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Fragile Things: Short Fictions and Wonders Mass Market Paperback – February 9, 2010

4.2 out of 5 stars 197 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Hot off the critical success of Anansi Boys, Gaiman offers this largely disappointing medley that feels like a collection of idea seeds that have yet to mature. Among the ground covered: an old woman eats her cat alive, slowly; two teenage boys fumble through a house party attended by preternaturally attractive aliens; a raven convinces a writer attempting realism to give way to fantastical inclinations. A few poems, heartfelt or playfully musical, pockmark the collection. At his best, Gaiman has a deft touch for surprise and inventiveness, and there are inspired moments, including one story that brings the months of the year to life and imagines them having a board meeting. (September is an "elegant creature of mock solicitude," while April is sensitive but cruel; they don't get along), but most of these stories rely too heavily on the stock-in-trade of horror, sci-fi and fantasy. Gaiman only once or twice gives himself the space necessary to lock the reader's attention.150,000 announced first printing.(Oct.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From School Library Journal

Adult/High School—In this collection of stories (and a few poems), storytellers and the act of storytelling have prominent roles. The anthropomorphized months of the year swap tales at their annual board meeting: a half-eaten man recounts how he made the acquaintance of his beloved cannibal; and even Scheherazade, surely the greatest storyteller of all, receives a tribute with a poem. The stories are by turns horrifying and fanciful, often blending the two with a little sex, violence, and humor. An introduction offers the genesis of each selection, itself a stealthy way of initiating teens into the art of writing short stories, and to some of the important authors of the genre. Gaiman cites his influences, and readers may readily see the inflection of H. P. Lovecraft and Ray Bradbury in many of the tales. Horror and fantasy are forms of literature wrought with clichés, but Gaiman usually comes up with an interesting new angle. This collection is more poetic and more restrained than Stephen King's short stories and more expertly written than China Mieville's Looking for Jake (Ballantine, 2005). Gaiman skips along the edge of many adolescent fascinations-life, death, the living dead, and the occult-and teens with a taste for the weird will enjoy this book—Emma Coleman, Berkeley Public Library, CA
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
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Product Details

  • Mass Market Paperback: 363 pages
  • Publisher: Harper (February 9, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0060515236
  • ISBN-13: 978-0060515232
  • Product Dimensions: 4.2 x 0.8 x 6.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 7 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (197 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #51,166 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By T. Simons VINE VOICE on September 29, 2006
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This collection contains exactly the sort of stories that one would expect Neil Gaiman to write -- brilliant, original, imaginative fantasy tales that occasionally make tentative steps across the border into Horror(but never quite cross over). Fantasy, but lyric fantasy, not epic, and grounded in our reality -- there are no hobbits here, and almost all these tales concern fantasy elements that seem to have somehow brushed up against our reality, rather than the reverse.

If you like Neil Gaiman's other works, you'll like these stories; if you don't, you probably won't; if you don't know whether you do or not, but you're interested enough to read Amazon reviews, then this collection provides a magnificent place to start.

I will focus on the flaws, not because the collection is flawed, or because any of these flaws are significant in comparison with the compelling and powerful strengths of the stories, but because the stories are so good that a list of their virtues would become boring ("this story is the best story about this thing since Neil Gaiman's last story about this thing.")

1) Some, most, or perhaps all of these stories have appeared in prior publications; I believe "The Facts in the Case of the Departure of Miss Finch" and "Fifteen Painted Cards from a Vampire Tarot" were in some editions of Smoke and Mirrors, "A Study in Emerald" was available for a long time (if it isn't still) on Neil Gaiman's website, "Harlequin Valentine" has been available as a small illustrated hardcover for a long time now, etc. If you're enough of a Neil Gaiman fan to have tracked down all those disparate stories, though, in all those disparate places, this single volume will probably be a marked convenience.
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Format: Hardcover
This excellent story collection is a bit like a pop CD that is frontloaded with its best material. Thus, if this book had ended on page 112, I would have been quite happy. This book's interstitial poems aside (which Gaiman essentially apologizes for in the author's notes), the stories up to that point range from good to brilliant. It's a fantastic run of storytelling, and I was sad to see it end.

