Summer Solstice 2002






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Smoke and Mirrors

by Neil Gaiman
Review by Mark W. Worthen
Review for June 2002

Smoke and Mirrors: Short Fictions and Illusions by Neil Gaiman

Perennial, 2001

ISBN 0-06-093470-0


Or perhaps I should say he breaks many of the rules of modern short story writing. He uses a lot of narrative. He occasionally switches point of view in the middle of a tale. Often he has no "hook." I could go on, but why? The point is, Gaiman makes his own rules.

Gaiman's genius lies in making a story work. To paraphrase both Stephen King and Peter Straub, "It is the story." The bottom line is that there is only one rule for writing: Be true to the tale. If you are true to the story, you can get away with anything.

Gaiman tells a good, engaging story in virtually any medium, from screenplay to poem to comic magazine, and do the story justice. He pulls the readers into the world of the story, and keeps them until they find out what happens.

I got turned on to Gaiman some years ago through an online friend, and since then, I've been trying to read everything I can find by this man, including his Sandman comic series. Now I'm afraid to pick up any of his work because When I"m reading him, I don't get anything done.

Gaiman's introduction to the book says, "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...they distract us from the things in the darkness." He compares his art (and his book) to the magician who uses mirrors to block the audience's view from what is truly happening, and smoke to "blur the edges of things," calling what he uses "a distorting mirror...we can use to tell ourselves things we might not otherwise see."

Neil Gaiman conjures thirty-one tales to give us a glimpse into the mind of this man. And into ourselves as well.

"Tastings" is a highly erotic journey with an unexpected twist. I'm usually wary of twist endings, because they often cheapen the plot--like a long joke that ends in a ridiculous pun; you feel cheated at the end. This one works, because Gaiman doesn't simply give us a punchline with a long introduction, but paints characters doing unexpected things.

"Snow, Glass, Apples," probably the most beautifully written piece in the book, is a familiar tale told from an unexpected point of view.

"Murder Mysteries," which apparently ties in to his Sandman universe (or is it the other way around?) is an excellent and memorable piece about Lucifer Morningstar and his fall from Grace. I originally thought I could have done without the framing story, but it turned out to be integral to the plot, and indeed, to the title.

"Shoggoth's Old Peculiar" is a hilarious story of a man who finds the original Innsmouth on the English coast along with one of the locations of the dreaming corpse of Cthulhu. I don't believe I've ever read a humorous Lovecraft piece. Not, of course, to say there aren't any, just that this is my first, and I laughed myself sick.

"The Goldfish Pool and Other Stories" is another humorous piece about a screenwriter who journeys to Hollywood in an attempt to get his book made into a screenplay. He runs into one block after another, and after talking to many different directors, and finding many "Hollywoods," makes the decision many screenwriters make. From my limited experience writing for the screen, it's dead-on accurate.

I could spend a lot of space discussing: "The White Road," "We Can Get Them for You Wholesale," "Looking for the Girl" and others in the book. I could design an entire course around this collection alone.

Should you get this book, and I recommend it as an addition to your collection, you will find yourself, as I often do with anthologies, rationing yourself to one story a night. In the long run, you will find that Gaiman sticks closer to the rules than anyone. At least the rule of being true to the story.

Score: Five bites.


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