The Sleeper and the Spindle – Neil Gaiman – Audiobook

This was a treasure found on the library’s eAudiobook collection: a full cast recording of a Gaiman short story. I hadn’t read this before, and it is a good twist on the Sleeping Beauty fairy story.

We don’t have a Prince Charming, and there are a couple more twists that make this particularly delicious. I also appreciated the decision to make the spell into a “plague” that spreads throughout a kingdom, turning the sleeping spell into something much more menacing. This combines with Gaiman’s usually dark imaginings as the story develops to create a compelling story which had me clinging to every word.

The cast did a good job, I always knew who was speaking and they set the tone well as we journeyed.

The Sleeper and the Spindle

How To Talk To Girls At Parties – Neil Gaiman, Fábio Moon, Gabriel Bá

I hadn’t been aware of this graphic novel’s release until I found myself sat knitting at a train table with someone who pulled it out of their bag to read on the journey. Of course we had a chat, and he told me that he’d found it in his local library, on the same network as my local. So I did the sensible thing and was straight onto the library website to request it when I got home.

So there is nothing quite like Sunday morning in bed than a devouring a graphic novel by one of my favourite authors with a cup of tea. This was perfect, setting up a separate world which can be trivially stepped into, and which is difficult to escape from afterwards.

Like many things in Gaiman’s writings, the fantastic is terrifyingly everyday, and very believably easy for anyone to innocently step into.We start with traditionally naive teenage boys, and swiftly move into something much darker.

The artwork was perfectly otherworld, depicting Gaiman’s imaginings as they depart from, and return to, the everyday world. I have now requested “Two Brothers” by Moon and Bá to read some of their own distinct work.

Loved it.

What have you been thrilled to discover recently?

Trigger Warning – Neil Gaiman

I have been dipping in and out of this little selection of well-crafted nightmares for a couple of months. They are all an exploration of the things that lurk in the edge of the psyche, the things that hide in the dark and the myths that might just come to life.

Mostly new material, this is fairytales grown up and given teeth. And there is the obligatory “what happened next” for a character in one of Gaiman’s best loved books: Shadow is still walking the earth. A couple echo through the imagination once the book is closed, and it is possible to see why authors love this form, which allows so much freedom.

Rouges – George R. R. Martin & Gardner Dozois

I hesitate to call this a short story collection as at 21 stories across over 900 pages, the average length of these stories is over 40 pages. Rather it’s a collection of novellas, shuffled together from different worlds.

The list of contributing authors alone was enough for me to pick this up, it reads as a list of the best current sci-fi and fantasy authors. Of course it includes a new tale from Westeros, but also something from London Below, a a whole set of stories from worlds that only exist inside this book. From a world where thieves have their souls trapped in statues as a warning to others, to a mystery set in a  multiplex cinema  through a club in the roaring twenties where possibly not everyone is human.

It is impossible to pick a favourite from this set, but the contribution from George R. R. Martin was a definite disappointment. Dry, dull and only explained that there had been a whole heap of infighting and grudges in the past. So don’t get it for that story, but it was just a bit of a damp squid at the end of a generally fabulous collection.

The Ocean At The End Of The Lane – Neil Gaiman

The Ocean At The End Of The LaneThe Ocean is classic Gaiman, we start in the everyday world that feels familiar which twists and becomes a mythical nightmare. The narrator is visiting his childhood neighbourhood and gets lost in memories of a friendship and a time when his life was turned upside-down.

The protagonist has memories which were long-forgotten of being trapped inside a nightmare beyond his ability to escape, and how friendship was ultimately what saved him as no adult within the nightmare could possibly believe him.

I found the use of a first-person narrator who remains unnamed throughout, both as an adult and then within his memories made the story more real, in spite of the mystical elements. But this book is primarily about the fears of childhood intertwined with myth and captures the child’s perspective well.

Adult stories never made sense, and they were so slow to start. They made me feel like there were secrets, masonic, mythic secrets, to adulthood. Why didn’t adults want to read about Narnia, about secret islands and smugglers and dangerous fairies?

Of course Gaiman knows that adults do want to read about Narnia (although probably not the Narnia books), and that’s how he’s such a successful adult author. There is a need in some of us at least for stories outside the boundaries of  reality.

Good Omens – Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman

As a fan of Gaiman but not Pratchett, it took me a while to pick up Good Omens to read. It has a distinctly different style to books by either of these authors individually, and reads as a fast-paced adventure through a twisted version of modern England.

Armageddon is nigh, and the Antichrist walks the earth. The only problem is that there is an angel and a daemon who rather like life on earth and would rather not be sent back to their respective afterlives. This pair have been manipulating life in England for millennia, and have made quite an art form of it.

Then there’s the mysterious International Express courier delivering holy relics, prophecies, Satanic Nuns  of the Chattering Order of St Beryl and a group of children who are happily enjoying growing up in a rural setting straight out of a story book. Their lives all weave together in a surprising mix as Armageddon draws closer.

This is a hilariously funny book, and when reading the information about how the book was written in the back there is a brilliant paragraph:

“The point they both realized the text had wandered into its own world was in the basement of the old Gollancz books, where they’d got together to proofread the final copy, and Neil congratulated Terry on a line that Terry knew he hadn’t written, and Neil was certain he hadn’t written either. They both privately suspect that at some point the book had started to generate text on its own, but neither of them will actually admit this publicly for fear of being thought odd.”

If you like any form of book with humour and mythical beings, read this one. Its brilliant!

Stories – Neil Gaiman and Al Sarrantonio

Stories is a collection of short stories from many of the modern popular authors. Fantasy authors are mixed in with more mainstream, and all have written a new short story for the book. Inspired by the phrase “And then what happened?” the book is full of gems.

My favourite story was by Joanne Harris. Called Wildfire in Manhattan, it tells of a Manhattan where gods are hiding from each other and other supernatural beings, and is almost worth the full anthology alone. I also found Elizabeth Hand through this book, with a beautifully written story about early flight and love.

Neverwhere – Neil Gaiman

A classic Neil Gaiman, Neverwhere sees Richard, an office worker in London, tumble into the world below the cracks in society. There is a taste of the stereotypical fantasy plot of “bored young man becomes hero” here, but with such strong other characters and unique setting, this can be ignored.

The story runs through British mythology, a version of the aristocracy, and London geography, jumbled together into a fantastic world. For anyone familiar with London, the concept of each of the tube stations being as fantastic as they sound is enchanting; with an Earl of Earl’s Court and an Angel called Islington. This combines with a hunt for escape and vengeance that traverses London below.

Gaiman’s fantasy stories are always imaginative and Neverwhere is no exception.