, so I should've just given a summarization of all of them :p This was such a great collection and I can't wait to read Fragile Things now! I'm very excited to have another collection of his short stories waiting for me. I just can't believe I waited this long to get to this one. If you're looking for a book for the RIP challenge in September (right around the corner) this is a definite winner.

30 comments:

Stormfilled said...

My copy of Smoke and Mirrors is so battered! It's the conversion book - the one I give to friends who have assured me that they don't like Neil Gaiman. Even if they're still asserting this afterwards, they all keep the book and love it, even if it's just for a couple of stories.

They have a strange resonance, and I agree with you completely about how some of the basic ideas would have the potential to suck in less skilled hands. Do read Fragile Things soon! It's not as much a favourite as Smoke and Mirrors for me, but has many sparkling gems.

Chris said...

Stormfilled...I like that...the conversion book. I'll have to pick up a few used copies for that purpose ;) There's definitely something for everyone in here. Looking forward to Fragile Things!

Dark Orpheus said...

My favourite stories from the collection is "Snow, Glass, Apples" and "Murder Mysteries" - "Snow, Glass, Apples" was so gothic and subversive, and "Murder Mysteries" - well, it had that touch of Greek Tragedy that I loved.

But "Chivalry" was funny.

Nymeth said...

Great review, Chris! You named all my favourites. I love the twist in "We Can Get Them For You Wholesale". I love how he says that "One Life, Furnished in Early Moorcock" is mostly autobiographic. "Snow Glass Apples" was the first short story by Neil I ever read, and I was very impressed.

You're going to love "Fragile Things" too. "Sunbird" and "The Monarch of the Glen" alone make it worth it.

DesLily said...

I am beginning to think that between you and Carl Neil should pay you guys a percentage of his sales! lol... glad you enjoyed this last book... (and not surprised lol)

I am finally 200 pgs into HP. But within 3 chapters I found myself thinking a strange thing.. I'm sure it's just me, but...her writing has changed so much I feel like I am reading a "screen play" instead of a book! I feel like she now writes for a "movie" instead of for a book...did you notice that??

Heather said...

"We can get them for you wholesale" is one of my all-time favorite stories. Always makes me shiver. Great review!

Carl V. said...

So glad you finally got around to reading this. Some of the best short stories I have ever read are contained in this book. It is amazing. While I don't think Fragile Things is as good as a whole, I personally find it an amazing book as well.

Chivalry, The White Road, The Price, Snow, Glass, Apples, We Can Get Them For You Wholesale...these are some of my favorites.

I wish this entire collection was on CD. You can get many of the stories scattered here and there on other Gaiman audios including the latest M is for Magic, but I wish they were all together. Having Neil read short stories to you is incredible. If you have a chance to snag Fragile Things on audio as well as the book, I highly recommend it. I've listened to it twice already.

And I agree that this is a good book to expose people to the wonder that is Neil Gaiman.

I discovered Lisa Snellings-Clark because of this book, so it has extra special value to me.

Quixotic said...

I love Smoke and Mirrors. It is a firm favourite among my Gaiman books and also among my short story collections. Several really great stories in there.

Really glad you enjoyed it!

Fence said...

Snow, Glass, Apples and Chivalry were two of my favourites as well. And this post has reminded me that I really should pick up Fragile Times as soon as I can :)

Chris said...

Dark Orpheus, "Snow, Glass, Apples" was awesome...I really want to get the Charles Vess illustrated chap book that was done now, but it always sells for so much on eBay! Right there with you on "Murder Mysteries" ;)

Nymeth, I was so impressed by this collection. Not that I was surprised that they were as good as they were, but they were just really enjoyable. I'm really looking forward to Fragile Things.

Deslily, I agree, Neil should indeed give us a percentage of his sales :p Kidding of course...His books just never cease to amaze me!

I think that this book (talking Harry Potter now :p) is just so epic and so huge that it comes off as a movie. Her writing almost has to be like that. It's no longer just Hogwarts, it's the entire wizarding world. And there has to be the entire action of the end of the series crammed into one last book. But I know what you mean in a way...this book had a much more "epic" feel to it. I think that a big part of it had to do with the removal of our familiar Hogwarts :(

Heather, Thanks and Thanks for stopping by! I absolutely loved "We Can Get Them For You Wholesale". Such a clever story and wonderful commentary on the appeal of power and greed.

Carl, Me too! It really was an amazing book from cover to cover and each story was a gem.

I've never been into the audio book thing, but I really need to get one of Neil's audio book collections. I really think that I would enjoy one of his short story collections. The only audio book I own is Ender's Game and I liked that one a lot...and I do love Neil's reading voice, so I'm sure I'd love his CD ;)

It was great to hear about the stories influenced by Lisa Snellings-Clark! I discovered her through him too, but it wasn't through a story, it was through his blog. The sculpture he talks about on his mantelpiece sounds incredible.

