& Review: Trigger Warning by Neil Gaiman

Trigger Warning by Neil Gaiman. Science Fiction/Fantasy. Publisher: William Morrow & Company.

Trigger Warning by Neil Gaiman. Science Fiction/Fantasy. Publisher: William Morrow & Company.

The Book Itself: An almost gloomy, ghostly book jacket – VERY appropriate to the stories amassed here. The flock of crows (are they crows?) the long figure with a bunch of skeletal branches…spooooky.

My Review: In this new anthology, Neil Gaiman pierces the veil of reality to reveal the enigmatic, shadowy world that lies beneath. Trigger Warning includes previously published pieces of short fiction–stories, verse, and a very special Doctor Who story that was written for the fiftieth anniversary of the beloved series in 2013–as well “Black Dog,” a new tale that revisits the world of American Gods, exclusive to this collection.

Trigger Warning explores the masks we all wear and the people we are beneath them to reveal our vulnerabilities and our truest selves. Here is a rich cornucopia of horror and ghosts stories, science fiction and fairy tales, fabulism and poetry that explore the realm of experience and emotion. In “Adventure Story”–a thematic companion to The Ocean at the End of the Lane–Gaiman ponders death and the way people take their stories with them when they die. His social media experience “A Calendar of Tales” are short takes inspired by replies to fan tweets about the months of the year–stories of pirates and the March winds, an igloo made of books, and a Mother’s Day card that portends disturbances in the universe. Gaiman offers his own ingenious spin on Sherlock Holmes in his award-nominated mystery tale “The Case of Death and Honey”. And “Click-Clack the Rattlebag” explains the creaks and clatter we hear when we’re all alone in the darkness.

I must be on a short story collection kick lately! Neil Gaiman is an almost universally loved science fiction/fantasy author. Unfortunately, being a terrible person who is equally terrible at reading things that she is considered to “have” to have read, I have only consumed American Gods. Several years ago. So I remember very little (towards the end, there’s a car at the bottom of a lake, right?).

In contrast: my coworker just got his signature tattooed on her thigh.

SO. I know he’s a Big Deal. So I decided to see what his stories might be like. (Note: if you’re already familiar with Gaiman’s stories, most of the stories here have been published elsewhere. I think “Black Dog” might be the only one unique to this collection. So keep that in mind, if you’re a superfan ;-))

Not sure if it’s because the last two short story collections I read were lackluster, but I quite enjoyed this one. It’s weird and very, very creepy at times, but the man can WRITE. His longer stories read like stories and folktales I’ve known forever. And who knows, for a sci-fi/fantasy fan someday, these could be the fairy tales they tell their kids (provided the children aren’t super prone to nightmares). Here are a couple that I have something to say about:

“The Thing About Cassandra” — What happens when your friends and family start insisting that they recently saw your first girlfriend around town….and you made her up?

“A Calendar of Tales” — This is – shocking – a series of twelve stories, sometimes having little to nothing to do with the month that bears their title. Gaiman participated in a Twitter writing contest of sorts, and took random, quirky prompts from fans who wrote in. The thing is: you are not told what the prompts are. So it just seems like a dozen random vignettes. But they’re all really good. So there’s that.

“Nothing O’Clock” — Even if you haven’t watched one minute of Doctor Who, I think this story would stand just fine on its own as a suspenseful, riveting tale. But, since I am a fan of such things, I geeked out a little, picturing the 11th Doctor and Amy saying and doing these exact things. If this were a real episode though, it would be one of them that would scare the bejeezus out of me.

“The Sleeper and the Spindle” — A creepy tale, with zombie-like overtones, featuring both Snow White and Sleeping Beauty…you know, if they both had more agency and backbone and one of them wore battle armor in order to save the girl. This is apparently going to be released in its own volume, alongside illustrations, at the end of this year. Might have to get that one on my shelf!

“Black Dog” — This is a side story set in the same world as Gaiman’s American Gods. Like I said, I don’t remember a whole lot of the story (not a reflection of Gaiman’s work or writing – I have a terrible recollection of stories I’ve read, even months previous. It’s one of the reasons why I started this blog! To aid in recollecting good books!), but I didn’t need to to appreciate this story. It’s probably not intended to be the creepiest in the collection, but I found the whole thing unsettling and eerie and skin-crawling in the best way. Moment after moment makes you want to keep a light on when you go to bed.

Overall, a collection with some very strong spots. In his Introduction, Gaiman leaves a little space to explain each story: why it was made, for what publication or occasion, and sometimes his thoughts on any of the above. It’s a nice hand held out to guide you through the collection. My only complaints would be that there isn’t necessarily a thread that weaves through every story to bind it to the collection, as they were all written at different times, for different publications. And I found a couple of the pieces to be…not lackluster, but just not overly memorable.

An excellent journey if you love Gaiman’s work, if a tone of creepy crawly in your fantasy is A-OK with you, and if you’re a fan of strong atmosphere.

My Grade: B


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