Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Neil Gaiman's Fragile Things

Just finished Neil Gaiman's Fragile Things, the first book I've ever read by this major fantasy writer, and I very much enjoyed it. Based on this book, which to be fair is a minor work, just a collection of short fiction, I wouldn't call him a great writer, but he's consistently very good, and pop, and clever and likeable and surprising. He bridges American fantasy (including tv/film writing) and British fantasy in an interesting way, and he also combines a pulpy prose style with some literary/metafictional interests. In short, I'd definitely read more. In fact, this collection ends with an American Gods novella, and I'm already planning to check out that novel or perhaps Neverwhere sometime soon.

What struck me most about this collection is Gaiman's ingenuity as a storyteller. He sames to change "the rules" on you in every piece, something I suppose might be more impressive in fantasy, a genre in which figuring out "the rules" of each story is a key part of the experience. My favorites in the collection are: "A Study in Emerald" (of course, since I'm a Sherlock Holmes fan--it's so clever and satisfying I read it twice), "Other People" (a diamondlike short short with a timeless feel) which has a nifty companion called "The Mapmaker" in the introduction, and two poems, "Instructions," which (speaking of rules) lists all kinds of instructions useful if you ever find yourself in a fairy tale, and "Inventing Aladdin," a thoughtful piece about storytelling that made me appreciate the craft anew (and also wonder what it's like to be a Neil Gaiman or a Joss Whedon with everyone always counting on you to wow them yet ready to turn on you the moment you disappoint).

I also highly enjoyed about a dozen or so other stories: "Forbidden Brides of the Faceless Slaves in the Secret House of the Night of Dread Desire" (a sort of inside-out Poe story), "Bitter Grounds," "Keepsakes and Treasures" (a story like the final novella involving the thuggish Mr. Smith and Mr. Alice and which dealt with a legendary male beauty), "The Facts in the Case of the Departure of Miss Finch" (simple amusing), "Harlequin Valentine," "The Problem of Susan" (which taught me something I never knew about the Narnia stories, which I was never able to get through as a kid), "Fifteen Painted Cards from a Vampire Tarot" (highly inventive), "Feeders and Eaters" (gross, I never want to read that again!), "Diseasemaker's Croup," "Goliath" (a story inspired by The Matrix that might be better than at least the sequels, "How to Talk to Girls at Parties" (a bit Whedonesque, I thought), and the previously mentioned novella "Monarch at the Glenn.

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