Off the Shelf - "Smoke and Mirrors"

by Marcus Pan

Chain Border

I enjoyed some recent novels and graphic novels by Neil Gaiman. Of course you're going to think Sandman first off, but I'm afraid I haven't read that yet. Fooled ya. No, the others I've read are Neverwhere of course, and Stardust, both of which I reviewed recently in this column.

This time I delved into a collection of his short stories and other preambles. You'll find yourself within a landscape of poetry and prose fused together and made to coexist. While there are some true gems in this book, some of them lost me for a bit. First off, in a nice bout of sneakiness that I appreciated, Neil hides one of the best stories of the book in the Introduction. The Wedding Present looks at a couple that has a small window into an alternate reality - a reality that goes very differently from the one they are currently in. By the end of this piece you are hard pressed to decide which was the more preferred reality. Neil continues his Introduction by writing a bit about every story in the book. Where they might have come from, ideas that began them and a little glimpse into the thought pattern behind a writer.

I preferred his prose and fantasy-fiction style stories moreso than his poetic work found here with few exceptions. Gems that are lying in wait include his retelling of the classic Sleeping Beauty told from a different viewpoint. Unlike Disney, Gaiman remains true to the original intent of this morbid story of death and evil. He calls this retelling Snow, Glass, Apples. He'll also, more than once, delve into the world of H.P. Lovecraft with Only the End of the World again and Shoggoth's Old Peculiar. The latter of these is particularly striking and quite good.

Another favorite is a story that I had previously read in the end of Neverwhere. We Can Get Them For You Wholesale is one of the best short stories I've ever read, and the Introduction gave a look to what started such a dark idea. When We Went to See the End of the World by Dawnie Morningside, age 11 ¼ is strikingly surreal and slowly becomes increasingly dismal as it comes to a close. It's the type of story where you can go in any direction, I would love to see Neil take this world of fiction further.

Mouse is vaguely dark, but hides behind sarcasm and mystery. You think you know what's going on … but you never do find out for sure if you are right. There are so many questions left hanging. But answering these would ruin the story - and so it ends abruptly. For the erotically inclined, you are not left out here as Neil provides us Tastings, a science fiction erotic fiction piece that is done purely with sex in mind, but would be hard pressed to be called porn. It's artistically brilliant.

Troll Bridge is yet another fairy tale retelling. Neil this time adapts a version of The Three Billy Goats Gruff - a story that I had completely forgotten about until I found it retold here. The White Road is one of the few poetic pieces here that I enjoyed. It's ending is brutal, and the style somehow breathes both a classic and contemporary flair mingled together.

Overall there were some slower spots in the book, but I made it through with some bright gems. We Can Get Them For You Wholesale, Shoggoth's Old Peculiar and The Wedding Present, to name a few, make the slower, groanier spots more tolerable. So much so that while reflecting on the book, I remember better the good stories; so they definitely overshadow those not so good.

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Buy Smoke and Mirrors

"Smoke and Mirrors" by Neil Gaiman
Published by Avon Books, Inc.
Copyright © 1998 by Neil Gaiman
ISBN: 0-380-97364-2

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