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Smoke and Mirrors: Short Fictions and Illusions

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Overview

In the deft hands of Neil Gaiman, magic is no mere illusion... and anything is possible. In this, Gaiman's first book of short stories, his imagination and supreme artistry transform a mundane world into a place of terrible wonders — a place where an old woman can purchase the Holy Grail at a thrift store, where assassins advertise their services in the Yellow Pages under "Pest Control," and where a frightened young boy must barter for his life with a mean-spirited troll living beneath a bridge by the railroad ...

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Overview

In the deft hands of Neil Gaiman, magic is no mere illusion... and anything is possible. In this, Gaiman's first book of short stories, his imagination and supreme artistry transform a mundane world into a place of terrible wonders — a place where an old woman can purchase the Holy Grail at a thrift store, where assassins advertise their services in the Yellow Pages under "Pest Control," and where a frightened young boy must barter for his life with a mean-spirited troll living beneath a bridge by the railroad tracks. Explore a new reality — obscured by smoke and darkness, yet brilliantly tangible — in this extraordinary collection of short works by a master prestidigitator. It will dazzle your senses, touch your heart, and haunt your dreams.

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
With winning characters and memorable situations, these short pieces evidence Gaiman's supple narrative touch, already seen in vivid relief in his Sandman graphic novels.
Dallas Morning News
Highly imaginative . . . readers will find echoes of H.P. Lovecraft, Harlan Ellison, Ray Bradbury and Stephen King, but the voice is all Gaiman.
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Imaginative twists on old legends and frightening glimpses into the impossible combine to form this impressive collection of 30 stories and poems by the author of Neverwhere and co-creator of The Sandman graphic novels. Each entry skirts the edges of a puncture in reality through which something dark and mysterious peeks. Then it moves on and the apparition is hidden away again, but not forgotten. The narratives follow a dream logic: The angel Raguel, the Vengeance of the Lord, can bum a cigarette off a youth in L.A. and tell him the truth behind Lucifer's fall "Murder Mysteries", and nonchalant assassins can be found in the Yellow Pages under pest control "We Can Get Them for You Wholesale". The bizarre and disturbing essence of the stories is highlighted by their background of absolute normalcy. Their prose is simple yet evocative, and Gaiman's characters are textured with well-defined personalities. Because the characters treat the unreal as ordinary, the eeriness of what unfolds has all the more impact. In "Chivalry," a woman finds the Holy Grail in a secondhand shop, and Galahad must trade something for it that will look just as good on her mantle. Demons take over London in "Cold Colors," because the devil has learned how to network and God can't get "saintware" up and running. The intriguing world behind these pages is indeed smoke and mirrors, just a step or a word or a story away from our own. Nov.
horroronline
Neil Gaiman (The Sandman and Neverwhere) apparently possesses a bottomless magic well of imagination and his recent collection, Smoke and Mirrors: Short Fictions and Illusions, provides a brimming dipper from it for readers thirsty for unique fantasy. A dozen of the thirty or so stories and poems in Smoke and Mirrors -- including the memorable lead story "Chivalry," the tale of an unflappable widow who finds the Holy Grail in a secondhand shop -- first saw print in his award-winning Angels and Visitations, a small press miscellany of stories, poems, essays, articles, and reviews, originally published for the 1993 World Fantasy Convention. Some stories -- like "Snow, Glass, Apples," a retelling of "Snow White" -- are already fairly well-known through popular anthologies and reprintings in "year's best" collections. Familiarity, in Gaiman's case, breeds only further admiration, but Smoke and Mirrors contains plenty of newer stories, too -- such as the darkly erotic "Tastings" and "Bay Wolf," a combination of "Beowulf" and, er, "Baywatch." Gaiman's incantatory storytelling ignites both the bitter and the sweet and its smoke twists and seeps into dark corners, wafts into the light and amusing, even wends poignantly into the heart: nothing he writes should be missed.
Kirkus Reviews
A whopping collection of 30 stories, narrative poems, and unclassifiable briefer pieces from the peerlessly inventive British-born co-editor/creator of The Sandman graphic novel series and last year's terrific fantasy Neverwhere. Gaiman, who's also provided a disarmingly genial introduction, calls these tales "messages from Looking-Glass Land and pictures in shifting clouds." Though they're often derivative of both traditional folk materials and acknowledged favorite writers (such as John Collier, H.P. Lovecraft, and Michael Moorcock), the volume's numerous successes put an engaging spin on even more-than-twice-told tales. "Nicholas Was," for instance, offers in scarcely half a page a hair-raising revisionist look at the benevolent figure of Santa Claus. The poem "The White Road" deftly reimagines the English ballad about the innocent virgin fated to be sacrificed to her vulpine fiancé ("Mr. Fox"). "The Daughter of Owls" is a fiendishly compact revenge tale told in the manner of ("as by") 17th-century antiquarian John Aubrey. Elsewhere, Gaiman offers amusingly lurid images of "swinging" London in the '70s ("Looking for the Girl"), Hollywood's past and present "wild days" ("The Goldfish Pool and Other Stories"), and sex in the age of AIDS (the very erotic "Tastings"). And, at his best, he makes something daringly new out of the stories we think we know best: "Baywolf" memorably combines the narrative and pictorial elements of the real Beowulf and of TV's Baywatch; "Snowglass, Apples" retells the story of Snow White from the viewpoint of the exasperated "evil queen"; and two tales ("Shoggoth's Old Peculiar" and "Only the End of the World"), set respectively in the Innsmouth ofEngland and of New England, pay hilarious homage to Lovecraft's Ctulhu Mythos and the conventions of the classic horror film. Gaiman miscalculates only in leading off With "Chivalry," the unforgettable tale of a placid widow who discovers the Holy Grail in a secondhand shop. Nothing later on matches it in a volume that's otherwise an exhilarating display of the work of one of our most entertaining storytellers.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780380789023
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 8/30/2005
  • Format: Mass Market Paperback
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 384
  • Sales rank: 188,607
  • Product dimensions: 4.18 (w) x 6.75 (h) x 0.96 (d)

