As an avid comic book reader, I’d heard a lot about Neil Gaiman over the years. His Sandman series is considered a masterpiece of the genre and yet, despite the high praise it has received, it’s a title I never got around to reading. To be honest, the same applies to Gaiman’s work in general. While I’ve long recognized his popularity and place as one of the forerunners of contemporary fantasy, I’ve just never gotten around to checking out his stuff. I’ve wanted to. Honest. I’ve had Smoke and Mirrors, Neverwhere, Fragile Things, Coraline, and Good Omens (which he co-wrote with Terry Pratchett) sitting on my bookshelf for some time now – along with about 350+ other titles I’ve really been meaning to get around to. The problem is, of course, that I buy them faster than I can read them. And I can only get through two or three books a week. All this to say my introduction to Gaiman’s work has been long overdue.
Well, given how much I enjoyed this collection of short stories, I guarantee it won’t be long before I’ve worked my way through the entire Gaiman library. What’s that? You know someone who’s collected all of the birthday cards he’s sent out over the years? Heck, I’ll read those too. Like any anthology, some of the entries didn’t work for me but, unlike most anthologies, those that did really, really, REALLY did.
From its very first sentence, I knew I was going to love “Chivalry”: “Mrs. Whitaker found the Holy Grail; it was under a fur coat.” And that opener pretty much sets the tone for a brilliant story detailing one elderly woman’s unlikely brush with Arthurian lore. What I found particularly enjoyable about this tale was Mrs. Whitaker’s ability to remain thoroughly unflappable throughout – even when Galaad comes trotting up her walk on horseback to inquire after the grail. In fact, the only suggestion that she is at all put out comes at story’s end in her rationale for not picking up that lamp. Like I said – brilliant.
Even though I’m an admitted heathen who doesn’t read much poetry, I did enjoy a number of the offerings in Smoke and Mirrors. Loved the notion of Santa doing penance in “Nicholas Was…”.
“Troll Bridge” initially feels like a modern reworking of a classic fairy tale but, in its dark turn, blossoms into a sad allegory of youth’s evanescence. Of course, I could be completely wrong. I saw the protagonist’s eventual surrender to the troll as a poignant reflection on life’s inevitable conclusion. Gaiman may have simply written the story because he likes trolls.
“Don’t Ask Jack“ accomplishes a lot in its three short pages, suggesting dark forces at play as it evokes memories of childhood toys long-forgotten and their enigmatic influences on innocent minds.
Clearly, one of the reasons I enjoyed Smoke and Mirrors so much was because I was able to connect with many of the stories on a personal level – some element or experience or subtle turn of phrase that had me thinking “Holy shit! That’s EXACTLY what it was like!”. And there was no more obvious an example for me than “The Goldfish Pool and Other Stories”. I’ve been there! The limo ride to the fancy hotel. The meetings with individuals who absolutely loved your script and only “had a few notes”. The desire to please the note-givers only to learn that a putsch had taken place overnight and a new line-up of very different note-givers had taken their place. The despair and sadness that sets in after less than a week in the city. The genuine delight at making the acquaintance of someone atypically sincere and down-to-earth. And the relieved drive back to the airport during which the limo driver regales you with stories about that studio executive who kept him waiting outside her hotel for over two hours only to come rushing into the vehicle with mere minutes to make her flight and order him to speed to the airport and ignore all traffic lights or risk losing his job. Ah, Hollywood.
In “Changes”, Gaiman offers up a thoughtful treatise on the possible evolution of gender in a world in which advancements in technology drive social enlightenment, “Shoggoth’s Old Peculiar” is a terrific tip of the hat to H.P. Lovecraft, and “Looking for the Girl” possessed the understated eeriness of the classic Twilight Zone I watched growing up.
Finally, “Murder Mysteries” is a deceptively complex story that will stay with you.
There were other selections I really enjoyed (“The Sweeper of Dreams” with its gorgeous imagery, “Snow, Glass, Apples”, its retelling of the Snow White tale trumping Maguire’s Mirror Mirror), and some that didn’t resonate with me (“Only the End of the World Again”, “We Can Get Them for You Wholesale”, “One Life Furnished in Early Moorcock”, “Foreign Parts”, “Tastings”), but, on the whole, most of this anthology hits the mark. And as an added treat, Gaiman includes a brief paragraph on each entry in the book’s introduction (as well as a bonus short story).
Innovative story-telling. A first-rate collection. Highly recommended.
Happy belated birthday to JoJoB.
Playing catch-up with the mailbag –
Saphire writes: “I liked Midway. But when they went to Earth, where was Landry? Shouldn’t he have been there?”
Answer: Landry was in the bathroom at the time. I’m happy to report he woke up in his stall several hours later, none the worse for wear.
Rononfan writes: “It looked like Jason Momoa got smacked in the eye in that last scene of Midway on the jumper(and earlier scenes with the fight between Ronon and Teal’c). Was that a real black eye or just makeup?”
Answer: That was make-up. However, for a real-life goose egg, carefully check out Sheppard’s noggin in the infirmary scene with Keller from This Mortal Coil. Apparently, Joe turned the wrong way during the shooting of the sparring scene with Jason and really took one off the melon.
PG15 writes: Re: Miday “The Wraith leader in this episode; shouldn’t he be dead?”
Answer: Different wraith. Remind me to tell you guys about today’s wraith casting session.
Mark B. writes: “ Oh, there was one question I’ve been meaning to ask; any chance we’ll be seeing more of the nurse from ‘Sunday’ etc in season Five? Will she get a name?”
Answer: I believe she was given a name in Tabula Rasa. Marie.
Charles Schneider writes: “Now that picture-to-blog posting has become a daily ritual for a long time, how do you keep it new and fresh. Do you take pictures and then decide what to talk about, or vice versa?”
Answer: I’ll be amassing a wealth of on-set and behind-the-scenes photos that I’ll be carefully doling out. Some great pics from Search and Rescue that will have to wait until after The Last Man airs. As for the subject matter – it depends. If I have some terrific shots, those may dictate the blog entry. Other times, it’s usually dictated by whatever I’d like to get off my chest.
Ashley writes: “ I’m curious, do you have an anthropologist, historian or other social scientist on staff in a consulting position for costuming queries, help with set design or even basic script writing? Or is the staff’s approach less emphasized on accuracy and more so on “just Wikipedia it!”
Answer: As much as we’d love to have an on-set anthropologist, the writers must actually research topics like handheld flares, pitch, and the difference between mist and fog themselves.
Cleito writes: “How much time do you (and the other production people) assume is passing between not-a-multipart episodes?”
Answer: It depends. Sometimes several months, other times mere hours.
Wolfenm writes: “Ryan Reynolds as Deadpool? I like Reynolds, but I’m not sure how I feel about it …”
Answer: I’m all for it. His smart-ass character was the best thing about the last Blade.