Category: Gaiman Neil

Stories: Conclusion

Having reached the end of Stories (click here for the index of my posts), it’s time for a few remarks in closing. I’d characterise this as a solid anthology — a broad range of material, and nothing particularly bad (Gene Wolfe’s is probably the weakest story, and even that has a certain amount of interest). However, more stories fall into the ‘quite good’ bracket ( as opposed to the ‘good’ bracket) than I’d have liked, and this is what makes the anthology solid rather than spectacular for me.

What, then, are the best stories in Stories? Roddy Doyle and Jodi Picoult do interesting things with fantasy, and demonstrate how fruitful the results can be when ‘mainstream’ writers try their hand at the fantastic. Michael Swanwick, Jeffrey Ford, and Joe Hill contribute perhaps the best-told tales; and Kat Howard’s piece is a strong debut.

Finally, how far does the anthology meet its stated aim: to collect stories that encourage readers to ask ‘and then what happened’? Quite well, I think — for all the criticisms I might make of some 0f these stories, they’re rarely dull. I’m wary of saying that any anthology has ‘something for everyone’ — but I think Stories comes close.

Neil Gaiman, ‘The Truth Is a Cave in the Black Mountains’ (2010)

In a mythical-historical Scotland, a child-sized man arrives at a house in a valley, searching for one Calum MacInnes, who is said to know the way to a cave on the Misty Isle, a cave in which there is gold. Thus, the two embark on a journey that will have tragic consequences for at least one of them…

The great strength of this story lies in its manner of telling. Gaiman’s prose creates an atmosphere of a bleak, half-legendary world, less through particular descriptions than through careful use of archaic structures. I rarely find myself associating stories with colours, but I imagined this one strongly in shades of white, grey, and wintry green.

Rating: ***½

Neil Gaiman’s website

Neil Gaiman and Al Sarrantonio (eds.), Stories (2010)

Anthology titles don’t come much simpler than that. And the aim of the anthology (according to Neil Gaiman’s introduction) is similarly direct — to present good stories:

…[Al Sarrantonio and I] wanted good writing (why be satisfied with less?). But we wanted more than that. We wanted to read stories that used a lightning flash of magic as a way of showing us something we have already seen a thousand times as if we have never seen it before. Truly we wanted it all.

What the editors got was… this:

Roddy Doyle, ‘Blood’
Joyce Carol Oates, ‘Fossil-Figures’

Joanne Harris, ‘Wildfire in Manhattan’
Neil Gaiman, ‘The Truth Is a Cave in the Black Mountains’
Michael Marshall Smith, ‘Unbelief’
Joe R. Lansdale, ‘The Stars Are Falling’
Walter Mosley, ‘Juvenal Nyx’
Richard Adams, ‘The Knife’
Jodi Picoult, ‘Weights and Measures’
Michael Swanwick, ‘Goblin Lake’
Peter Straub, ‘Mallon the Guru’
Lawrence Block, ‘Catch and Release’
Jeffrey Ford, ‘Polka Dots and Moonbeams’
Chuck Palahniuk, ‘Loser’
Diana Wynne Jones, ‘Samantha’s Diary’
Stewart O’Nan, ‘Land of the Lost’
Gene Wolfe, ‘Leif in the Wind’
Carolyn Parkhurst, ‘Unwell’
Kat Howard, ‘A Life in Fictions’
Jonathan Carroll, ‘Let the Past Begin’
Jeffery Deaver, ‘The Therapist’
Tim Powers, ‘Parallel Lines’
Al Sarrantonio, ‘The Cult of the Nose’
Kurt Andersen, ‘Human Intelligence’
Michael Moorcock, ‘Stories’
Elizabeth Hand, ‘The Maiden Flight of McCauley’s Bellerophon
Joe Hill, ‘The Devil on the Staircase’

I’m intrigued by that contents list, because it includes both names I’d readily associate with the field of fantastic literature, and others which I generally wouldn’t. I’m curious to see how that selection plays out, which is why I plan to review this anthology one story at a time (here, I must tip my hat to the excellent Martin Lewis, whose similar short story projects have partly inspired me to do this).

I should say that I’m declaring my intention to review Stories in this way without having actually read any of the tales, so it remains to be seen how I’ll feel about that decision 400-plus pages later. There’s only one way to find out; it’s time to open the book…

UPDATE, 4th Aug: I’ve now completed the anthology, and posted some concluding thoughts here.

Neil Gaiman’s website
BBC News interview with Gaiman

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