Stories. Edited by Al Sarrantonio, Neil Gaiman Paperback – Apr 14 2011
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Top Customer Reviews
Years ago Victor Gollancz came out with an annual collection of SF stories, called SF1, SF2, SF3, etc., all the way up to SF7. they set the standard for SF anthologies.
A note to Gaiman: could you and your colleagues do another next year? And the year after? And the year after? You'd be solving the Christmas Present problem for millions of SF fans...
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
This is, of course, not a new idea. There are legions of stories and novels that have traveled the realms of fantasy without the help of hobbits or barbarians. And indeed, many of the stories here fit fairly neatly into some existing sub-genre: ghost story, vampire story, etc. A few stories have no element of fantasy, but confine themselves to bad or weird real-world goings on.
The question of whether this volume breaks new ground aside, it's a strong collection, whose hits easily outweigh its misses. The stories are mostly by well-established authors, with awards and best-sellers to their credit. The stories are described as "all-new", so presumably they appear here for the first time.
"Blood" by Roddy Doyle: A sorta-kinda vampire story. Pretty good, but I was annoyed by the pointless affectation of not using quote marks. You ain't Cormac McCarthy, Roddy, and it's a pointless affectation when Cormac McCarthy does it, anyway.
"Fossil-Figures" by Joyce Carol Oates: An evil twin story. A well written, respectable piece of work of the sort Oates is known for.
"Wildfire In Manhattan" by Joanne Harris: A 'the old gods are still among us' story. Nice; had me smiling over the artistic turns of phrase at several points.
"The Truth Is A Cave In The Black Mountains" by Neil Gaiman: Good, if fairly typical fantasy story, written in typical fantasy-speak: "In the high lands, people spend words as if they were gold coins."
"Unbelief" by Michael Marshall Smith: A short 'gotcha' story, somewhat less of a cheap shot than that makes it sound.
"The Stars Are Falling" by Joe R. Lansdale: My choice for the best, most powerful story in the book. A brutally dark and Hemingway-esque tale of a WWI veteran's return home.
"Juvenal Nyx" by Walter Mosley: I found this vampire re-mix to be rambling and over-long.
"The Knife" by Richard Adams: A mildly interesting little short-short about a murder.
"Weights And Measures" by Jodi Picoult: A couple dealing with the death of their seven-year-old daughter, mixed with some whimsical magic realism. Ick. Not a good combination.
"Goblin Lake" by Michael Swanwick: Something or other about magically being given a choice between a life of reality and... something or other. I didn't find this one compelling.
"Mallon The Guru" by Peter Straub: An obscure piece -- obscure to the degree that I have no idea what the point of it was.
"Catch And Release" by Lawrence Block: A twist on the unpleasant, over-done genre of let's-spend-some-time-in-the-mind-of-a-serial-killer. Let's not. Not enough of a twist to keep this from being unpleasant.
"Polka Dots And Moonbeams" by Jeffrey Ford: Another opaquely obscure piece, but so delightfully written that I'm willing to forgive the sense of WTF. "and the moon rose slow as a bubble in honey"
"Loser" by Chuck Palahniuk: An LSD-addled college kid gets selected as a contestant on an insipid TV game show. The LSD makes this more interesting for the protagonist, but not for the reader.
"Samantha's Diary" by Dianna Wynne Jones: "The Twelve Days of Christmas" written out as an allegedly humorous story. Tedious as a song, way more so as a short story.
"Land Of The Lost" by Stewart O'Nan: A story of obsession. By definition, obsession is rather pointless, and so was this story.
"Leif In The Wind" by Gene Wolfe: Science fiction blending into fantasy, as Wolfe often does. Beautifully written and delightful. One of the closest approaches to an "upbeat" story in this volume.
"Unwell" by Carolyn Parkhurst: A completely wonderful story about a completely despicable old woman. Black humor at its tastiest. After reading this, I looked up the author and added a novel of hers to my wish list.
"A Life In Fictions" by Kat Howard: In contrast to the heavyweight authors who make up most of this book, this is Howard's first published story, and it's a good one. A nifty fantasy about the unexpected consequences of being "written into" an author-boyfriend's fiction.
"Let The Past Begin" by Jonathan Carroll: I found this one to be rather plodding and self-important.
"The Therapist" by Jeffery Deaver: A clever bid at updating the theme of demonic possession, but I found it tedious and amateurishly written.
"Parallel Lines" by Tim Powers: A solid, effective, well written ghost story.
"The Cult Of The Nose" by Al Sarrantonio: A Maupassant-esque tale of is-it-madness-or-is-it-supernatural-goings-on. I suppose this is meant to be a pastiche of, or homage to, Maupassant, but to me it just felt like a rehash of an old idea.
"Human Intelligence" by Kurt Anderson: The volume's only straight-ahead science fiction story, and a pretty good one. An alien studying human civilization finds his ride home is overdue.