Meet the Author

Neil Gaiman is the #1 New York Times bestselling author of more than twenty books for readers of all ages, and the recipient of numerous literary awards, including the Shirley Jackson Award and the Locus Award for Best Novelette for his story "The Truth Is a Cave in the Black Mountains." Originally from England, he now lives in America.

Biography

Neil Gaiman thought he wrote comic books. But a newspaper editor, of course, set him straight.

Back when he was riding the diabolical headwinds of his popular series of graphic novels, The Sandman, the author attended a party where he introduced himself as a comic-book writer to a newspaper's literary editor. But when the editor quickly realized who this actually was -- and the glaze melted from his eyes -- he offered Gaiman a correction tinged with astonishment: "My God, man, you don't write comics, you write graphic novels." Relating the story to theLos Angeles Times in 1995, Gaiman said, "I suddenly felt like someone who had been informed that she wasn't a hooker, that in fact she was a lady of the evening."

Gaiman's done much more, of course, than simply write graphic novels, having coauthored, with Terry Pratchett, Good Omens, a comic novel about the Apocalypse; adapted into hardcover the BBC miniseries Neverwhere about the dark underworld beneath the streets of London; and, inspired by his young daughter, put a horrifying spin on C.S. Lewis' wardrobe doors for Coraline, a children's book about a passageway into a magical, yet malevolent, land.

But it is The Sandman that is Gaiman's magnum opus.

Though he had told a career counselor in high school that he wanted to pen comic books, he had a career as a freelance journalist before his first graphic novel, Violent Cases, was published in England in 1987. DC Comics discovered him and The Sandman was born. Or reborn, actually. The comic debuted back in 1939 with a regular-Joe crime fighter in the lead. But in Gaiman's hands the tale had a more otherworldly spin, slowing introducing readers to the seven siblings Endless: Dream, Death, Desire, Destiny, Destruction, Despair and Delirium (once Delight). They all have their roles in shaping the fates of man. In fact, when Death was imprisoned for decades, the results were devastating. Richard Nixon reached The White House and Michael Jackson the Billboard charts.

Direction from newspaper editors notwithstanding, to Gaiman, these stories are still comic books. The man who shuttled back and forth between comics and classics in his formative years and can pepper his writing with references to Norse mythology as well as the vaudevillian rock group Queen, never cottoned to such highbrow/lowbrow distinctions. Comparing notes on a yachting excursion with members of the Irish rock band U2, the writer who looks like a rock star and Delirium and the rock stars who gave themselves comic-worthy names such as Bono and The Edge came to a realization: Whether the medium is pop music or comic books, not being taken seriously can be a plus. "It's safer to be in the gutter," he told The Washington Post in 1995.

