on April 22, 1999
I should point out first that (a) I've been Neil's friend for many years, and therefore not without bias, and (b) some of these stories I've read several times before. However, due to various health problems, I have been spending a lot of time in a series of doctor's waiting rooms for months now, and Smoke and Mirrors has been my book of choice for resisting lure of six month old issues of Field and Stream. I have read it from start to finish, resisting the strong temptation to flip forward to the stories I hadn't read, savoring each offering as I would a course in a lavish meal (and considering I'm on a diabetic's diet that's more savoring than I'm allowed in the traditional sense). It's been an unalloyed pleasure. And yesterday, while waiting for my endcrinologist to check me over, I finished the last story.
I rationed myself on this book, but you don't have to. If you only know Gaiman from Neverwhere or his Sandman comics, this is a chance to see the full range of his writing chops, which are formidable. I defy anyone to find me a better story this side of Nathaniel West about the mythical land of Hollywood than "The Goldfish Pool and Other Stories." I cannot think of a more bizarre marriage than the melding of epic poetry and bikini bimbos that is Baywolf. I heard the ghost of Peter Cook at my ear in "Shoggoth's Old Peculiar." I took inordinate pleasure in reading "Snow, Glass, Apples" aloud to a group of my son's friends, and watching them laugh uneasily.
There is a wealth of fine storytelling here, a veritable trove of style and substance, passion and pastiche, wit and bite and vision and venom. The art of the short story is in excellent hands.
on February 9, 1999
People tend to get snide when you mention Neil Gaiman used to write comic books. Infidels. If your friends mock you and your fascination with the worlds Gaiman creates, just give them a copy of this book and tell them to shut up. It's the best introduction I can think of to everything Neil.
Some stories are undoubtedly stronger and more inspired than others, but the collection on the whole is astoundingly good, and makes Stephen King look pathetic, though it's hard to compare the two. Gaiman doesn't write horror stories, he writes magical ones -- stories that wrap you up in what your parents told you for years was impossible or unreal.
"Snow, Glass, Apples" -- this is not your grandmother's Snow White, and Gaiman himself states that he hopes the reader will not read the original faery tale the same way ever again. He succeeds. This story is worth the price of the book alone.
"Chivalry" -- a brilliant, extremely funny look into the mind of an elderly woman who's found the Holy Grail in a secondhand store and think it's just a fabulous mantel pice, never mind that Arthurian knight who keep bothering her for it. I made my dad read this one.
"Nicholas Was..." -- ever wonder how Christmas in the Gaiman household is? Dark, haunting, and achingly beautiful. Possibly my favorite, despite its (sadly) short length.
"The Goldfish Pool and Other Stories" -- the longest, and one of the best hands down, stories in this book. Neil takes the big hypodermic needle of writing and instead of sucking the life right out of what could have been a boring story, injects it with a subtle shadow and oodles of glitter. Very touching.
"The Sweeper of Dreams" -- one word: <swoon>
There's not only stories, but poetry as well, and if I could go door to door and beg people to buy and read this book, I would. Not everyone appreciates Gaiman's mission of reintroducing magic into our world, but I, for one, plan on doing every little bit I can do to help.
Smoke and mirrors and illusions...
on June 26, 2001
Every now and then a reviewer uses the words "every now and then" to start a review. It usually is followed by a glimmering review of a very artsy, very bad book. With this book, though, it is completely appropriate. It is appropriate to say that every now and then a story collection comes along that will, in the end, change the way we read short stories. The last time this happened was, perhaps, King's "Night Shift." Before that, pick any Ray Bradbury collection.
But Gaiman's collection is both and more put into one. "Smoke and Mirrors" is absolute masterpiece and seems like it would satisfy almost any avid reader's tastes. There is the humor, social commentary, poetry of all kinds and even a few examples of remarkably tasteful erotica included in this timeless collection. The dark side of the reader is revealed in a reassuring and, at the same time, frightening way. Reading Gaiman is not mere recreation, it is experience. This reviewer did not take long to complete these pages, despite a relatively busy work schedule. When it was over, it leaves disappointment that stems from the fact that the book was over, finished. Yet it is a fulfilling, and wonderful experience. It is not bogged down by "trying to make a point," despite the points it does make on the reader. It is simply telling a story, and the reader takes it as he or she wishes. This, in the end, is the essence of writing, and Gaiman has mastered it perfectly.
The stories are diverse; humor and dark, poetry and prose. However, no matter which story you read one thing remains constant: Gaiman's superb ability in the art of storytelling.
Writing short stories is an art of the most refined form, and Gaiman has done more than lead the art form or change the art form. He has transcended it and made it his own.
Every now and then a story collection comes along that will, in the end, change literature. Here and now, that collection is "Smoke and Mirrors."
on June 19, 2008
Neil Gaiman is one of my favorite authors. Unfortunately, many of the stories included in this anthology lack the brilliance of some of the author's later stories like 'American Gods' and 'Neverwhere'.
Many of these stories are either hit or miss. Some of the best in this collection include 'Troll Bridge', 'The White Road', 'Bay Wolf', 'One Life, Furnished in Early Moorcock' 'Murder Mysteries' and 'Snow, Glass, Apples' (quite simply, one of the most disturbing tales I have ever read. I will never think of Snow White in the same way.) These stories were all as good as Gaiman's later novels and display the unlimited creativity and dark wit that I have come to associate with him.
