Smoke and Mirrors Paperback – 4 May 2000
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Best known for his Sandman graphic novels about Morpheus, Lord of Dreams, Neil Gaiman has also written the standalone books Good Omens (with Terry Pratchett), Never Where from his BBC TV series revealing a fantastic realm under London, and Star Dust, a poignant fairy tale. His shorter fantasies are regularly picked for Year's Best collections. Smoke and Mirrors assembles 36 of his favourite stories, prose poems, and verse pieces. Among the imaginative inventions here are a murder mystery set among angels in heaven; the discovery of the Holy Grail at Oxfam; warped retellings of fairy tales and folklore, including a Snow White that's black beyond belief; several clever variations on vampirism; a firm of contract killers with a very remarkable discount scheme; homages to Michael Moorcock and H.P. Lovecraft (one splendidly funny) that avoid mere pastiche; an SF world of rapid and reversible sex changes; Beowulf retold as a Baywatch episode; a tasty amalgamation of computers and black magic; a new final book of the Bible; and the grim wedding present that's simply a manuscript telling a bleakly different story of the recipients' unfolding marriage. SF/fantasy professionals themselves envy Gaiman's perpetual flow of new ideas and ability to put a fresh spin on old ones. Smoke and Mirrors is a dazzlingly varied and rewarding collection. --David Langford --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.
'A very fine and imaginative writer' (The Sunday Times)
'Exuberantly inventive' (Kirkus Reviews) --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.
Top customer reviews
Every reviewer has a favorite in the book. Some like "Snow, Glass, Apples"; some like "The Goldfish Pool..." or "Troll Bridge". I'm partial to "Chivalry". But there is a lot of fill here. Many of the best stories have appeared elsewhere. Also an overlong introduction and a rather indulgent piece that reads like a collection of blog entries on each story tend to dampen one's enthusiasm.
For what it's worth, some of the best stories, ("Troll Bridge", "Chivalry", etc.), were reprinted ten years after this book was released in the collection titled "M is For Magic". That book, also available on Amazon, has a much better selection than this one does, so if you can only swing one Gaiman short story collection, you might want to consider that.
The volume starts off promisingly enough with "The Wedding Present", embedded in Gaiman's eloquent introduction - a fantastical yet eerily sobering account of the power of the written word and how it can become interchangeable with real lives. The line between fact and fiction blurs for a pair of newly-weds, with shocking results. The next story "Chivalry", is an exemplar of Gaiman's skillful way of conflating the recognisable contemporary world with an older, and legendary one. Few authors I know would be able to make the premise of finding the Holy Grail in an Oxfam shop work, but Gaiman does just that.
Elsewhere, werewolves and vampires appear, some written in mock-heroic style, and with varying levels of success. One such story is spoof on the "Baywatch" series, titled (what else) "Bay Wolf", which is morbidly humorous. Refashioned fairytales, like "Snow, Glass, Apples", effectively an alternate retelling of "Snow White" from the Stepmother Queen's perspective, is one of the more macabre and haunting stories.
Some pieces dealt with social issues like AIDS and animal testing (with horrifyingly logic in "Babycakes"), while others were commissioned to mark special occasions, for instance "Looking for the Girl", written for an anniversary issue of "Penthouse", or for certain publications. One of the more engaging stories is "Troll Bridge", which was nomiated for the 1994 World Fantasy Award, a fairy tale of sorts for adults.
Collectively, these may not be Gaiman at his best, but they are worth reading as they provide a glimpse into the storyteller's rich imagination and his storyworlds.
Smoke and Mirrors is an eclectic collection of short stories written by Neil Gaiman.
These stories were written for various anthologies or to amuse himself. Some of the stories are brilliant, others are bizarre and a few are just plain bad. But each story is unique and imaginative.
Smoke and Mirrors begins with an introduction from Gaiman himself. He explains the background for each story and even tells a tale entitled The Wedding Present within the introduction.
The Wedding Present story is great and sets the reader with high expectations for the other stories in the book.
My four of my favourite stories were:
1. The Price – Is about a stray black cat that fights with the devil at night, to protect his adopted family.
2. Changes – A Scientist creates a drug, a side effect of which is the ability to easily switch gender. The story shows the impact of this side effect on society, over the lifetime of the Scientist, through his perspective.
3. Virus – A story about a totally addictive computer game. Everyone that plays it gets addicted. When they can’t play it on the computers, they play it in their head. And so do their friends.
4. Mouse – This is a story all about subtext and reading in between the lines. The story is told through what isn’t written, rather than what is. A refreshing change and ultimately very clever.
Both Changes and Virus were great ideas for stories, but were too short and lacked the scope to explore each idea fully.
The exclusive content in Smoke and Mirrors is a short interview with Gaiman.
Overall Smoke and Mirrors was disappointing. Probably because the brilliant short stories were too short and the more lengthly short stories were either bizarre or bad.
Smoke and Mirrors is available to buy on Amazon.
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