Saturday, July 10, 2010

A Written Variety Show - Smoke and Mirrors

I didn’t intend on reading all of “Smoke and Mirrors” by Neil Gaiman. I was just gonna read a few stories until the books I ordered were delivered. It was gonna take a week and I figured that “Smoke and Mirrors” would give me enough reading material for lunch.

The thing is that Gaiman’s easy storytelling, his skill with words, and his ability to weave tales that jump from short poems to sci-fi to Lovecraftian parody to horrific fairy tale caught my imagination just like it did a few years ago when I first read this compilation of short stories. I remembered why I was so excited to read more of his stuff after this sampling, and I realized why I always refer to this collection whenever I talk about Gaiman. Just looking over my blogs for “Stardust”, “Anansi Boys” and “Coraline” I notice that I make reference to his short stories every time.

So what is it about Gaiman’s work in “Smoke and Mirrors” that is so interesting? I have to say that it’s his skill in telling the story, no matter what type of story or what type of format it is in, he pulls you in. He also knows just the right length to make the stories compelling.

One of my favorites is the opening story, “Chivalry” which has a very Monty Python feel to it. It basically tells the story of a kind old woman who happens to find the Holy Grail at an antique store and what happens when she buys it. “The White Road” is a poem that tells a medieval type legend with horrifying loveliness. “Shoggoth’s Old Particular” is a tongue in cheek tale that twists H.P. Lovecraft’s “Shadow Over Innsmouth”. Fans of the horror writer will find a lot of chuckles in this one. “Only the End of the World Again” is a more serious take on Lovecraft and provides an intriguing protagonist. “We Can Get Them For You Wholesale” is a dark piece with a very dry British sense of humor and horror. “Murder Mysteries” combines Catholic mysticism and detective fiction. The finale is the wonderfully black “Snow, Glass, Apples”. People who don’t like to see their fairy tales tainted should avoid this little gem. Anyone who sees the darkness in fairy tales will dive right in.

Any writers looking for a set of short genre fiction stories to examine and inspire should really look no further. Gaiman has a couple stories that could arguably be considered non-genre, but for the most part he works with fantasy, horror and all the shades in between. Even his pure sci-fi stories have a bit of the fantastic about them. I can say that next time I’m feeling at a loss for short story material – I’ll just read a couple of stories from “Smoke and Mirrors” and grab that energy. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got a short story to work on.

Have you read “Smoke and Mirrors”? What did you think of it? What was your favorite story? Do you have a book you read to recharge your creative inspiration? Do you have a favorite short story compilation?

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