A new book by Neil Gaiman is always reason for celebration; a new book of collected tales by Neil Gaiman is an opportunity for evaluation. Such is Trigger Warning: Short Fictions and Disturbances, the creative polymaths third collection of stories and other things. At this juncture one must be careful – especially careful – as most ‘reviews’ about such collections typically end up focusing more on the man personally, and not the work. It’s an innocent mistake, as with other inexhaustible spinners of yarns and tapestries we may come for the details, but often lost in spinner’s web.
And for good reason: Gaiman has that special knack for bringing the curiously disparate worlds of sci-fi geeks, fantasy hounds, and lovers of great fiction together; Gaiman recognizes this, telling us right in the introduction that such collections “should not, in short, contain horror and ghost stories, science fiction and fairy tales, fabulism and poetry, all in the same place. They should be respectable.” Thankfully, he confides, “This collection fails this test.”
As Gaiman explains in one of the most personal and illuminating introductions in some time (as well as indispensable for insight into each tale’s creation): “There are things in this book, as in life, that might upset you. There is death and pain in here, tears and discomfort, violence of all kinds, cruelty, even abuse. There is kindness, too, I hope, sometimes. Even a handful of happy endings. (Few stories end unhappily for all participants, after all.)” Consider yourselves warned.
And with two dozen tales collected here there’s bound to be some personal ranking of favorites at the risk of ‘author fatigue’. Here are tales borne from commissions and Twitter experiments alike, some with paper beginnings and others entirely digital things, reworked fairy tales, and much, much more. Regardless of where your admiration with his considerable library stands, highlights included here are new tales about Doctor Who, Sherlock Holmes, and even Gaiman’s own mythology smashing epic, American Gods, the last of which makes its publication debut here.
That said, here are the standouts for me.
“The Thing About Cassandra” has a man meeting the fictional girlfriend he invented in high school to help keep the bullies away – or perhaps it’s her meeting him? “October Tale” has fun re-purposing the familiar ‘genie in a bottle’ trope into something modern, and utterly satisfying.
“The Man Who Forgot Ray Bradbury”, an emotional homage written as a 90th (!) birthday present to one of his literary heroes and perhaps the most personal of all stories here. As with most of Gaiman’s
“The Return of the Thin White Duke” will be of special interest to fans of David Bowie and Japanese gaming – the two not mutually exclusive. Here Gaiman expands the mythology of Bowie’s classic song into a mini-epic originally conceived in 2004 at the behest of Japanese artist Yoshitaka Amano (FInal Fantasy) to supplement a fashion shoot for V Magazine. The magazine lost interest; Gaiman didn’t, concluding the tale here.
Now for the real highlights. “The Case of Death and Honey” joins Sherlock Holmes in his twilight years as detective-turned-apiarist, charged by a dying Mycroft with solving the greatest mystery of them all. It’s a rare thing to see the great detective pen his own tale and the scope is huge; hope you like bees.
“Nothing O’Clock” was the 11th and final in a series of digital stories to help ring in the 50th Anniversary of Doctor Who, apt as it stars the Eleventh Doctor (i.e. Matt Smith) and Amy Pond traveling back to the year 1984 to uncover the mystery of Earth’s missing population, only to find themselves battling the Kin, an ancient race of mask-wearing, time-abusing miscreants.
“Black Dog”, exclusive to this book and a signal that Gaiman may be ready to fully revisit his American Gods epic, follows Shadow Moon as he travels the foggy England hillsides for respite, only to find himself (once more) on the battle line between mythology and horror; both of which are Gaiman trademarks.
Trigger Warning: Short Fictions and Disturbances has the rare distinction of not just offering a satisfying anthology of Gaiman’s most recent work, but also serves as an excellent primer for the uninitiated. Among the stories collected here are recent additions to pop-culture mainstays and entirely new creations that should prickle the imaginations of those who may have never heard of Sandman or Coraline.