"Stories" by Michael Moorcock: A deeply felt portrait of an author and the world of writing, presumably somewhat autobiographical. Marred by way the heck too much name-dropping, as if we're supposed to be impressed that Moorcock can mention Marcel Proust and Albert Camus and Jean Gabin and Francis Bacon and Alfred Bester and Lawrence Ferlinghetti (etc., etc., etc.) all in the same breath.
"The Maiden Flight Of McCauley's Bellerophon" by Elizabeth Hand: A long, leisurely story about a magical flying machine and honoring past love. Good enough to get me sniffling.
"The Devil On The Staircase" by Joe Hill: An excellent fairly tale about murder and lies ends this collection on an impressive note.
In some cases, I didn't have to wonder long. The stories range in length from a mere three pages to an impressive 48. Despite his name appearing in 72-point font on the book's cover, Mr. Gaiman contributes only one story in addition to his introduction. So, die-hard Gaiman fans, don't be disappointed. Instead, revel in the embarrassment of riches that have been brought together. This story collection features contributors who are among the best in genre fiction (Gene Wolfe, Joe R. Lansdale, Michael Swanwick, Peter Straub), literary fiction (Stuart O'Nan, Joyce Carol Oates, Walter Mosley, Roddy Doyle), and popular fiction (Jeffrey Deaver, Jodi Picoult, Joe Hill, Chuck Palahniuk). Honestly, I barely brushed the surface of all the big-name contributors, so very many of whom are long-time favorites of mine.
I'll be honest, not every single story is a slam dunk, but not one was a stinker. The one I liked best (possibly Carolyn Parkhurst's featuring an unreliable narrator) might be the one you liked least. These things are so subjective. The overall quality of contributions is high. Whether you're looking for quick palate cleansers between longer works, or you're looking forward to reading this collection cover to cover, I feel confident in asserting that there's something for everyone to be found within these pages.
"Stories" doesn't really deliver on Gaiman's intentions. Oh, there are some great stories here, but they are far too few, maybe four or five out of twenty-eight in total. The rest range from "so-so" to downright bad. If this is the best that a famous man of letters like Gaiman could gather, than I worry that the captivating short story might be a lost art.
Gaiman himself delivered one of my favorites of the collection, "The Truth is a Cave in the Black Mountains," full of jacobites and cursed gold in the Scottish highlands. The other standout was "The Stars are Falling" by Joe R. Lansdale, a haunting tale of a returning WWI vet. "The Maiden Flight of McCauley's Bellpheron" by Elizabeth Hand was a lovely little tale, and could easily have been the plot for an episode of The Twilight Zone, my all-time favorite TV show. I liked the story of "The Devil on the Stairs" by Joe Hill, although the conceit of spacing the letters so it looked like a staircase was distracting and unnecessary. "A Leif in the Wind" by Gene Wolfe was decent, something that I might have read back when I had a subscription to "Analog."
Too much of the rest of it was just bland and uninteresting. I am just about sick of the "Gods of Olde" coming to Earth and starting rock bands ("Wildfire in Manhatten" by Joanne Harris) or stories of "Good Vampires" who help old ladies ("Juvenal Nyx" by Walter Mosley) or meta-stories of characters who realize they are characters in a story ("Goblin Lake" by Michael Swanwick and "A Life in Fictions" by Kat Howard). Chuck Palahnuik's "The Loser" about a guy appearing as a contestant on "The Price is Right" while high on acid was just boring.
There were quite a few Christmas tales too for some reason, only one of which I really enjoyed. "Samantha's Diary" by Diana Wynne Jones is kind of a boring and predictable take on a Sci Fi version of "The Twelve Days of Christmas." Michael Marshall Smith's cynical Santa Claus story "Unbelief" seemed outdated, but I was charmed by Kurt Andersen's more heartwarming "Human Intelligence" (another candidate for a Twilight Zone episode).
Length was an issue here with more than a few stories. A good short story should be self-contained, and use all of its pages wisely. "Catch and Release" by Lawrence Block would have been a fantastic story if it had ended about three pages in, but instead ruined the chilling effect of the serial killer story by dragging it on. "Let the Past Begin" had totally hooked me with that elusive "And then what happened?" feeling, only to end so abruptly and without conclusion that I was annoyed at the author.
Many of the others are just unmemorable. After finishing the book and looking at the table of contents, I see that there are a few stories I can't even recall the plot of. Not a good sign.
The good stories that are really good, and I am glad that I waded through the mediocrity to get to them. But I wish Gaiman and Sarrantonio had done a little more quality control when picking the stories for the collection.
Without dissecting the introductions for over analysis, I can say that it is what it is: 27 short fictions from some of the most celebrated contemporary writers. While for me, some stories failed to hit the mark, some of them I enjoyed enough to purchase the book for myself (after having first borrowed it from my local library) and to buy it as a gift for a friend.
What you look for in a short story - or any story really - is some sort of an escape into another world. Something that makes you want to keep reading more. This book has that in spades.