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2015 Stories 101 - 115

Continuing to catch up on the story reviews. The following are all from Neil Gaiman’s Trigger Warning, finishing up my thoughts on that collection.

101. THE CASE OF DEATH AND HONEY Gaiman has written a few Sherlock Holmes tales, and they’re all great for different reasons. This one posits a trip by Holmes, deep in retirement, to China to investigate a strain of bee. The story alternates between excerpts from Holmes’ letters, his own memoirs, and the POV of a Chinese beekeeper. The alternating scenes enhance the mysteries: what is Holmes up to? Where is Watson? Really very well paced and authentic characterizations for Holmes and Mycroft.

102. THE MAN WHO FORGOT RAY BRADBURY Gaiman takes on the effects of Alzheimer’s in a first-person narrative that is heartbreaking to read and yet from which I couldn’t look away. The nature of memory is ephemeral and so is the nature of this story.

103. JERUSALEM   Apparently Jerusalem Syndrome is a real thing: a person becomes so overwhelmed by visiting the Holy City that he or she dresses in a home-made toga and walks the city’s streets preaching. Gaiman uses this as a hook into a story based loosely on a William Blake poem. A nice, tidy little story about infuences and relationships.

104. CLICK-CLACK THE RATTLEBAG   I listened to Gaiman perform this in audiobook form in October 2014, long before this collection came out, and it chilled me enough that I didn’t want to walk up my own steps to go to my own bedroom in my own house. (Living alone, well-read horror stories can have that effect on you.) Rereading it months later, hearing Gaiman’s voice still but hearing my own inflections as well, the story is just as eerie, just as subtly back-brain-defense-triggering as the recorded version. The set-up: a man waiting on his girlfriend’s return is asked by her little brother to tuck him in bed and tell him a story about Click-Clack the Rattlebag, of which the man has never heard.

105. AN INVOCATION OF INCURIOSITY   Another story I read sometime last year, or the year before. A great mix of Jack Vance, end of the world, time travel, wishing for a better life concepts and tropes that become more than just the sum of the parts.

106. “AND WEEP, LIKE ALEXANDER”   A comedic tale of what it would be like to be an Uninventor, uninventing the things that annoy or complicate everyday life. The story is rife with lines like “Still, no use crying over unspilt milk, and you can’t mend an omelette without unbreaking a few eggs.” I laughed many times while reading this one, despite the serious pretention of the title.

107. NOTHING O’CLOCK   Once upon a time, eleven authors were invited to write eleven short stories, one for each official incarnation of The Doctor (from Doctor Who, not including the then-unknown War Doctor and Twelfth Doctor), and presumably because he’d written two episode scripts for the character, Gaiman drew the lot to write about the Eleventh Doctor (aka Matt Smith), and came up with this eerie little ditty about an enemy of the Time Lords who can exist multiply in the same time/space. It’s full of the banter and “timey-whimey” stuff Whovians expect, and Gaiman does as great a job capturing Matt Smith and Karen Gillan’s voices in print as Peter David used to do with the Next Generation crew of the Enterprise.

108. DIAMONDS AND PEARLS: A FAIRY TALE Gaiman starts with very clear Cinderella imagery, then plops the story into modern times, then turns it into a quest story, then gives it an ending the Brothers Grimm and their sources would surely approve of. And all in just 3.5 pages. Masterful.

109. THE RETURN OF THE THIN WHITE DUKE The main character is based on one of David Bowie’s more well-known personas, and the story (futuristic and yet fantastical, a bit of steampunk feel as well) totally fits the character without being just pastiche. And, as with so many Gaiman tales, it’s a bit heartbreaking but hopeful at the same time.

110. FEMININE ENDINGS I love epistolary stories/novels. Here, Gaiman crafts a love letter from a stalker who also happens to be a street performer who pretends to be a statue. There’s layer upon layer of deception in the letter writer’s words along with obsession. It reminds me (and I consider this a compliment) quite a bit of Damien Angelica Walters’ work.

111. OBSERVING THE FORMALITIES   A poem from the point of view of Maleficent, the fairy sister not invited to the Christening, about why formalities and traditions exist and must be observed. For the greater good, of course…

112. THE SLEEPER AND THE SPINDLE Gaiman turns several well-known fairy tales (Sleeping Beauty and Snow White most notably) upside down and a bit inside out in this story. I loved the way he brought the two stories together (using neither name but clear inference as to who these women are, and of course dwarves and a sleeping sickness are pretty good signs as well) and then didn’t do the obvious to resolve either one. A tale of strong women doing what needs done, and a great example of the way oft-told stories migrate and transform over time with the tellers.

113. WITCH WORK A concise, beautifully vivid poem of a witch’s reputation.

114. IN RELIG ODHRAIN   A longer, more epic-feeling, poem about Saint Columba and Saint Oran and the island of Iona.

115. BLACK DOG   I’m on record that while I liked the novel American Gods, it is not my favorite Gaiman novel (that designation used to belong to Neverwhere, although it may just have been supplanted by The Ocean at the End of the Lane). However, I can also say that I seem to enjoy the short stories and novellas featuring AG’s main character Shadow a lot more than I liked the novel in which he debuted. This was true of “The Monarch of the Glen” (from the Fragile Things collection) and is equally true of “Black Dog,” which closes out Trigger Warning. Shadow has made his way from Scotland down to England, and here has an encounter with eccentric locals (including an interesting love triangle, or two) and dogs and cats. The story hits just the right pace and has a wonderful infusion of details regarding gods and ghost dogs. It’s whet my appetite for the next Shadow story.

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