The monsters in our cupboards and our minds are always there in the darkness, like mold beneath the floorboards and behind the wallpaper, and there is so much darkness, an inexhaustible supply of darkness. The universe is amply supplied with night.
There is a diversity of material in Neil Gaiman’s third and latest collection of short fiction, Trigger Warning. It is a potpourri of twenty four pieces, if we take as a single piece the entry called A Calendar of Tales, which, itself, holds a dozen. They are not all, despite the collection title, dark or frightening. He brings in some familiar names, David Bowie, Sherlock Holmes, Doctor Who, Maleficent, Snow White, a traveler from other Gaiman writings, Shadow Moon, twists endings into satisfactory curls for the most part, wanders far afield in setting and content, well, within the UK anyway, tosses in a few poems for good measure, and even offers up a few chuckles. He is fond not only of science fiction as a source, but of Scottish and Irish legends as well. If you are not smitten with the story you are reading at a given moment, not to worry, there is another close behind that is certain to satisfy.
Gaiman is overt in noting the absence of connective tissue among the tales. But there are some themes that pop up a time or three. Living things interred in walls, whether after they had expired or not. A bit of time travelling. Fairy tales are fractured. Favorite writers are admired.
In the introduction, Gaiman tells us a bit about the origins of each of the 24, a nifty item to check back on after one has read them all. Some of the material has been developed for other media. I added a link at bottom to a more-than-text offering re the Calendar of Tales, for one.
Overall I found Trigger Warning is a pretty good survey of Gaiman’s impressive range. He seems able to realize the dreams of the alchemists by transforming what seems every experience he has and every notion that crosses his interior crawl into gold. And some of the stories here are glittery indeed.
I quite enjoyed the collection. The uplift of the best more than made up for the downdraft of the lesser. If you enjoy fantasy, with a good dollop of horror, you could definitely give it a shot.
1 – Making a Chair – a poem about the writing process.
2 – A Lunar Labyrinth – a tribute to Gene Wolfe – a traveler who enjoys roadside oddities is brought to a maze that is brought into a form of darkness by the full moon.
Here is a link to a site that will clue you in on roadside oddities in the USA. There is a book on such things for the other side of the pond, but I did not find a comparable link
3 – The Thing about Cassandra – An imaginary connection becomes real, with a delicious twist
4 – Down to a Sunless Sea – an abominable feast, but with some just desserts
5 – The Truth is a Cave in the Black Mountain – A not wholly human dwarf engages a local man to lead him to a cave reputed to be filled with tainted gold – I could not get the image of Peter Dinklage as Tyrion Lannister out of my tiny mind while immersed in this one. Sometimes the truth hurts.
6 – My Last Landlady – the rent is definitely too damn high
7 – Adventure Story – a bit of fun guaranteed to make you smile
8 – Orange – A teen who thinks she’s all that may indeed be – another smile-worthy item
9 – A Calendar of Tales – I won’t go into each – the collection was written from ideas received on-line. I found it a mixed bag, with March (Mom has a big secret), August ( a tale of fire and foolishness), September (a magic ring with the quality of a bad penny), October (a sweet tale, involving a Jinni), and December (a hopeful time-travel piece) my favorites
10 – The Case of Death and Honey – a fantastical tale in which a certain Baker Street resident takes on the mystery of death itself
11 – The Man Who Forgot Ray Bradbury – a tribute to Gaiman’s mentor
12 – Jerusalem – on one of the dangers of visiting the city
13 – Click-clack the Rattlebag – stories can be scary, regardless of the age of the teller
14 – An Invocation of Incuriousity – a time-travel piece – don’t touch the settings
15 – And Weep, Like Alexander – one possible reason why we do not have some of the futuristic inventions we expected long ago – cute, not scary
16 – Nothing O’Clock – a Doctor Who tale with a timely solution
17 – Diamonds and Pearls: A Fairy Tale – a fable with a moral
18 – The Return of the Thin White Duke – the completion of a story begun and abandoned while back for a magazine project on Bowie
19 – Feminine Endings – beware of street statue-performers
20 – Observing the Formalities – Maleficent as narrator of a poem about proper forms
21 – The Sleeper and the Spindle – A fairy tale with a nice twist
22 – Witch Work – a poem on the limits of witchy magic
23 – In Relig Odhrain – a poem on a saint who suffered an awful demise
24 – Black Dog – Shadow Moon stops in an ancient pub and is drawn into some serious darkness, scary fun.
Review posted – 3/20/15
Publication date – 2/3/2015
This review has also been posted on GoodReads
Here is a link to his separate blog
For a full-on media-rich offering the Calendar of Tales piece in Trigger Warning can be seen here
Harper has an on-line reading guide