Posts Tagged With: Neil Gaiman

The Sandman: Book of Dreams, edited by Neil Gaiman and Ed Kramer

bookofdreamsEven the Lord of the Dreaming shouldn’t ignore a child’s nightmares
-A child’s doll

In the Beginning, all things had a Destiny.  Because they had a destiny, they would also be forced to accept Death.  In order to push away that dread certainty, we make creations out of Dream.  All things that are created, though, eventually face Destruction.  Destruction brings about Despair, and we Desire to recapture them.  In doing so, we experience Delight (or Delirium, depending on circumstance).  In my own clumsy way, I’ve described beings that existed before the gods, which will continue to do so until even gods die.  They are the Endless.

Neil Gaiman wrote a comic book series some years back called The Sandman.  It was a comic geared towards older readers, because the subject matter was most definitely not for immature minds-it had elements of serious horror, and all kinds of other disturbing things.  But it was also filled with Big Ideas.  The centerpiece of it all was the being known as Dream (aka Morpheus, the Shaper, the Prince of Stories, etc.).  While Dream was not always a main character in this set of comic books, he was always involved in some way.  One of the things I was firmly convinced of was that The Sandman would do well translated into novelized form.

Whaddya know?  Not a work of Gaiman, but perhaps the next best thing-a collection of short stories written by luminaries such as Gene Wolfe, Tad Williams, and Barbara Hambly.  Each story about the Prince of Stories, or at least situations and characters that had populated the comic book.  While knowledge of that comic would certainly be helpful, it didn’t strike me as being absolutely necessary; even the stories that are mixed deeply with the comic book’s events stand pretty well on their own.

Many of the stories in here are excellent.  I’d like to point out especially “Stronger than Desire” by Lisa Goldstein, where a mortal man has a very interesting wager with one of the Endless; “Each Damp Thing” by Barbara Hambly, where one of Dream’s servants, Cain, is forced to ‘fess up to taking something that he really, really shouldn’t have while Dream was away; “Valosaga and Elet” by Steven Brust, where a pair of Endless are cast in the roles of adversaries (and they’re not the ones you’d expect!); and “The Mender of Broken Dreams” by Nancy A. Collins, in which the Mender tries to understand his own origins, and Dream shows him just who is capable of such things.

My two favorites are about as different as can be; “The Gate of Gold” by Mark Kreighbaum, where a child’s doll attempts to find out why Dream afflicts little children with nightmares; and “Splatter” by Will Shetterly, in which an author finds himself unexpectedly attending the famed “Serial Killers Convention” in one of the comic story arcs.  Wonder what that says about me…?  (Heh.)

While some of the stories were not as good in my opinion, I recognize they’ll fit other readers’ tastes.  Even so, the bulk of the stories are more than good enough for me to give it a strong recommendation.  And if you find that you really, really like this book, you might consider reading the collected Sandman trade paperbacks; sure, they’re comics, but they’re at least as good as some of the fantasy novels out there-and like as not, better than most.  So go pick up The Sandman:  Book of Dreams.  It’s a great read.

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American Gods, by Neil Gaiman

You work for me now.  You protect me.  You transport me from place to place.   You run errands.  In an emergency, but only in an emergency, you hurt people who need to be hurt.  In the unlikely event of my death, you will hold my vigil.  And in return I shall make sure that your needs are adequately taken care of.
-Shadow’s new job description

Well.  Neil Gaiman never does anything small, does he?

Fair warning:  this is not a book for younger readers.  This is not only due to content, but the fact that there are stretches which, honestly, will bore younger readers.  Older readers, on the other hand-especially ones familiar with Gaiman’s writing style-will appreciate it more.

Enough disclaimer.

American Gods is set in what we like to think of as “the real world”.  A fellow named Shadow is about to be released from prison, and looking forward to using his second chance with his wife to stay out of trouble.  Unfortunately, tragedy strikes his wife and Shadow finds himself out in a bleaker world.  Without his wife and without prospects, he is approached by a mysterious stranger calling himself Wednesday.  Shadow is offered a job with Wednesday, and after some convincing accepts.

With that, Shadow begins a journey that takes him across the paths of…well, gods.  And the gods are dividing into two camps.  The first camp consists of the old gods, those of legend and myth (and be sure, a good chunk of them are extremely obscure; I’ve not heard of several, and I used to think of myself as pretty up on that kind of thing).  They are also in danger of becoming extinct, as mankind’s belief has faded.  Many take up rather unusual occupations in order to remain in existence.  The second camp consists of the gods that seem to be worshipped by people now.

No, I’m not talking about the usual religions.  I’m talking about Technology, the Internet, the Media, Credit Cards, and the like.  They’re the wave of the future, and they want to sweep away the refuse of past ages-and they aren’t too choosy about methods used to do so.  Where the old gods are just hanging on, the new ones are eager to make their marks, and the old ones aren’t quite ready to get together to do something about it…until Wednesday sticks his nose in (and I expect many of my visitors here can figure out who Wednesday is…although I was caught flat footed by another character, whom I really shouldn’t have missed).

This is a fairly deep novel.  Gaiman has touched upon the concept of old gods fading away as belief faded in the comic book series The Sandman (which, incidentally, I recommend to anyone-it definitely isn’t a kid’s series); here, he takes it to a new level, introducing new gods that seem to fit the commercialism of today’s society.  He also makes the point that America just isn’t a good place for gods, as it seems to pick up trends.  It’s an interesting train of thought, even if I don’t exactly agree with some points.

As far as characters go:  Shadow’s the main character here.  Most of the characters in the book interact with him, including his wife (yes, I know she died; it didn’t stop her much), Wednesday, and other gods of both camps (I especially loved his game of checkers with one.  “Best of three” indeed).  Shadow also will confront secrets about himself that he never suspected.  Wednesday shows himself to be a consummate con artist, although he is aided by certain facts about himself.  In addition to gods, there are also references to the American folk legends (Paul Bunyan is mentioned, although a couple others actually make appearances).

Fans of Gaiman will, I expect, enjoy American Gods, as will the fans of writers like Stephen King’s less horrific books.  I’d also recommend it for folks who enjoy deep thinking with their fantasy.  It’s a deep book, and I expect I’ll be re-reading it and see more that catches my attention-there’s that much detail.  It’ll be a nice way to fill up a few afternoons.

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