53. Smoke and Mirrors - Neil Gaiman - 368 pages (7/10)
This is a collection of short stories by Gaiman published 10 years ago, mainly reprints from magazines he has submitted to. He gives a lengthy introduction about how all stories are really smoke and mirrors. There's quite the assortment of writing in this book: the meandering introductory essay, poems (rondels, even a sestina!), flash fiction, horror, fantasy, science fiction, gender studies...it's rather disjointed but manages to converge together fairly well.
My favourite stories were the re-told fairy tales of "Troll Bridge" and "Snow, Glass, Apples." In the first, a boy puts off the troll under the bridge from killing him every time he runs into him by saying that he'll come back when he's lived more of his life and is thus tastier. "Snow, Glass, Apples" was an excellent re-telling of Snow White from the point of view of the wicked stepmother, who is instead merely a woman trying to kill her vampiric horror of a step-daughter.
Gaiman has a bit of fun with several of the pieces, such as "Nicolas Was..." and "One Life, Furnished in Early Moorcock." In the first, Gaiman wrote a very short story and sent it around on Christmas cards, and in the second he writes a story about a young boy who was obsessed with Michael Moorcock stories.
Sestinas are a largely ignored form of poetry, so I was quite pleased to see a vampire sestina in the collection. Gaiman also expanded and included a science fiction short story that examined gender, but I think overall he's stronger at fantasy that's a little too close to our real world. Overall, if you're a fan of Gaiman you'll definitely appreciate the collection.
I posted the "Nicolas Was..." short story below because it's short made me chuckle, and fall's starting to paint the leaves so it'll be Christmas in no time!
older than sin, and his beard could grow no whiter. He wanted to die.
The dwarfish natives of the Arctic caverns did not speak his language, but conversed in their own, twittering tongue, conducted incomprehensible rituals, when they were not actually working in the factories.
Once every year they forced him, sobbing and protesting, into Endless Night. During the journey he would stand near every child in the world, leave one of the dwarves' invisible gifts by its bedside. The children slept, frozen into time.
He envied Prometheus and Loki, Sisyphus and Judas. His punishment was harsher.