Wednesday, 26 October 2011

Stories edited by Neil Gaiman and Al Sarrantonio

Stories, an anthology edited by Neil Gaiman and Al Sarrantonio, takes as starting point their love for good stories and good writing, and 4 words: ...and then what happened? I had my eyes on this book ever since it came out – short stories, some great authors (even if the combination of some seemed strange at first), and a cute cover.

Stories starts with Blood by Roddy Doyle, that is quite upbeat and funny, even if slightly disturbing – I enjoyed it but the ending didn't quite work for me. But the second story, Fossil-Figures by Joyce Carol Oates, more than made up for it. Fossil-Figures is a story of twins, different from what usually is done, poignant and dark – but what really captivated me was the writing, that conveyed the feelings of both the characters so well. I admit never having heard of Joyce Carol Oates, but it won't be the last I'll read something of this author.

The next three stories (Joanne Harris's Wildfire in Manhattan, Neil Gaiman's The truth is a cave in the Black Mountains and Michael Marshall Smith's Unbelief) could have been part of American Gods, and if that is forgiveable in the case of Neil Gaiman, with the other two not so much. Joanne Harris story was still enjoyable for the movie(or TV-series)-like quality of it, fun, with action and a hint of romance. Neil Gaiman's didn't really convince me more because of the writing than the story itself. Unbelief is a cutesy story, with a twist towards the end that made me smile a bit, but not much more than that.

The stars are falling by Joe R. Lansdale is a strange case, because although I can't say I specially liked it, it was memorable enough to still have me thinking about it (more than a month after reading it). It's dark and sad, like many of the stories in this book, but strangely uplifting in the end, despite the grimness of it.

Walter Mosley's Juvenal Nyx starts really slow and boring, and once it starts to be interesting to me, it pick ups the pace and finishes in a flash. As a vampire story it is different from usual, and had it been more like the ending part, it could have been phenomenal.

After Richard Adams's story The Knife I think I am ready to give up on this author, neither writing nor story were to my liking, and the only plus side was that it was extremely short.

I was surprised to see Jodi Picoult in the list of the authors, the few names that I was acquainted with screamed Fantasy and Science Fiction to me, Jodi's didn't. But I'm glad she was included, her story Weights and measures was extremely sad, but extremely well written. About the death of child and the grief of parents, I didn't expect to enjoy it, and certainly not as much as I have.

Michael Swanwick's The Goblin Lake was fairy tale like at first, jumping into metafiction later on. But it never really convinced me, and to tell the truth, the new-comer Kat Howard manages much better the metaficiton in her story A Life in Fictions, which was really good.

Mallon the guru by Peter Straub was another story that didn't work out for me, the same with Stewart O'Nan's Land of the Lost, Carolyn Parkhurst's Unwell and Tim Powers's Parallel Lines (these last two with some similarities, as well as with Fossil-Figures that had already stole my heart).

Lawrence Block's Catch and Release and Jeffery Deaver's The Therapist were both rather good, both showing the darker side of human nature. In the first we share the thoughts of a serial killer that has somehow changed his modus operandi, never giving up the chase of prey. In the second story it takes awhile to realize how dark it is, and since there is an element of fantasy there, the reader is doesn't quite know what to believe.

Jeffrey Ford's Polka Dots and Moonbeams, Chuck Palahniuk's Loser and Jonathan Carroll's Let the Past Begin were nice stories, with some degree of craziness and surrealism, which is always a bonus for me, but not exactly memorable.

Samantha's Diary by Diana Wynne Jones was my favourite story in the book – a retelling of the popular 12 Days of Christmas, set in a futuristic world were such song is almost forgotten. This one made me laugh out loud (I swear, true story). I wish there was a bit more to its ending, but anyway, it is a brilliant story.

Leif in the wind by Gene Wolfe was another poignant story, a science fiction one, and I enjoyed it immensely.

Al Sarrantonio's The Cult of the Nose is another slightly surreal one, that had the power to actually make me believe in the conspiracies and secret society that the main character was involved on. The ending was also quite twisty, leaving it open to the reader to believe in either side of the story.

Human intelligence by Kurt Andersen was another science fiction one, and with quite a big twist in the end that left me with a smile in my face (a much bigger one than in Unbelief). I rather liked it.

Stories by Michael Moorcock was tremendously strange to me, because it didn't feel like a story to me – just the author talking about the past and people that I always felt I was supposed to know who they were but I had no idea who they could be. For the most part it made me feel stupid, because surely these should be really famous authors and magazines and what-not. But slowly I became somewhat invested in the characters, especially the one we know from the beginning what will happen – I guess I want to know how he got there.

Elizabeth Hand's The Maiden Flight of McCauley's Bellerophon was a nice one as well, rather long, which made me feel it could have been a novel. I wish there was a better explanation to some of the events, but overall it was good.

The Devil on the Staircase by Joe Hill is the closing story of this book, with a different kind of layout. As the main character goes up and down the many stairs of his village, so does the text resemble them. It made it a bit hard to follow the story, but it was nice all the same.

My overall opinion of Stories was that it was somewhat of a disappointment: even if there were stories that I loved, they were few and the ones that didn't interest me one bit far too many. Regarding the central point of ...and then what happened? of all the stories, I felt the great majority of cases that I was asking that because the story had an unfinished feel to it, not because I really wanted to know more about it.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5

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  1. My goodness, biggest review yet.

    DWJ FTW!! :D

  2. Yeah, I know - 2 pages on word :S But there are a lot of stories in the book, so...

    DWJ FTW! Must lend you the book so you can read the story :D

  3. Thanks for sharing ... this one's on my wish list just because of Neil Gaiman but I've still been wondering what I'd be getting because short story collections are rarely hits for me. From your review, I'd guess I'd be better off picking other books for now.

  4. I would say that you don't need to get out of your way to get this book. Some stories are good, but there are much better books you could be reading. If you can borrow it from a library or someone, read it, but otherwise, it can wait :)