There are few things I enjoy more than a well crafted scary short story. As a kid cutting my teeth on Stephen King I loved his short story collections more than anything. Still do for that matter. My favorite collection of King’s is Skeleton Crew. Horror classics like “The Raft”, “The Jaunt”, and “Survivor Type” haunted me for years after reading them. Still do. In recent years Neil Gaiman’s short stories have filled the void King left for me. The first collection I read, Smoke & Mirrors, included the flat-on-your-ass-brilliant “We Can Get Them For You Wholesale”. An elegant, crisply plotted story about the ultimate bargain hunter. The story chilled me, thrilled me, and hooked me for life. At times, Trigger Warning contains that same eerie magic .
Gaiman includes a nice intro in Trigger Warning as well as brief write ups on each story with anecdotes or a brief word about their genesis. There is only one entry here that is new; “Black Dog”. The story is the 2nd of 3 about Shadow – the protagonist of Gaiman’s American Gods novel – an his misadventures as he traverses Europe following the events of the novel. It’s a good story but didn’t knock my socks off. More intriguing is a remark Gaiman makes in the introduction about Shadow’s journey that hints at another sequel novel – following the spin-off Anansi Boys – to American Gods but this time with Shadow back as the lead. As a big fan of that book I hope that wasn’t just a tease.
The rest of the stories were previously published in some form or another and most of the stories fall in the “good not great” category. In no way are these stories wastes of time but few could be considered classics. A Dr. Who story, a Sherlock Holmes story, a couple of new takes on old fairy tales, a story set in the world of The Quiet Earth. Horror, science fiction, fantasy, poetry; there is a lot of variety here. Many were written for a specific themed compilation or in another writer’s universe. The brief “Click Clack Rattle Bag” is a stand out and up there with some of the most unsettling stories Gaiman has written. Fragility of memory and self is a common theme. Several take inspiration from formative works in Gaiman’s influences such as Ray Bradbury. Bradbury himself is the inspiration for the phenomenal “The Man Who Forgot Ray Bradbury” and is a stand out in this collection. Here is an excerpt:
And the people who would burn the words, the people who would take the books from the shelves, the firemen and the ignorant, the ones afraid of tales and words and dreams and Hallowe’en and people who have tattooed themselves with stories and Boys! You Can Grow Mushrooms in Your Cellar! and as long as your words which are people which are days which are my life, as long as your words survive, then you lived and you mattered and you changed the world and I cannot remember your name.
I learned your books. Burned them into my mind. In case the firemen come to town.
Gorgeous stuff and as a lifelong Ray Bradbury fan I freely admit I was openly crying reading this story.
When I first started Trigger Warning I thought I would have more to say about it when it came time to write the review but I really don’t. It’s a solid compilation and if you are a fan you will definitely want to add it to your collection. There is a lot of variety here but few of the stories have stuck with me the way some of his earlier works have. The ones that did will permanently reside in my mind among his best ever.