Book Review: Fragile Things by Neil Gaiman

I have a love hate relationship with Neil Gaiman’s writings. I love how he uses language to create an otherworldly sense of place and characters that are always far more than what’s happening on the page. But, many of his writings do nothing for me. With each new book, I start reading with the hope that this one will scratch my Gaiman itch. Sometimes those hopes are dashed.

So it was with reluctance that I picked up this collection of his shorter works. With so many different offerings, I knew there would be several I would truly enjoy and then there would be others that I probably wouldn’t like at all. And.. I was right.

This is also why it’s taken me the better part of a year to finish reading all of them. After each disappointment I’d put the book down as if I were punishing it. When enough time had passed, I’d pick it up and give the next story a try.

A sampling of my favorites

Instructions

This poem holds tiny pieces of other stories I have grown to love. There is an element of mystery and whimsy as the poet instructs the reader along a cryptic journey giving very specific instructions that feel as if they are meant to either enchant the reader or keep them from harm. The further into the poem the reader ventures, the deeper they find themselves in a wondrous land of fairy tale and magic.

As with many profound tales, this poem wanders itself into a circle and the reader finds themselves back where they started, only changed.

Goliath

I feel this story is inspired by the Matrix, but one that feels more faithful to how being a consciousness living in the confines of a computer program might work. Our main character is literally larger than life, a Goliath of a man. Throughout his life, he experiences odd shifts where he knows something has changed, but he can’t quite put his finger on it. With each shift, he becomes more convinced that his life is nothing more than a sham covering up something much deeper and darker than he can imagine.

When the truth comes for him, he’s ready to face what real life looks like and take up the duties he has been training for since his “life” began.

Sunbird

As someone who loves experiencing culture through food, this tale of rare Epicurean delights was as fascinating as it was delicious. The aptly named Epicurian Club has set out to consume the world’s rarest delights, ranging from extinct species to all the different beetles of the world. They go to great lengths to challenge their tastes and stretch their palates. When the mention of the rare and exquisite sunbird piques their attention, they make plans to travel to Egypt to try it. Needless to say, the so called sunbird has a few mythical qualities of its own that makes this story even more delectable.

My Review

This isn’t the easiest book to simply sit down and read through. As with many Gaiman stories, the enjoyment of reading comes from paying attention to all the subtle details that rise to the surface or are brushed past in the narrative. This level of reading intensity makes it hard to find uninterrupted time to enjoy each work the way it was intended to be read, that is, slowly and with attention to detail.

Personally, now that I’ve read Gaiman’s shorter works, I can see why I favor his novel length stories better. If I’m going to invest that kind of time and attention to a story, I want to experience it for a long time and dive deeply into these characters and conflicts. There is always so much going on that it feels like the shorter works don’t do these stories justice.

Recommendations

If you love a story that stretches your thinking and challenges reality, you’ll find several works in this collection that will fill that need. While these all are speculative fiction, they swing back and forth from science fiction to fantasy, often capturing elements of both in tandem. There’s also a healthy dash of elements of folklore stirred in for even more depth.

However, this isn’t for light reading by any stretch of the imagination. Nor is it a book for younger readers as the subject matter tends to dive into deeper topics and there is coarse language and graphic descriptions.

While in the end I’m glad I gave the collection a try, I would be hard pressed to recommend it to anyone but those who already like Neil Gaiman’s writings.

I give Neil Gaiman’s Fragile Things 3 out of 5 stars for stretching my thinking but not scratching my literary itch.


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TV Series Review: Good Omens

I have a sneaking feeling that I might run across lots of mixed feelings on this one. While the two authors, Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman, both have huge followings, they also tend to push the boundaries of the expected into often dangerous territory. In Good Omens, what’s a more dangerous subject than the coming of the Antichrist?

Like I said, it’s loaded with ideas and history that plunges us straight into dangerous territory.

The Story

Like most good fiction, this one starts with a monumental “What if?” What if the child who was meant to grow up to be the Antichrist was accidentally switched at birth? What if the demon assigned to watch over him, has actually been watching over the wrong child?

