Trigger Warning: this post contains a review of Neil Gaiman’s latest short story anthology Trigger Warning.
The title of Neil Gaiman‘s third short story collection comes from the internet trend for articles to preceded by a warning of what’s to come. Apart from allowing the writer in his introduction to muse on if such an idea should be adopted for fiction, it is a perfect title for an anthology of Gaiman’s work. Part of the thrill of diving into one of his short stories in particular is that, due to the wide range of genres and tones he adopts, you never know what you are going to get. Be warned, the title tells us, I’m not going to tell you what you should be warned about, but I think you should be on your toes.
In Trigger Warning, Gaiman delivers fairy tales and ghost stories and sci-fi and fantasy adventures, as well as new spins on familiar characters and love letters to the likes of Ray Bradbury and David Bowie. Many of these stories might be familiar to Neil Gaiman devotees, but the quality of each is that you certainly won’t mind owning them more than once. Besides, having them tied together with other wildly different pieces brings out something new in them. The twelve micro fictions that make up ‘A Calendar of Tales’, for example, brilliantly compliment and juxtapose with each other.
Likewise, two of my favourites – now don’t say you didn’t see this coming – are Gaiman’s takes on Doctor Who and Sherlock Holmes. They represent contrasting takes on famous fictional heroes and their worlds. ‘The Case of Death and Honey’ is a genre-bending tale which presents an elderly Holmes undertaking the greatest, and the longest, investigation of his career. It is mournful and touching and quite unlike any other Holmes story out there.
‘Nothing O’Clock’, however, is a fun-loving adventure story that is bouncing with invention, as it sees the Eleventh Doctor and Amy facing a clever new take on the alien invasion. It is fantastic to have another Gaiman-penned entry into the Whoniverse and a must-read for anyone who loved ‘The Doctor’s Wife’ (and thought ‘Nightmare in Silver’ could have been better).
Yet my absolute favourite is surely ‘Truth is a Cave in the Black Mountains…’, a story as atmospheric and opaque as the mist that surrounds the island that the protagonists journey to. Apparently based on an old Scottish folk tale (as Gaiman’s fascinating in-depth story notes tells us), it is a bleaker piece than most of the writer’s other work, where death and danger are more often than not met with some light and humour. Nonetheless, it is an engrossing read and showcases Gaiman’s storytelling and prose at its peak.
But then my other favourite is the fantastically feminist ‘The Sleeper in the Spindle’, or perhaps the brilliantly bonkers ‘The Return of the Thin White Duke’. Or ‘Orange’, a tale told entirely through answers to unseen questions. Or the creepy epistolary ‘Feminine Endings.’ Or maybe ‘Black Dog’, a new story set in the American Gods universe.
Each story in Trigger Warning is better than the last. That is the only forewarning you need.
P.S. Has anyone thought about the potential meaning of the wounded-looking wolf on the cover? Perhaps he has been shot? If so, does he represent the piece of writing, made innocuous by the addition of a trigger warning?