Some that I can think of that seem to be lacking something are, 'The Goldfish Pool and Other Stories', 'Looking for the Girl', 'Cold Colors' (a headache inducing tale, to be sure) 'Changes', and 'Tastings.' These just didn't seem to click for me.
In any case, there are certainly stories in here that warrant the purchase of the Mass Market Paperback version, not limited to the ones I listed. Neil Gaiman is one of our most interesting contemporary authors, and to miss out on some of the buried treasures contained here would be a mistake.
Not his best work, but certainly worth a read.
Make no mistake, I very much appreciate and admire Neil Gaiman. I was delighted when "The Graveyard Book" won the Newbery. "Neverwhere", "Coraline", "Stardust" - all marvelous. And Gaiman has written some fabulous short stories. Some of them appear in this book. But only some of them, and those that are included are surrounded by stories that aren't very special and aren't particularly satisfying.
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.
on April 21, 1999
I bought this book because of the review on SFSITE, at [...] where the readers poll picked it as the best book of the year. After reading it I can see why. The stories range from funny to scary to sad to just plain strange.
This is what it said at SFSITE. "He made it on the SF Site Editor's Best of 1998 list in the # 2 spot with Smoke and Mirrors. Last year he topped the Best of 1997 list with his first solo novel, Neverwhere -- which grabbed the #4 spot this year in paperback. Is there any doubt at all that we like Neil Gaiman? Gaiman's rep as a modern spinner of fairy tales is well deserved. But Smoke and Mirrors gave him an opportunity to perform on a variety of stages, and prove to his audience that he's far more than just the author of The Sandman comic, or even just a gifted fantasist. This collection of thirty short stories and poems (some of which were previously published in the small print-run volume Angels and Visitations) was the first opportunity he's had to demonstrate his true range, and he didn't waste it. The collection opens with "Chivalry," the story of a widow who discovers the Holy Grail in a secondhand shop; other tales include "Nicholas Was," a disturbing look at the legend of Santa Claus. For Lovecraft fans there's "Shoggoth's Old Peculiar" and "Only the End of the World", both of which pay hilarious tribute to both the Cthulhu Mythos and classic horror film conventions. The poems include "Bay Wolf," which manages to mix Beowulf and Baywatch. All in all, Smoke and Mirrors is perhaps the most surprising and rewarding book of the year - one to be savoured and treasured."
Warning: I don't think you would like this book if you have no imagination or sense of wonder.
I have a love-hate relationship with Neil Gaiman. I love his work. His diction is always impeccable, always inspired. But I hate that I somehow lose a day when I start reading one of his books. I get so wrapped up in the story, in the world that he weaves, that I cannot put the book down.
I started reading this short story collection thinking that this may be the solution to my love-hate relationship. I could not have been more wrong. Even when the story is a mere hundred words (as is 'Nicholas Was ...'), I simply could not stop reading. After each story, I would pause to shiver or reflect (or, often, both). Occasionally, I would flip back to the beginning to read the introduction where the author discusses each story and how it came about. Then, I would plunge into the next story. I finished the book in less than a day, including flipping back and reading several stories again.
This collection of short stories is an excellent introduction to the world of Neil Gaiman. One of the strengths of the author is showing an alternate perspective. You could look at each of these stories (including the one buried in the introduction) as doing just that. The haunting 'Nicholas Was ...' and 'Snow, Glass, Apples' show us that maybe Santa Claus isn't a jolly old man and that maybe Snow White wasn't an innocent pure girl driven out by an evil uncaring stepmother.
Individually, each of the stories is an excellent example of what comes off of a gifted writer's pen (or keyboard, as it were). Together, this collection is riveting and engaging. In the years to come, I am sure that I will pull this book off my shelf often to read a story or two (or all of them) again.
In praising Neil Gaiman, author of the award-winning Sandman comic book series, Stephen King called him "a treasure house of story". For those who only know the inimitable Mr. Gaiman from his comic book works, this collection represents a treasure trove of the author's prose work, with a generous helping of verse thrown in to boot.
The stories contained within Smoke and Mirrors range from straight horror to wild fantasy. While the stories range widely in quality, the 337 pages of this collection fly by, and even where Gaiman misses the mark, he makes an impression.
I highly recommend "Murder Mysteries," a tale of a murder investigation in Heaven before Lucifer's Fall (or was he pushed?); "Troll Bridge," concerning dark happenings beneath a highway bridge; and "The Price," a story about a cat's sacrifice which I believe Mr. King found quite wonderful.
Gaiman thoughtfully includes a detailed introduction wherein he describes the genesis of these stories. Fellow writers will find this section fascinating as a window on the author's creative process.
Short story collections are of necessity a mixed bag, but even casual Gaiman fans will find Smoke and Mirrors rewarding.
on January 19, 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.
on February 4, 2015
I could not finish this book. I tried and tried, but ended up closing it about half way through and giving it away. I hoped it would get better as I read it, but it did not. It wasn't depressing or ugly; it just wasn't very good and didn't keep my interest.
For me, Neil Gaiman books are hit 'n miss. I either love them ... or not!
Neverwhere, and also American Gods were awesome!! But this book, Smoke and Mirrors, was a complete "miss" for me.
I want to add that I also read Caraline, and Anansi Boys ... also very good!!