Quix, I REALLY enjoyed it! It has quickly made it's way into being a firm favorite of mine as well and has taken it's proud place on my bookshelf ;)

Fence, I'll be jumping into Fragile Things as soon as all of these challenges are over :/ Which will probably be in December. I love the presentation of Fragile things with the translucent dustjacket...very cool!

Rhinoa said...

I really liked Chivalry and Snow, Glass, Apples. I wasn't sure about some of the middle tales though when I read this. It was a while ago and I do plan on reading it again and seeing if some more jump out.

Chris said...

Rhinoa, Now that you mention it, I noticed that many of my favorites were towards the beginning and the end of the book as well. I liked the whole collection though. Hey, if you do the RIP Challenge, maybe you can give it another visit then!

Bookfool said...

You used the word "sad" quite a bit, unless I'm just zooming in on it today, since I'm a bit down in the dumps. Were they mostly dark and dreary stories?

Chris said...

Bookfool, LOL...not so much dark and dreary..Gaiman's works tend to be a bit dark, but they tend to be somewhat charming at the same time if you can envision that at all! And there's always a bit of dark humor to them. No matter what the man writes it puts a smile on my face just because I enjoy reading his writing so much.

Jeff S. said...

I'm so glad you enjoyed the book. Smoke and Mirrors is one of my favorite Neil works. I will agree with you on many of your choices. My favorites out of the collection being Chivilary, Snow, Glass, Apples, and The Wedding Present. My all time favorite didn't make your list though. The Price. It sent chills up my spine. I will also echo stormfilled's sentiments on this being a great Neil book to have someone start off with.

Chris said...

The Price was very cool too Jeff. I couldn't help but think of Neil's recent talk of his cats on his blog. With the little video image of the raccoon in the cat house! I really enjoyed every story in the book and The Price is one I was going to add to the list but I felt ridiculous summarizing every single story, lol.

Darla D said...

Well, I'm not a huge fan of short stories (if they're wonderful, I'm annoyed when they end so quickly, and if they're not, then I don't like them - I'm tough to please that way). But between your review and everyone else's comments, I'm sold. I've enjoyed everything else Gaiman's done, so why not these? Thanks for the review!

Chris said...

Darla, I used to not be a huge fan of short stories at all, but I've found that I'm becoming more of a fan lately. Mostly because I'm discovering how well they can be done by authors like Gaiman and Orson Scott Card. Charles de Lint has written some great ones as well. I really think you'd enjoy these!

Jeff S. said...

LOL! I know what you mean. It's hard to leave any out of a list of great stories from this collection.

Darla D said...

Oh, Chris - of course I make a huge exception for Charles de Lint. I'd read that man's grocery lists and be delighted about it, I'm sure. I also love the way his stories don't just stand alone - they are often threads in the larger Newford tapestry, and characters might appear as protagonists in one story (or novel), and as supporting cast members in others. You are right - I do enjoy those stories!

Chris said...

Darla, In that case, I think you'd enjoy this collection too ;) Check it out!

Andi said...

A friend read some of this book to me one night when we were sitting around book talking, and I fell in love with the idea of it then. Unfortunately, I haven't gotten my hands on it yet, but I'm looking very forward to it. Especially the Snow White retelling!

Bookfool said...

Okay, thanks Chris. I could handle that. I don't own the book and I'll read Stardust, first, but I just don't want to end up getting anything depressing, right now, if you know what I mean!

Chris said...

Andi, it's such a great read. Each story was captivating in it's own way. Snow, Glass, Apples is definitely one of the best in the collection. There's a special publication of it that Dreamhaven books did awhile back that I would love to get my hands on, but it's really hard to find now :(

Bookfool, I completely understand. Like I said, the stories aren't so much sad, they are just set in a sort of horror fantasy type setting.

Carl V. said...

Many, many of the stories in Fragile Things fall under the gothic heading of the R.I.P. Challenge. I suggest reading it for that and then you can get to it sooner!!! :)

Chris said...

Carl, Shit! That's gonna be book 16 on the list for the RIP Challenge, lol!

Robin said...

What a great review! I'm going to pick this up now and read it. What have I been waiting for? It sounds really good.

Chris said...

Robin, Yay! I'm glad you're reading this one...you'll love it!

jean pierre said...

ah, i'm glad you enjoyed it! after your dissapointment with your recent books and "interworld".

i actually haven't read any of his short stories, so i'm rather excited about this too...!

Chris said...

JP, You'll enjoy this one. I'm normally not too big of a short story fan, but these were really amazing. I couldn't get enough of them. Definitely ended the reading slump!