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Trigger Warning: Short Fictions and Disturbances by Neil Gaiman

Trigger Warning: Short Fictions and Disturbances by Neil Gaiman
Book Name: Trigger Warning: Short Fictions and Disturbances
Author: Neil Gaiman
Publisher(s): William Morrow (US) Headline (UK)
Formatt: Hardcover / Paperback / Audiobook / Ebook
Genre(s): Fantasy Anthology
Release Date: February 3, 2015

In the introduction to Trigger Warning: Short Fictions and Disturbances, Neil Gaiman tells us quite plainly that writers live in houses other people built.

In this collection of short stories, it often feels as though Gaiman is going through other writers’ closets. Some of the stories mimic the tones and themes of Gaiman’s literary predecessors, authors such as Harland Ellison, Arthur Conan Doyle, William Blake, Gene Wolfe, Jack Vance and Ray Bradbury. There are Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Who stories, and even a return to the world of American Gods, where Shadow continues to find trouble overseas.

Most of the stories are a blend of fantasy and horror, but it truly is a disparate collection as Gaiman tries on different hats, experimenting with storytelling styles and themes as easily as the rest of us try on clothes.

“The Thing About Cassandra” is one of two stories in the collection to have won the Locus Award for Best Short Story (the other being “The Case of Death and Honey”), and it’s probably the most clever story in a collection of clever stories. About a young man who meets his first girlfriend – one whose existence he made up to impress his friends – “The Thing About Cassandra” has a terrific plot twist at the end that’s more frightening and mind-bending than any other story in the book.

The Truth Is a Cave in the Black Mountains is a novella of travel and greed and secrets. It’s a slow-burning story set on the Isle of Skye near Scotland, as a dwarf hires a guide, Calum MacInnes, to take him to a cave in the Black Mountains, a cave rumored to be filled with gold, but a place that takes a piece of a man’s soul with each visit. But before the story ends, we learn that the dwarf may not be motivated by the promise of gold, and his choice of Calum as his guide was no coincidence.

“A Calendar of Tales” offers yet another entirely different storytelling style, as Gaiman tells a brief story for each month of the year. As Gaiman explains in the introduction, BlackBerry approached Gaiman to participate in a social media project of his choosing, and Gaiman suggested “A Calendar of Tales”, with each story coming in response to a tweet about the months of the year. The resulting story snippets are as eclectic and fascinating as the rest of the story, featuring a man who gambles with ducks, a woman who receives a series of strange letters, a man who builds an igloo out of books and a genie who falls in love. They’re almost like Trigger Warning in miniature, minus the thread of horror, and demonstrate just how rich Gaiman’s imagination is, and how easily he can slide from one world into the next.

“The Case of Death and Honey” is Gaiman’s take on a Sherlock Holmes story, paying homage to the original while putting his own twist on the storytelling. This story takes Holmes to China, where his need to be challenged forces him to tackle the most difficult case of all – how to defeat death. It’s a story that Holmes fans can enjoy while clearly taking the storytelling in a far different direction than Doyle ever did.

“Nothing O’clock”, a Doctor Who story, cranks up the fun of that series with Gaiman’s wit and wordplay. Fans of that series will enjoy Gaiman’s take here.

Several of the stories in Trigger Warning are new takes on classic fairy tales – “The Sleeper and the Spindle”, “Witch Work” and “Diamonds and Pearls: A Fairy Tale” are all new takes on old stories, which isn’t surprising for an author who has demonstrated a longstanding interest in myths and legends, and how important they continue to be even today.

Gaiman closes the collection with “Black Dog”, which returns us to Shadow’s tale following American Gods and The Monarch of the Glen. If you haven’t read American Gods yet, I can’t recommend it highly enough (the Fantasy-Faction review is here).

Shadow remains much the same person we grew to know and love, complete with his unparalleled ability to shrug of the supernatural and the strange with an uncanny nonchalance. In this chapter, he comes to an English pub, immersing himself and the reader in the creepy atmosphere, where a dead cat is mummified inside the walls and a spectral ghost hound roams the local countryside (reminding us once again of both Sherlock Holmes and old legends). It’s a Gaiman story, so of course anything can (and does) happen, and the conclusion is satisfying while hinting at Shadow’s future.

There are few storytellers in the world with Gaiman’s talent, and his ability to jump into other authors’ houses and tell stories using their characters and worlds demonstrates just how skilled he is. But Gaiman is at his best when he’s in his own world, creating his own rules and playing with his own creations. Trigger Warning features a bit of both, giving us the opportunity to see a master at work, flexing the full range of his literary muscle before finally returning home to what he does best.


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