I love short stories. I love Neil Gaiman’s writing. Does it follow, then, that I love Neil Gaiman short stories?
Some of them, yes.
Smoke and Mirrors covers a lot of ground: humor, erotica, whimsy and horror. Included are several poems, some flash fiction pieces, and a number of conventional short stories. The tone, regardless of what mood or emotion a given story is going for, tends toward the straightforward. Unadorned, no-nonsense, but clear and effective.
Gaiman’s favorite trick is to flip a well-known fable or fairy tale upside down — to reveal events seen from a different character’s perspective, or to modernize a traditional character or scenario.
“Murder Mysteries,” a long story retelling interactions between angels going back to the very formation of the universe and the human sphere, may be the most ambitious and interesting thing here. “Snow, Glass, Apples” is likewise richly told and well written.
“Shoggoth’s Old Peculiar,” which visits a variation on Lovecraft’s fictional town of Innsmouth, and “We Can Get Them for You Wholesale,” about a guy who turns to an assassination service to help him deal with his frustrations, are particularly funny.
Many of other pieces were comparatively slight, though. In my recent review of Joe Hill’s collection “Twentieth Century Ghosts,” I said the book might have been improved by eliminating the weakest 1/3 of the material, and I’d say the same thing here. A shorter book, but a much stronger one, would result. I give the collection as a whole 4 stars, but there’s quite a bit of 5-star material here, as well as some individual stories I’d give 3 or even 2 stars.
Overall a hit-and-miss collection, yet it contains some very worthwhile stories fans of Gaiman won’t want to miss.