Neil Gaiman’s Smoke and Mirrors has a lovely structure. It gives the reader delightful surprises, hiding stories within introductions and introductions behind poems and lovely little anecdotes and backgrounds and name-drops after the stories within introductions. It also has a bunch of short stories and poems, which is a nice bonus.
I have a love-meh relationship with Gaiman’s work. I love most of his novels, am mostly unfazed by his poetry, like/love most of his stories. But even at what I consider his “worst” Gaiman is a genre delight, mainly because he refuses to allow genre to limit what his stories can do – you’re playing across borders here, babies, and there isn’t a map.
Anyway, a quick run down:
Reading the Entrails: A rondel, is a little rondel. it’s workmanlike, atmospheric, and pointless.
The Introduction has the bleakest tale of hopeful true love I’ve read in a while. It took me two reads to find that hope, but it’s there, and a very strong thing it is too. The introduction also has other stuffs, fulfilling its introductory function. I tend to read it after each story.
Chivalry remains by far my favourite piece in the collection. It’s an intellectual and emotional delight, mixing what I suppose you’d call slice of life literature with Arthurian legend. It conflates the old and the new in interesting ways, really – Arthurian knights are simultaneously younger and older – aeons older – than the old widowed central heroic Mrs. Whitaker. Ummmm the story is about moving on and staying still and being steadfast – and oh, there are many kinds of steadfast – and about beauty and growing old and being lonely and being creative and being loving and being true. I love it. I wish the book had ended rather than closed with it.
Nicholas Was… is writing at its efficient and atmospheric best. It turns a beloved figure on its head just a tad, and gave me the creepies up my spine.
The Price is cool, but somehow lacking. It should be cooler. It is also a tad misogynistic, but then again it’s a very male collection.
Troll Bridge is not really a new and original concept. But it is a tad different, and it’s well-told. It ends beautifully, and is an excellent character study.
Don’t Ask Jack is more interesting for its introduction than for itself. I suppose some people would find it atmospherically creepy, but I just found myself wishing I’d been given the furnishings and not just the skeletal structure.
The Goldfish Pool and Other Stories is about Hollywood, and the creative process, and stardom and beauty, and about living for a very long time and about being alone, and being here, and being you. It rambles and meanders. It’s perfect.
The White Road is a poem. It works, just about, and is creepy and scary and very clever.
Queen of Knives is also a poem. Meh.
Changes is a skeletal structure that reveals a very great deal. It’s an interesting glance at gender, sexuality and creation, at race and religion, at human bigotry and at beauty in the eyes of the beholder. I loved it.
The daughter of Owls was rather boring, and not new, and felt gimmicky. 😦
Shoggoth’s Old Peculiar is a funny story, not very different in concept perhaps but truly very funny. Every so often when Gaiman does the thing he is doing in this story he gets it light and cool and funny-sounding, and this is one of those oftentimes.
Virus is boring until the last verse, where it slaps you in the face rebuking you for taking it for granted.
Looking for the Girl is a boy’s story, and not mine. Interesting nonetheless, as an examination of the smutty magazines and the people who read them and the people who make them.
Only the End of the World Again is so aggressively boring it surprises me. But it is a precursor to Bay Wolf, one of the few poems in the collection I wholeheartedly like. It conflates Baywatch and Beowulf and heartache and heartbreak and organised crime and the young and the old and the undying and the dead. It makes me ache.
We Can Get Them For You Wholesale delivers a sharp clean knife wound in the gentlest possible way. You don’t notice you’re bleeding on the floor untl you realise you can’t read the next story quite just yet.
One Life, Furnished in Early Moorcock describes fandom as I know it – a fandom of a time when I wasn’t alive. Its about growing up, and finding room inside of yourself to dream and to be. It’s about hearing the voice that an author awakens inside you. It’s lovely.
Cold Colours would work beautifully as prose. It is kinda sucky as a poem.
Foreign Parts is so basic its ick factor rockets sky high. It made me very, very, very uncomfortable. I wonder what it’s like to be male and read it.
Mouse is a sad telling, of a sad man and his sad wife and the sad deaths we allow ourselves to take and the sad deaths we cannot bear to commit (pure grammar does not work for this story). It’s a still, slow, stagnant slive of life, and it’s extremely powerful.
When We Went To See The End of The World has one or the other of the following problems:
a) The narrator has a low IQ – I mean this not as an insult but as an observation.
b) The narrator’s voice is misrepresented so she sounds younger than she really is.
c) The education system she was uncultured in sucks monkey poo.
I couldn’t figure out which it was. I hated it.
Desert Wind is a small little atmospheric poem. I like it every time I read it, but I never remember it after I’m done.
Tastings is an interesting concept. It’s a callous little tale and it’s callously told. It’s about sexual power, and compassion, and the lack thereof, I would venture. But you can argue it’s not.
Murder Mysteries is my second favourite story in the collection. It’s about ineffability, and justice. It’s about love, and caring, and hurt. It’s about ancient mariners, and innocence, and creation. It’s about what lies outside of the universe, and how that might not be so different from what we are ourselves. It’s evocative of something very different, crossing genre boundaries without you noticing it’s ahppening.
Snow, Glass, Apples is an excellent story that does nothing for me at all, mainly because I recognised the – er – the device that was being used about two pages in, and lost interest, since that particular device has never ever held much interest for me. But it’s an excellent story. I’m sure everyone else will like it.