The Barnes & Noble Review
In the introduction to Neil Gaiman's short story collection -- a wildly diverse assortment of horror, sci-fi, dark fantasy, poetry, and speculative fiction -- he explains the book's title: "Stories, like people and butterflies and songbirds' eggs and human hearts and dreams, are…fragile things, made up of nothing stronger or more lasting than twenty-six letters and a handful of punctuation marks."
Noteworthy selections in this undeniably exceptional collection include the Hugo Award–winning "A Study in Emerald," which deftly blends Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's late-19th-century England with gruesome Lovecraftian horror; the Locus Award–winning "October in the Chair"; an homage to Ray Bradbury that features the months of the year personified; and "How to Talk to Girls at Parties," a tale featuring two oversexed teenagers from an all-boys school in South London who stumble into a party full of what they take to be hot chicks but are in reality alien tourists! Also included are a brilliant American Gods novella ("Monarch of the Glen") and "Strange Little Girls," a series of, well, strange very short stories that first appeared in a Tori Amos tour book.
Like his previous short story collection (1998's critically acclaimed Smoke and Mirrors), Gaiman's Fragile Things is anything but; this is a powerhouse compilation that proves once again that Gaiman is a true master of short fiction. It's fitting that he dedicates this collection to three short story icons -- Bradbury, Harlan Ellison, and Robert Sheckley. Paul Goat Allen
… as he recounts the origins of each work in the book, it becomes clear that just about everything Gaiman comes into contact with inspires him to write: the invitation of a friend or editor will usually do the trick, but so will a Tori Amos album, a Frank Frazetta painting, the screenplay for “The Matrix” or a photograph of a sock monkey. He is as comfortable performing the act of conjuring in a New York hotel room between recording sessions for an audiobook as he is in a waiting room at a dodgy train station in the south of London.
The New York Times
[Gaiman's] new collection, Fragile Things, is a delightful compendium rather than a straightforward story collection, but it's a fine sample of the author's versatility. Gaiman writes in different registers: comedy, satire, pastiche, deadpan, lyrical or whimsical, but almost invariably dark. It all depends on whichever sooty, fantastic spirit drops down the chimney of his Minneapolis writing room on any given day.
The Washington Post
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 2006 Reed Business Information.
This third collection of "short fictions and wonder" (after Smoke and Mirrors and Adventures in the Dream Trade) from the author of Anansi Boys ranges from a tale of zombies to a series of meditations inspired by singer Tori Amos's album, Strange Little Girls. As in his other books, there are fantastical elements. Gaiman follows no overarching theme, but that is what makes these stories charming, at times creepy, and good fun. They read like dreams and meditations, with a stream-of-consciousness quality to their presentation. Gaiman also explains some of the inspiration behind the stories to help put them in perspective. Overall, well worth adding to any collection; highly recommended for all public libraries. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 6/15/06.]-Anastasia Diamond, Cleveland P.L. Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
School Library Journal
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 ColemanCopyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Neo-Goth-Pulp-Noir has pretty much been trademarked by Gaiman (Anansi Boys, 2005, etc.), and these 31 jagged slices of life and the afterlife dependably deliver the damaged goods: zombies, dream-haunted kiddies, femmes fatale and fiends. Reprising his role from American Gods (2001) as ex-con, taciturn hunk, superhero and reincarnation of the Norse god Baldur, Shadow shakes things up in "The Monarch of the Glen," battling a primeval beastie and romancing a woodland nymph in the unlikely setting of a tycoon's get-together on the Scottish heath. "Good Boys Deserve Favours" highlights a lonely lad's moony passion for his double bass. "Strange Little Girls," penned to accompany a Tori Amos CD, catalogues the Eternal Feminine from showgirls to Holocaust victims to la belle dame sans merci. "October in the Chair" whimsically features the months as characters. "A Study in Emerald" offers smart, nifty homage to Conan Doyle. In "Harlequin Valentine," Missy the waitress chows down lovingly on the heart of the motley-clad acrobat of the commedia dell'arte, but even that grisly feast is rendered with swooning lyricism. Gaiman again proves himself a perverse romantic, heir not only to Poe and Baudelaire but to the breathless Pre-Raphaelites. (The poetry he includes here, for example, is generally less creepy than drippy.) He wears his pop cred in boldface, and street-smart hipness saturates these eerie epiphanies. But the collection also boasts lush prose, a lack of irony and a winning faith in the enchantment of stories. Expect the unexpected. Then savor the luscious chills.
“Strange, or sweet, or eerie, or heartfelt stories . . . wonderfully peculiar . . . Gaiman relishes the sacred act of telling stories.”
New York Times Book Review
“A prodigiously imaginative collection...The best of these clever fantasy metafictions explore the mysteries of artistic inspiration.”
“A powerful and oddly unified collection, a perfect introduction to Gaiman’s work for new readers and a thrilling reminder to his long-time fans . . . [T]he shorter prose form allows Gaiman a greater freedom of whimsy and provocation than even his graphic work, with stunning results.”
San Francisco Chronicle Book Review
“Those with a taste for inventive idiosyncracy will find themselves fully rewarded.”