But end it does. From there in, the tales range from:
-- the unbelievable ("Keepsakes and Treasures") and yes, I use the word advisedly...
-- to the uninspired ("Good Boys Deserve Favors")...
-- to the unfortunate, namely, CD liner notes for Neil's "personal friend," Tori Amos ("Strange Little Girls")...
-- and sometimes, back to the excellent ("The Monarch of the Glen," among others).

I think that part of the problem with the material stems from the fact that people apparently ring Gaiman asking him to contribute for specialty anthologies. ("Neil, I'm putting together a collection of stories about gargoyles. Are you in?") This type of "spec work" is perhaps not the best way to seek inspiration. So to continue my previous analogy, this book's substandard material should be thought of as a CD's bonus tracks.

That said, FRAGILE THINGS is a mostly enjoyable read, and to reiterate, the first third of the book alone is worth the price of admission.
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Format: Hardcover
Neil Gaiman weaves the threads of fairy tales, mythology and archetypes throughout his fiction, which, combined with a writing style that's simple and adorned with elegant turns of phrases, has made him one of the leading figures in fantastic fiction. "Fragile Things," his collection of short stories and poems, contains excellent stories about desire and loss, a few wonderful riffs on genre fiction, a bunch of middling stories and poems and a few bones for Gaiman completists and Tori Amos fans.

The gulf between the stories can be described by comparing two of them: "October in the Chair" and "Good Boys Deserve Favors." Dedicated to Ray Bradbury, "October" reinvents Bradbury's wonderful mingling of the fantastic with the bitter reality of childhood. The personifications of the months of the year gather to tell stories, and October ("his beard was all colors, a grove of trees in autumn, deep brown and fire-orange and wine-red, an untrimmed tangle across the lower half of his face") describes the short, bitter life of Runt, a boy who's bullied by his elder twin brothers and pitied by his parents. He runs away from home and, on the edge of town, by an abandoned farmhouse, befriends the ghost of a boy. It's a sad tale, with a sad ending that could also be thought of as a happy ending.

"Good Boys" is a nicely written story about another boy, at public school, who takes up the double bass because he has to learn an instrument, and he likes the notion of a small boy playing a big instrument. He neglects his lessons, preferring to read, and then one day, while not practicing, he's visited by adults who ask him to play. He simply plays, and plays beautifully. Later, he accidentally breaks the bass, but the repairs have drained it of whatever magic it held.
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Format: Hardcover
Did you ever pick up one of those compilation albums by one of your favorite musicians, only to find it to be full of undeveloped ideas and vanity pieces that were rightfully withheld from the proper albums in the first place? This anthology from the usually awesome Neil Gaiman is the literary equivalent of a collection of B-sides and outtakes, and there's a reason many of these ideas are not in his much more developed novels. Like any odds n' sods collection, there are a few flashes of brilliance here, like the modern Sherlock Holmes tale "A Study in Emerald" and the gruesomely whimsical "Sunbird." There are also a few enjoyable entries that highlight Gaiman's well-known interest in fairy tales, like "Harlequin Valentine." But most of the short stories here are toss-offs to themed anthologies or tribute editions; and regardless of the fact that several of these tales were award winners in the realms where they originally appeared, many seem undeveloped and arbitrary.

Gaiman is correct in stating that his tribute to Ray Bradbury, "October in the Chair," would have been better written by Bradbury himself, and tributes to other works like "Goliath" (The Matrix) and "The Problem of Susan" (Narnia) are vanity pieces at best. Some stories such as "Diseasemaker's Croup" are disappointinggly anemic snippets of thin and fanciful ideas, with probably more reward for the writer than the reader. This book's examples of Gaiman's poetry and targeted prose (such as the snippets written for the Strange Little Girls album by Tori Amos) are intriguing but directionless, and the majority of short stories are just plain unmemorable. Gaiman is one of my favorite writers and I recommend his novels whole-heartedly. But this collection is surely not appropriate for the casual fan, and even serious fans will probably find it disappointing and a bit self-indulgent. [~doomsdayer520~]
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