In 1995, Gaiman brought The Sandman to a close and began spending more time on his nongraphic fiction, including a couple of short-story collections. A few years later he released Stardust, an adult fairy tale that has young Tristan Thorn searching for a fallen star to woo the lovely but cold Victoria Forester. In 2001, he placed an ex-con named Shadow in the middle of a war between the ancient and modern dieties in American Gods. Coming in October 2002 is another departure: an audio recording of Two Plays for Voices, which stars Bebe Neuwirth as a wise queen doing battle with a bloodthirsty child and Brian Dennehy as the Angel of Vengeance investigating the first crime in history in heaven's City of Angels.

Gaiman need not worry about defining his artistic relevance, since so many other seem to do it for him. Stephen King, Roger Zelazny and Harlan Ellison are among those who have contributed introductions to his works. William Gibson, the man who coined the term "cyberspace," called him a "a writer of rare perception and endless imagination" as well as "an American treasure." (Even though he's, technically, a British treasure transplanted to the American Midwest.) Even Norman Mailer has weighed in: "Along with all else, Sandman is a comic strip for intellectuals, and I say it's about time."

The gushiest praise, however, may come from Frank McConnell, who barely contained himself in the pages of the political and artistic journal Commonweal. Saying Gaiman "may just be the most gifted and important storyteller in English," McConnell crowned Sandman as the most important act of fiction of the day. "And that, not just because of the brilliance and intricacy of its storytelling -- and I know few stories, outside the best of Joyce, Faulkner, and Pynchon, that are more intricate," he wrote in October 1995, " but also because it tells its wonderful and humanizing tale in a medium, comic books, still largely considered demimonde by the tenured zombies of the academic establishment."

"If Sandman is a 'comic,'" he concluded, "then The Magic Flute is a 'musical' and A Midsummer Night's Dream is a skit. Read the damn thing: it's important."

Good To Know

Some fascinating factoids from our interview with Gaiman:

"One of the most enjoyable bits of writing Sandman was getting authors whose work I love to write the introductions for the collected graphic novels -- people like Steve Erickson, Gene Wolfe, Harlan Ellison, Clive Barker, Peter Straub, Mikal Gilmore, and Samuel R. Delany."

"I have a big old Addams Family house, with -- in the summertime -- a vegetable garden, and I love growing exotic pumpkins. As a boy in England I used to dream about Ray Bradbury Hallowe'ens, and am thrilled that I get them these days. Unless I'm on the road signing people's books, of course."

"According to my daughters, my most irritating habit is asking for cups of tea."

"I love radio -- and love the availability of things like the Jack Benny radio shows in MP3 format. I'm addicted to BBC radio 7, and keep buying boxed CD sets of old UK radio programs, things like Round the Horne and Hancock's Half Hour. Every now and again I'll write a radio play."

"I love thunderstorms, old houses, and dreams."

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    1. Hometown:
      Minneapolis, Minnesota
    1. Date of Birth:
      November 10, 1960
    2. Place of Birth:
      Portchester, England
    1. Education:
      Attended Ardingly College Junior School, 1970-74, and Whitgift School, 1974-77
    2. Website:

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One



Nicholas Was...



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.

Ho.

Ho.

Ho.

Smoke & Mirrors. Copyright © by Neil Gaiman. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
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Table of Contents

Reading the Entrails: A Rondel
An Introduction 1
Chivalry 33
Nicholas Was ... 48
The Price 49
Troll Bridge 57
Don't Ask Jack 69
The Goldfish Pool and Other Stories 72
The White Road 108
Queen of Knives 120
Changes 130
The Daughter of Owls 141
Shoggoth's Old Peculiar 144
Virus 156
Looking for the Girl 159
Only the End of the World Again 171
Bay Wolf 190
We Can Get Them for You Wholesaleä 198
One Life, Furnished in Early Moorcock 209
Cold Colors 224
The Sweeper of Dreams 236
Foreign Parts 238
Vampire Sestina 255
Mouse 257
The Sea Change 267
When We Went to See the End of the World 271
Desert Wind 278
Tastings 281
Babycakes 290
Murder Mysteries 292
Snow, Glass, Apples 325
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First Chapter

Smoke and Mirrors
Short Fictions and Illusions

Chapter One



Nicholas Was...



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.

Ho.

