Neil Gaiman’s newest book, Trigger Warning, is a collection of short fiction (and a few poems) that, as with most such things (although not this one!), is made up mostly of works that have appeared elsewhere. Moreover, many of these stories were prepared for certain people under certain circumstances and, therefore, might not be the most representative of Gaiman’s original work. Nonetheless, it’s a pretty good collection, rising and falling (as it must) on the strength of each selection.
The works tied to others include stories from the worlds of Sherlock Holmes, Dr. Who, and Gene Wolfe in addition to stories springing from a photo essay about David Bowie and Gaiman’s wife’s work as a human statue. It’s fun to see Gaiman work within these various confines, such as “A Calendar of Tales,” a series of 12 short short stories (one for each month) based on prompts drawn from readers.
Of those stories the one that stood out most to me was “Nothing O’clock,” the Dr. Who story (set during the Matt Smith/Karen Gillan era). It’s got a hint of “Get ’em Out By Friday” in the setup (aliens buying up real estate) and is genuinely creepy. Gaiman makes good use of the fact that it’s a written story rather than a TV show, a well, with some imagery (and doppelgangers of prominent British folks) that you just couldn’t pull off on screen.
The Holmes story, “The Case of Death and Honey,” doesn’t fare as well. Full confession – I’m not a Sherlock Holmes fan, so I’m not in the target audience. Nonetheless, the minute details of beekeeping that the story used got in the way of the larger story. I know from reading his blog that Gaiman has recently taken up beekeeping, so I can understand the desire to share a new passion, but it just didn’t work.
Of the completely original works, several stand out. “The Thing About Cassandra” also starts out a bit like a Genesis tune (“Me and Sarah Jane” this time) with a guy being stalked by his imaginary girlfriend, but it takes a wicked twist in the end. “Orange” is a great story – of a girl who achieves a kind of malevolent ascendance – told in a really neat way – it’s entirely made up of answers to questions posed to a witness to the events. Meanwhile “My Last Landlady” involves a guy who – well, let’s just say his need for a landlady doesn’t go away because he buys a nice house in the country.
But two originals are the best reason to get this collection. The first, “The Truth Is a Cave In the Black Mountains . . .,” began life as a mixed media thing, with Gaiman reading the story on stage, complete with background illustrations and music from a string quartet. In spite of that, the story – an atmospheric tale of revenge and, well, truth – works really well just on the printed page (or, on the Audible version, with Gaiman narrating). It’s one of those classic Gaiman stories that sounds like it should take place in the real world but thankfully doesn’t.
The second is “Black Dog,” which is not based on the Led Zeppelin tune but rather is a further entry in Gaiman’s own American Gods cannon. Shadow is still wandering, this time finding his way to a pub in the English countryside that, at one point, had a mummified cat built into the walls. He falls in with a couple that has some secrets (naturally) which requires Shadow to get in touch with one of his deific pals. It’s a cracking read, full of weird and chilling little details.