Neil Gaiman – Trigger Warning
70. Trigger Warning: Short Fictions and Disturbances by Neil Gaiman (2015)
Length: 368 pages
Genre: Short Stories, Fantasy, Horror
Started: 26 October 2015
Finished: 01 November 2015
Where did it come from? From the publishers for review.
Why do I have it? New Neil Gaiman collection! Of course I was on board.
How long has it been on my TBR pile? Since 13 October 2015.
We all have something
that triggers us; Gaiman does
his best to find it.
Summary: Trigger Warning is Neil Gaiman’s latest collection of short stories (and a few poems). As he explains in the introduction, which sets the stage for the works that are to come, we use the phrase “trigger warning” to warn people that they might be encountering something disturbing or upsetting, or that might trigger traumatic memories. But all good stories should trigger something in their readers, whether those memories or associations or emotions are positive or negative are going to vary with the reader. The stories and the poems in this collection don’t have a lot in common – there’s no real theme running through them, although the arrangement of the stories was masterfully done, with ideas or themes occurring in one piece carrying over into the next (“Observing the Formalities” and “The Sleeper and the Spindle” are two very different takes on Sleeping Beauty, “‘And Weep, Like Alexander'” and “Nothing O’Clock” both involve things being erased from history, and the fight between the saints in “In Relig Odhráin” ties very clearly into what Shadow (from American Gods) discovers in the final story, “Black Dog”). Some stories are very short, some are substantially longer, some are poems; most have some kind of fantasy or horror edge to them – it is Neil Gaiman, after all – but not all. But all of them have other edges, sharper edges, edges that just maybe will pry at a little piece of your consciousness, and trigger some kind of reaction.
Review: Normally for collections and anthologies, I review each piece separately; I’m not going to do that this time. As is the case with most anthologies, some of the stories didn’t do much for me, some were fine but (I thought) not long enough to really develop into something interesting, and some just blew me away, and I’d rather spend my time talking about the latter category.
This collection did contain several of Gaiman’s stories that I’d read before: “The Thing About Cassandra” from Songs of Love and Death, “Orange” from My Mother She Killed Me, My Father He Ate Me and The Starry Rift, and The Spindle and the Sleeper, which I’d just listened to from Harper Audio. I liked all of these stories as much as I did when I’d previously encountered them.
But for the most part, the stories that really stood out in this collection were those that triggered associations with other things I loved. “Nothing O’Clock” is a Doctor Who story, set in the first year of Matt Smith’s tenure as the Doctor, and it captured the feeling of Doctor Who very well, which is perhaps not so surprising given that Gaiman’s written for the show itself (although his Amy was a little more obnoxious than I remember Amy being). “‘The Truth is a Cave in the Black Mountains…'” had just enough Scottish Highlands tinge to it that my current bingeing on the Outlander TV series carried over into goodwill for the story – plus it had a great ending, and a twist I didn’t see coming. “The Case of Death and Honey” is a Sherlock Holmes story involving what Holmes does with himself after he retires, with a take on that subject that I thought was equally interesting (and plausible) as The Beekeeper’s Apprentice. “A Calendar of Tales” didn’t necessarily remind me of anything else (except maybe a little of Gaiman’s own story “October in the Chair” from Fragile Things), but it did have some really lovely short pieces with some really evocative imagery that felt like their respective months – the bleak pebbly beach of February and the igloo of books in July, especially.
But the story that affected me the most was “The Man Who Forgot Ray Bradbury”. It touches on one of my own big fears – losing my memory – and focuses on one of my favorite authors. It feels a little strange to talk so much about Ray Bradbury in a review of another author’s book, but Gaiman brought him up, so I’m going to carry on. I love Ray Bradbury. I don’t remember how he came into my hands – probably through my dad? and we definitely read “A Sound of Thunder” and “The Veldt” in middle school, although I’m pretty sure I already knew about him by then – but the book that was mine was The Martian Chronicles. I can’t even tell you how many times I’ve read it. I would check the cassette tapes of the audiobook out of the library basically constantly, and listen to Ray Bradbury read me his stories in his comfortable Midwestern voice every night until I fell asleep (and then was always woken by the click of the play button releasing when I reached the end of the tape.) His stories and his worlds are so much a part of my consciousness that I’m always a little shocked when I reference a story of his and someone doesn’t get it, and I’m still not sure if I’m nostalgic for the summers and autumns of my own childhood, or of his. Ray Bradbury is a master of the short story, and I really think that my exposure to him as a kid is the reason why I enjoy short stories now. So for Gaiman to write a story about Ray Bradbury’s stories, and about a protagonist who also loves his stories, but who has forgotten his name and is worried that he’s forgetting the stories themselves, and if he forgets the stories maybe they’ll be lost from the world… well, that really affected me. So much that even though I had more time that morning to keep reading, I had to set the book down and go run errands, because I knew that diving straight into the next story would be doing a disservice to both.
But that’s me. Someone else might find that story totally forgettable, if they’re not a Bradbury fan, and might be affected equally much by one of the other stories, and that’s kind of the point. Gaiman does do a good job here of making each of them unique – the problem I’ve had with his other collections where it sounds like all the protagonists are him, Neil Gaiman, wasn’t much in evidence here. Just a solid collection of interesting, haunting, and triggering tales, that I very much enjoyed. 4 out of 5 stars.
Recommendation: If you like fantasy or horror-flavored short stories, or Neil Gaiman’s books, then this is definitely worth checking out. The stories, like in any collection, are not all hits, but there are some gems, and I think they fit together more smoothly than in some of his previous collections.
First Line: There are things that upset us.
Vocab: (see the whole list)
- p. 133: “Soon enough the wax floated to the surface, leaving the dead bees and the dirt and the pollen and the propolis inside the cloth.” – A resinous substance collected from the buds of certain trees by bees and used as a cement or sealant in the construction of their hives.
© 2015 Fyrefly’s Book Blog. All Rights Reserved. If you’re reading this on a site other than Fyrefly’s Book Blog or its RSS feed, be aware that this post has been stolen and is being used without permission.