Ho.

Ho.

Smoke and Mirrors
Short Fictions and Illusions
. Copyright © by Neil Gaiman. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
Read More Show Less

Interviews & Essays

Before the live bn chat, Neil Gaiman agreed to answer some of our questions:

Q: If you could be any comic-book character, who would you be?

A: Plastic Man. He always looked like he was enjoying himself.

Q: Who is your favorite comic villain?

A: I always liked Marvel's monster comics by Jack Kirby. Characters like Fin Fang Foom -- I think he was the monster from 40,000 fathoms.

Q: Do you have a major literary influence?

A: G. K. Chesterton -- a turn-of-the-century author who wrote from a very English perspective -- and the American writer James Branch Cabell. In 1921 Cabell was probably the most famous writer in America. Now he's completely forgotten. He wrote fantasies, historical fiction, and short stories.

Q: Do you have any favorite contemporary writers?

A: I enjoy Jonathan Carroll...and Gene Wolfe is probably my favorite science fiction writer.

Q: Do you have a favorite place to get away to?

A: I have a gazebo in the woods. I go there to write.

Q: What do you do for insomnia?

A: I go and write. If I don't feel like writing, I'll buy secondhand books on the Web -- really obscure books by really obscure authors. I also might telephone someone who will be awake.

Q: How involved are you in the film version of the "Sandman" comics?

A: I'm not. It's so huge, I figure it's best if I just stay out of it.

Q: Do you miss England?

A: Enormously.


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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 64 )
Rating Distribution

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(38)

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(14)

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(7)

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(3)

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(2)

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 64 Customer Reviews
  • Posted March 21, 2012

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    I Also Recommend:

    Before I read this book, I was under the impression that I just

    Before I read this book, I was under the impression that I just wasn’t really a fan of short stories. This book made me realize that I like short stories just fine, I just have to be a fan of who is writing them. I find Neil Gaiman’s style to be dark, gritty and masterful. Smoke and Mirrors is an eclectic collection of stories and poetry about everything from the holy grail to trolls. I think there’s a little something for just about anyone that likes fiction. If you like short stories, Neil Gaiman, fantasy, or just want something a little different, you should take a look.

    3 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted February 5, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    Aspiring authors, do not read this book!

    If you're a writer and you're feeling a bit down about your writing, do not read this book. Gaiman is one of those authors whose skill with language is such that you'll despair of ever being a tenth as good as he is. Some of these stories also appeared in his Angels and Visitations collection, but there is enough variety that it's worth owning both collections.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted February 13, 2010

    I Also Recommend:

    Great variety of content

    I first ran across Neil Gaiman in an anthology Living Dead and then a few other stories here and there. He would always be one of the authors that seemed, to me anyway, to rise to the top. One of the great story tellers of our time. What a take on the Snow White fable!

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 13, 2007

    Get it, get it, get it!

    If you've never read Neil Gaiman's short fiction, this is the PERFECT book to start with. It is filled with stories that will stick with you long after the last page has been turned. After you read SMOKE AND MIRRORS, read FRAGILE THINGS. Or read FRAGILE THINGS first. Whatever order you choose, you can't go wrong. 5 stars for the master...

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 26, 2011

    Wonderful

    I adore this collection and think anyone who reads it will at least appreciate Gaiman as a writer.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 13, 2009

    Gaiman is cool

    I liked this book because it was sort of like exploring the mind of Neil Gaiman. I only recommend it to true lovers of his work. Don't read it just because you thought Stardust or Corraline were "cute".

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 10, 2006

    Not Bad

    Some stories are decent, others are not so engaging..

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted December 24, 2013

    Compilation of peculiar short stories told in the typical ¿Neil

    Compilation of peculiar short stories told in the typical “Neil Gaiman” style, these two are the same as that of Fragile Things. 




    I love it. 

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 8, 2010

    great intro to Gaiman

    I have never read Neil Gaiman before and I loved this collection of short stories!!! What a great intro to his writings. The collection offers a variety of really interesting and freshly original stories. Several of these stories are very adult in nature and I would not recommend this for children or even teens!A couple of the stories were a little "dark" for me but overall the book was really entertaining and worth many re-reads.

    I LOVED "Chivalry", "Sweeper of Dreams", "Murder Mysteries", "The Price" and "Troll Bridge". Also, don't miss the treasure hidden in the Introduction!

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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