The story centers on this demon, Crowley, and his angelic counterpart, Aziraphale. These two beings have been on Earth as representatives of Hell and Heaven respectively since the beginning of time, and have formed an unlikely friendship. Not only that, they’ve grown accustomed to the comforts of life on earth and aren’t thrilled at the prospect of the coming of Armageddon, which will end it all.

While the hosts of Heaven and Hell are eager and anxious for Armageddon to finally happen, both Crowley and Aziraphale are willing to do anything to delay it and possibly prevent it for as long as possible.

My Review

I’ll state right now that I’m a biased watcher. I’ve always enjoyed Prachett and Gaiman’s unique spin on stories and their deep dives into unique characters and what makes them tick. I’m also super biased because the two leading actors are none other than the exquisite David Tennant as Crowley, and the ever intriguing Michael Sheen as Aziraphale.

Honestly, the show itself gets forgiven a lot because of these two factors alone.

As a whole, I found the series fascinating to watch. The story is complicated and there are lots of twists and turns to keep track of, which for me is a perk. There are multiple driving forces to push and prod the story in different directions, and all of them are working against the goals of the other.

What I particularly liked is the sheer brilliance of the dialogue between Crowley and Aziraphale. The debates between them and the huge amount of history shows up in these little revealing snippets deepens their characters and the history of the world itself. They care for each other in a way that’s taken millenia to grow. It’s no surprise that most of the watchers who enjoyed the show want to see these two characters in a more serious relationship beyond friendship.

Overall, it’s a brilliant piece of work if you don’t mind diving into a story that centers around Armageddon and all its associated lore.

Recommendations

Obviously if you already enjoy Prachett and Gaiman, you are going to like this show. It has all the charm, depth, and humor you’d expect from a collaboration between the two. While it is complicated, so are most of their writings. Those who already like reading these two authors will be fine in keeping track of what’s going on.

I would warn those who have sensitive religious views to either watch the show with a grain of salt, or steer clear. It doesn’t shy away from this being an end-of-the-world type story and brings in enough theological material to support the differing world views surrounding the prophecy. This might make some watchers uncomfortable.

When it comes to objectionable material, there’s a wide but thin smattering of language, violence, and innuendo that some might find offensive but are neither remarkable or overblown. What’s there is appropriate to the situation.

I rate Good Omens a solid 4/5, a great show but you really have to pay attention.


Thank you dear reader for stopping by! If you’d like to be notified of future posts here at JodiLMilner.com, be sure to ‘subscribe’ using the handy links. Or, even better, sign up to be part of my mailing list and get a signup bonus of one of my short stories for free.

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2018 Reading List

While lots of people spend hours, if not days, deciding on goals for the new year. I spend days figuring out my reading list. It’s a very involved process that includes pouring over “Books You Must Read Before You Die” lists, searching through releases by fellow author friends, and finding the lost desperate papery souls on my Goodreads “Want to Read” list.

51jWBJa-X-L._SX345_BO1,204,203,200_Then there’s all the hot new books from 2017 that I probably missed… When you’ve got kids home more often than not, quality reading time is hard to find.

Out of the fifty or so titles making up the preliminary list, only twenty-four can survive the final cut. Twelve fiction. Twelve non fiction. Could I read more? Yes, absolutely. However, the best part of the reading experience is spending time sinking into a story and relishing each page. I can’t do that if I’m stressing out about finishing in time.

January’s selections are Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert and Strunk and White’s Elements of Style – reviews to come, stay tuned!

2018 (Mostly) Fiction Titles. Drum roll, please:

Bel Canto – Ann Patchett
Ready Player One – Ernest Cline
Man from Shenandoah – Marsha Ward
Heroes of the Valley – Jonathan Stroud
A Darker Shade of Magic – V E Schwab
Stardust – Neil Gaiman
Looking for Alaska – John Green
Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close – Jonathan A Safran Foer
Forest of Hands and Teeth – Carrie Ryan
Man Called Ove – Fredrik Backman
Never Let me Go – Kazuo Ishiguro

2018 Non Fiction Titles. Kazoo chorus, please:

The Question of God – Armand M Nicholi, Jr
Worlds of Wonder: How to Write Science Fiction and Fantasy – David Gerrold
Man’s Search for Meaning – Viktor Frankl
Stiff: Curious Lives of Human Cadavers – Mary Roach
Lucifer Principle – Howard Bloom
Outliers – Malcolm Gladwell
Eats, Shoots, and Leaves – Lynne Truss
Power Cues – Nick Morgan
The Gift of Fear– Gavin De Becker
Rules for a Knight – Ethan Hawke
Be Different – John Elder Robison

3264344How about you, dear reader? What titles have made your “Must be read” list this year?