Washington Post Book World
“FRAGILE THINGS is a delightful compendium...[Gaiman] is indeed a national treasure.”
“Fiercely playful and very grim, wisps of whimsy and wonder buoyed by the happy heart of a tragic poet.”
“Readers will be reminded most in these stories of that master craftsman...Ray Bradbury...Gothic tales of high caliber.”
Booklist (starred review)
“One delight after another.”
"One delight after another."
Read an Excerpt
Short Fictions and Wonders
By Neil Gaiman
HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.
Copyright © 2006
All right reserved.
A Study in Emerald
I. The New Friend
Fresh from Their Stupendous European Tour, where they performed before several of the crowned heads of Europe, garnering their plaudits and praise with magnificent dramatic performances, combining both comedy and tragedy, the Strand Players wish to make it known that they shall be appearing at the Royal Court Theatre, Drury Lane, for a limited engagement in April, at which they will present My Look Alike Brother Tom!, The Littlest Violet Seller and The Great Old Ones Come (this last an Historical Epic of Pageantry and Delight); each an entire play in one act! Tickets are available now from the Box Office.
It is the immensity, I believe. The hugeness of things below. The darkness of dreams.
But I am woolgathering. Forgive me. I am not a literary man.
I had been in need of lodgings. That was how I met him. I wanted someone to share the cost of rooms with me. We were introduced by a mutual acquaintance, in the chemical laboratories of St. Bart's. "You have been in Afghanistan, I perceive," that was what he said to me, and my mouth fell open and my eyes opened very wide.
"Astonishing," I said.
"Not really," said the stranger inthe white lab coat, who was to become my friend. "From the way you hold your arm, I see you have been wounded, and in a particular way. You have a deep tan. You also have a military bearing, and there are few enough places in the Empire that a military man can be both tanned and, given the nature of the injury to your shoulder and the traditions of the Afghan cave folk, tortured."
Put like that, of course, it was absurdly simple. But then, it always was. I had been tanned nut brown. And I had indeed, as he had observed, been tortured.
The gods and men of Afghanistan were savages, unwilling to be ruled from Whitehall or from Berlin or even from Moscow, and unprepared to see reason. I had been sent into those hills, attached to the--th Regiment. As long as the fighting remained in the hills and mountains, we fought on an equal footing. When the skirmishes descended into the caves and the darkness then we found ourselves, as it were, out of our depth and in over our heads.
I shall not forget the mirrored surface of the underground lake, nor the thing that emerged from the lake, its eyes opening and closing, and the singing whispers that accompanied it as it rose, wreathing their way about it like the buzzing of flies bigger than worlds.
That I survived was a miracle, but survive I did, and I returned to England with my nerves in shreds and tatters. The place that leech like mouth had touched me was tattooed forever, frog white, into the skin of my now withered shoulder. I had once been a crack shot. Now I had nothing, save a fear of the world beneath the world akin to panic, which meant that I would gladly pay sixpence of my army pension for a Hansom cab rather than a penny to travel underground.
Still, the fogs and darknesses of London comforted me, took me in. I had lost my first lodgings because I screamed in the night. I had been in Afghanistan; I was there no longer.
"I scream in the night," I told him.
"I have been told that I snore," he said. "Also I keep irregular hours, and I often use the mantelpiece for target practice. I will need the sitting room to meet clients. I am selfish, private, and easily bored. Will this be a problem?"
I smiled, and I shook my head, and extended my hand. We shook on it.
The rooms he had found for us, in Baker Street, were more than adequate for two bachelors. I bore in mind all my friend had said about his desire for privacy, and I forbore from asking what it was he did for a living. Still, there was much to pique my curiosity. Visitors would arrive at all hours, and when they did I would leave the sitting room and repair to my bedroom, pondering what they could have in common with my friend: the pale woman with one eye bone white, the small man who looked like a commercial traveler, the portly dandy in his velvet jacket, and the rest. Some were frequent visitors, many others came only once, spoke to him, and left, looking troubled or looking satisfied.
He was a mystery to me.
We were partaking of one of our landlady's magnificent breakfasts one morning, when my friend rang the bell to summon that good lady. "There will be a gentleman joining us, in about four minutes," he said. "We will need another place at table."
"Very good," she said, "I'll put more sausages under the grill."
My friend returned to perusing his morning paper. I waited for an explanation with growing impatience. Finally, I could stand it no longer. "I don't understand. How could you know that in four minutes we would be receiving a visitor? There was no telegram, no message of any kind."
He smiled, thinly. "You did not hear the clatter of a brougham several minutes ago? It slowed as it passed us--obviously as the driver identified our door, then it sped up and went past, up into the Marylebone Road. There is a crush of carriages and taxicabs letting off passengers at the railway station and at the waxworks, and it is in that crush that anyone wishing to alight without being observed will go. The walk from there to here is but four minutes. . . ."
He glanced at his pocket watch, and as he did so I heard a tread on the stairs outside.
"Come in, Lestrade," he called. "The door is ajar, and your sausages are just coming out from under the grill."
Excerpted from Fragile Things
by Neil Gaiman
Copyright © 2006 by Neil Gaiman.
Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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