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Smoke and Mirrors
by Neil Gaiman
Smoke and Mirrors is a career-spanning collection of short stories and poetry by Neil Gaiman, author of Neverwhere and the comic book series The Sandman. There's quite a bit of overlap with his earlier collection, Angels and Visitations. Some of the pieces are forgettable, and some should have stayed forgotten, but there are several brilliant stories here, with people and images that will haunt you long after you finish the book.
Gaiman plays fast and loose with both ancient and modern myths. "Chivalry" is a lovely, funny story about an elderly woman who finds the Holy Grail in a secondhand shop. "Bay Wolf" is an unlikely combination of "Beowulf" and "Baywatch". "Snow, Glass, Apples" is a version of Snow White that Disney would never have touched. And a few of the stories include direct nods to H.P. Lovecraft's Cthulhu mythos; both "Shoggoth's Old Peculiar" and "Only the End of the World Again" feature encounters in Innsmouth.
Some of the stories have heavy-handed messages, and some are entertaining but pointless. And then there are a few that seem pointless until the point comes along and knocks you in the head three days later. "Murder Mysteries," about the investigation of the first murder, is one of the latter sort. Throughout the pieces collected in Smoke and Mirrors, Gaiman reveals a fascination with angels, demons, and computers; frequently he fails to distinguish between them.
Oddly enough, the best part of the book is the introduction, which includes an entire story as well as comments on each of the works in the collection. Flipping back and forth between the introduction and the stories is an awkward way to read, but Gaiman's comments offer quite a bit of insight into how he writes and where each piece came from.
Many of the pieces in Smoke and Mirrors include explicit language, sex, and mutilation; this book may not be suitable for children or congressmen. The quality is uneven, but at his best Neil Gaiman is very good indeed, and at his worst he's still creatively morbid.
-- Christina Schulman.
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