The Literary Horizon: Smoke and Mirrors, Firebirds

I’m trying to correct the gaping hole in my reading life where short story collections could go; I’m getting braver about, well, braving bad stories to get to good stories. So today, I’m sharing two of the safest short story collections found on my reading list; one collection that’s wildly nostalgic for me, and one collection from an author who rarely disappoints me.

Smoke and Mirrors by Neil Gaiman

The distinctive storytelling genius of Neil Gaiman has been acclaimed by writers as diverse as Norman Mailer and Stephen King. Now in this new collection of stories–several of which have never before appeared in print and more than half that have never been collected–that will dazzle the senses and haunt the imagination. Miraculous inventions and unforgettable characters inhabit these pages: an elderly widow who finds the Holy Grail in a second-hand store…a frightened little boy who bargains for his life with a troll living under a bridge by the railroad tracks…a stray cat who battles nightly against a recurring evil that threatens his unsusupecting adoptive family. In these stories, Gaiman displays the power, wit, insight and outrageous originality that has made him one of the most unique literary artists of our day.

via Amazon

It’s no secret that Neil Gaiman is one of my favorite writers; American Gods and Anansi Boys are absolutely wonderful, and he’s a writer who improves exponentially–I always tell people to read Neverwhere first so the poor thing has a chance, instead of being coming up short when compared to the wonderful American Gods. So it’s only natural that, after exhausting his novels, I would move onto his short story collections (saving, perhaps unwisely, Fragile Things for last).

Trisha at eclectic/eccentric quite enjoyed it, rating it a “borrow” and pointing out how Gaiman uses these various supernatural stories to point out how the world works (or doesn’t work). James at Dazed Ramblings liked some stories, but was overall underwhelmed–and points out that there’s poetry in this collection. While I’m not one for poetry, I trust Neil Gaiman, and I look forward to this collection.

Smoke and Mirrors was released on November 1, 1998.

Firebirds ed. by Sharyn November

Firebird-the imprint-is dedicated to publishing the best fantasy and science fiction for teenage and adult readers. Firebirds is an equally special anthology. Its sixteen original stories showcase some of the genre’s most admired authors, including multiple award-winners Diana Wynne Jones, Garth Nix, Lloyd Alexander, Nancy Farmer, Meredith Ann Pierce, and Patricia A. McKillip. Here you will find a sparkling range of writing, from dark humor to high sword and sorcery to traditional ballads-something for every sort of reader. Finally, to make this anthology even more of a standout, it appears first as a deluxe, jacketed hardcover. Welcome to Firebirds-a must-have for fans of contemporary speculative fiction.

via Amazon

Firebirds was the first multi-author short story collection I ever read; I remember picking it up in my middle school’s library because of the freakishly gorgeous cover. I think it may have been my first brush with short stories outside of a Miss Marple collection my mother owned. I’ve been thinking about it more and more recently, and I actually decided to buy a copy to reread it, which is a very rare thing for me to do. It should be arriving soon, and I’m looking forward to seeing if I like it just as much the second time around, once I’ve forgotten everything.

Sharyn November has edited two other Firebirds anthologies, Firebirds Rising and Firebirds Soaring, which I’ll get to in time, but they’ve received the most attention in the book blogosphere. Kailana at The Written World gave it a four out of five without much elaboration, and it currently maintains a four star rating at Amazon. The story I remember enjoying the most was Garth Nix’s “Hope Chest”, which had Wild West elements and, at the time, blew my mind–I wasn’t aware you were allowed to set speculative fiction in places like that. (Yes, I was not the brightest child.) I can’t wait to read it again.

Firebirds was released on September 29, 2003–goodness, it shares my blog’s birthday!

14 thoughts on “The Literary Horizon: Smoke and Mirrors, Firebirds

  1. I, too, have a rather gaping hole in my literary landscape where short stories ought to go. You didn’t really ask for recommendations, but I have to say that the collection that got me to realize maybe I do like some short stories was Simon Van Booy’s Love Begins in Winter. I thought the stories were some of the loveliest things I’d ever read.

    I’ll be looking forward to hearing what you think of Smoke and Mirrors (I love Gaiman but have never read this collection) and Firebirds. Good luck with them!

      • It’s great how blogging and reading other people’s blogs can fill in the literary gaps. Some of the gaps I realize I’m happy with — reading someone else talk about manga, for instance, just confirms for me that it’s not my thing. But then I read about all kinds of short story collections that people have loved, or classics, and I think, “Hey, I should read more of those!” I love that aspect of blogging!

  2. Without one of the stories in Smoke and Mirrors, I wouldn’t have come up with the first book I finished writing. Neil Gaiman is a fantastic writer and I love his work.

  3. I love short stories. Diana Wynne Jones’ ‘Minor Arcana’ is good, also anything by Robert Graves. Jane Yolen’s anthologies are usually excellent (though hard to get in the UK). Try ‘Imaginary Lands’ edited by Robin McKinley, though it might be out of print – I remember reading it a very long time ago.

    Haven’t read any of Gaiman’s short stories (except in his Sandman books). Is ‘Smoke and Mirrors’ the one where he has that very disturbing take on the Narnia books seen from the viewpoint of what might be an older Susan?

    • I’m slowly working through Robin McKinley; I enjoy her later work, but not her earlier work.

      It’s in one of his short story collections, either this one or Fragile Things. I hope it’s in Fragile Things, so I can read it after Narnia Week in November!

  4. Neil Gaiman’s short stories are kind of hit and miss for me. Overall, I recall preferring Fragile Things to Smoke and Mirrors, but there are some very good stories in both. Poems too.

  5. Smoke and Mirrors is good. Overall, Fragile Things is better, but I think Smoke and Mirrors have some of his finest stories.

    Firebirds Rising was wonderful, but I read it ages ago, so I don’t remember much beyond a lingering feeling of enjoyment.

    A speculative fiction short story collection I love was The Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter. Her style is not for everyone (she’s very verbose and lush and often even archaic), but for me, it works for her, especially in her short stories. She does weird, wonderful things with the subtext beneath fairy tales.

      • I’ll admit I had a harder time with Nights at the Circus than The Bloody Chamber. Again, her style takes a lot to get used to, and since Nights at the Circus starts as essentially a gigantic monologue, her style of writing can be dizzying and wordy. Her short stories are like bites of a truffle. However, I’ll probably return to it because the concept and character are so fabulous. 🙂

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