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Glimpse of Brilliance
on 19 January 2014
The good thing about reading an author's work retrospectively is to see how far he has come in his writing career. "Smoke and Mirrors" is a collection of stories and poems, and other short pieces, that had been culled from Gaiman's early career in the 90s. There are undoubtedly some precious gems in this uneven and checkered collection, and even the less spectacular ones (at least in my opinion), are collectively, a work-in-progress document, almost like a writer's working diary.
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.