Have you read any of the books on my list? If so, what did you think?

Let me know in the comments. I’d love to hear from you!

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Genre Talk: Dark Fantasy

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Surreal, bizarre, and ringing with that horror that only Stephan King can produce, the Dark Tower series is most definitely a dark fantasy.

From heroic to epic and everything in between, the fantasy genre has something for everyone who loves a touch of magic in their fiction.  Fantasy is defined as any story, artwork, or film with elements that are scientifically impossible and are often set in imaginary worlds. That which is impossible is explained as magic and includes people or things that can do the extraordinary.

Dark fantasy takes those elements and adds horror.

These works, which include literary works, art, and film, are dark and gloomy and often give the viewer a sense of horror and dread.

There is still a bit of debate between the finer points of what elements make up a dark fantasy. The point where people are divided comes down to the setting. Some argue that supernatural horror set on earth should be considered “contemporary fantasy” and “dark fantasy” should be reserved for supernatural horror that occurs on secondary worlds.

The term gets confused further when writers use the term “dark fantasy” and sometimes “gothic fantasy” it as a less lurid way to refer to horror.

Because the definition is fairly vague, works classified as “dark fantasy” come in every shape and size. There are no elements or tropes that must be present beyond the presence of supernatural elements and a dark, brooding, tone. So yes, there be vampires and werewolves here.

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And everyone knows that these Edwardian vampires wouldn’t dare sparkle.

Popular works that fit in the Dark Fantasy category include: Anne Rice’s Vampire Chronicles, Neil Gaiman’s The Sandman, and Stephen King’s Dark Tower Series.

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Read more Genre Talk articles:

Book of the Month – The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman

Ocean_at_the_End_of_the_Lane_US_Cover

When an author’s name keeps coming up over and over, at book clubs, at conferences, at critique groups, you know there is something special about what they create. Neil Gaiman is one of those authors. This month I explored his book, The Ocean at the End of the Lane.

In this book, an unnamed middle-aged man returns to his childhood neighborhood and finds a mysterious draw to visit an old friend’s house. While he is there he remembers a strange event that happened when he was a boy.

Short on cash, the narrator’s family rents out his bedroom and he must share a room with his younger sister. One of their renters commits suicide in the family car. His death allows a supernatural being to enter the world and strange things start happening.

The narrator goes to his friend Lettie Hempstock’s house at the end of the lane for help. Lettie agrees to help and takes the narrator with her to bind the supernatural spirit back into her own world. In the process, the being sticks the narrator in the foot and anchors a pathway back to the human world in him.

The being returns in the form of the caretaker, Ursula Monkton, that the narrator’s family has hired so that the mother can return to work, proving that the most terrible of terrors is the one that is hiding in your own home and no one believes you about. Ursula is manipulative and soon bends the family into loving her, everyone except the narrator, who she turns the family against.

With the Hempstock’s help, the narrator is able to defeat the villanous Ursula, but it comes at great price. To save the narrator the pain of remembering they alter his memories so that the event is more like a dream that quickly fades.

Every few years he returns to visit, and every few years he is allowed to remember the experience once more only to forget once again the moment he walks away from the house.

There is, of course, much more to the story than this. If you want a more complete synopsis you are welcome to go visit the wiki page.

My Review:

There is a reason that so many people talk about Neil Gaiman’s work, especially around writing circles. He has a talent with language that makes the prose flow beautifully across the page. The ideas that he chooses to weave into each story are unique and intriguing and make the reader question their own realities.

Gaiman’s books are short, making them easy to start and finish in a long evening. Which is a good thing because once you pick one up you won’t want to put it down.

I loved the Ocean at the End of the Lane and can’t wait to pick up another of Gaiman’s books. I recommend this title to those who love well written prose, good vs. evil, and practical magic. Those who don’t like magic, even in small, easy to digest portions, might not like this book.