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Smoke and Mirrors: Short Fictions and Illusions

Smoke and Mirrors: Short Fictions and Illusions

Published by HarperAudio


Smoke and Mirrors: Short Fictions and Illusions

Published by HarperAudio

ratings:
4.5/5 (112 ratings)
Length:
10 hours
Publisher:
Released:
May 14, 2013
ISBN:
9780062291233
Format:
Audiobook

Description

In the deft hands of Neil Gaiman, magic is no mere illusion . . . and anything is possible. In Smoke and Mirrors, Gaiman's imagination and supreme artistry transform a mundane world into a place of terrible wonders-where an old woman can purchase the Holy Grail at a thrift store, where assassins advertise their services in the Yellow Pages under "Pest Control," and where a frightened young boy must barter for his life with a mean-spirited troll living beneath a bridge by the railroad tracks. Explore a new reality, obscured by smoke and darkness yet brilliantly tangible, in this extraordinary collection of short works by a master prestidigitator. It will dazzle your senses, touch your heart, and haunt your dreams.

Publisher:
Released:
May 14, 2013
ISBN:
9780062291233
Format:
Audiobook

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4.4
112 ratings / 65 Reviews
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Reader reviews

  • (3/5)
    Some of these stories I really liked... others not so much. Pretty typical for a book of short stories in that, to me.
  • (4/5)
    While looking back through the various short story collections I've read, I realized I hadn't wrote any sort of review for this one, even though I did write a review for Neil's second collection, Fragile Things. I don't know how I let that slide.

    Well, I'm writing the review now. I think this is one of the most even collections I've read. I don't know that it has the highest concentration of great stories, but it was by far the most consistent, with none of the stories being bad or forgettable. I also thought the poems were generally better than those in Fragile Things, even though that collection has the poem Instructions, which is my favorite of all Neil's poems.

    To prove it, here are my personal top five from this collection, presented in the order that they appear, using memories that are fast approaching three years of age.

    Chivalry
    One of the best things about Gaiman is how he uses folklore and myth to tell modern tales with modern sensibilities. This is one of the best examples of that. This is a story about a knight seeking the holy grail, and the old lady who has it on her mantlepiece. A fantastic 'what if' sort of story that shows what it might be like if all the magical objects of power from our myths and legends really existed, and how unimportant they might be if pulled from the realm of myth, despite their powers.

    Troll Bridge
    A bittersweet story about a boy who runs into a troll and gets away by convincing the troll that he'll be 'tastier' if he leaves and comes back with more life experience, only to eventually give himself up to the troll when his life doesn't work out the way he expected. The best thing about this story is how it makes you really feel the passage of time. It's like how you sometimes dream that you've lived out an entire lifetime, even though you've really only been dreaming for minutes. Gaiman is uniquely gifted in being able to make that come across with the written word, but I think this story is the one that did it best.

    Changes
    What if you could take a pill to change your sex at will? Do I really need to say anything else to make you want to read this?

    Shoggoth's Old Peculiar
    A story about the Lovecraft mythos that is oddly compelling, despite the fact that I had never read any of Lovecraft's work before reading this. In fact, this story is what made me buy an omnibus of his work, and while I still haven't read the whole thing I still consider myself a Lovecraft fan, and this story is what turned me into one.

    We Can Get Them For You Wholesale
    A story about a man who wants to kill his girlfriend because she's been cheating on him. He looks through the phone book to find an assassin, and winds up with a number that he really shouldn't be calling.

  • (5/5)
    From Book Jacket:

    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 unsuspecting 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.

    My Thoughts:

    Neil Gaiman doesn't write horror stories... he writes magic...stories that wrap you up in what your parents told you for years was impossible or unreal. Some of the samplings that I really enjoyed were..."Snow, Glass, Apples"....this is not your grandmother's Snow White, and Gaiman himself states that he hopes the reader will not read the original fairy tale the same way ever again. He succeeds. "Chivalry"... a brilliant, extremely funny look into the mind of an elderly woman who has found the Holy Grail in a secondhand store and think it's a perfect doo-dad for her mantel, never mind that Arthurian knight who keeps hounding her for it. A tip to anyone who is in the habit of skipping book introductions....Gaiman actually hides a story within the introduction of this book as a payoff to those who religiously read the introduction. That sort of cleverness suckers me in every time.
  • (5/5)
    This collection is one that I never got around to reading when it was first published years ago. I am sorry I took so long to do so, and it reminded me anew that short stories are really in Neil Gaiman's wheelhouse. It amazes me how such short pieces can leave you breathless with fear, sorrow, laughter, shock. But they did. I don't want to pick a favourite because I made sure to read them all one at a time, taking breaks in between, so that they were each savoured for what they were. I can no more claim a favourite story than I can a song -- each had its own meaning and flavour. Each tasted wonderful.

    More please.
  • (4/5)
    I read most of these stories a couple of years ago, and came back to finish it off for completion's sake. I'm glad I did because the last story is a wonderfully creepy retelling of Snow White (which is a fairytale I have rewritten myself, only in comic style).Gaiman has a mixture of different voices: naive, conversational and faux-historical for the folklorish tales. My favourite of his are set in a contemporary world which just happens to have some sort of supernatural element in it. If I was trying to write a story like his I'd be caught up on the whys and wherefores -- Gaiman is a great example of a storyteller who weaves whatever the hell he wants into a story without needing to explain why.Or maybe I'm just not reading enough fantasy.
  • (2/5)
    SMOKE AND MIRRORS Review, or My Final Review For a While I'm a Neil Gaiman fanboy. I've loved all of his novels and a great deal of his short fiction, but this collection was marred with either lackluster outings or poems I couldn't enjoy because I personally don't understand what makes them poems. The latter is my own fault, and I do not hold it against the author. The former, on the other hand, is all Gaiman's fault. Many of these stories lack purpose, are nothing more than words compiled into sentences and paragraphs. I can dig tales that have no definitive ending, or open endings, as it were, but when a piece of fiction has no reason whatsoever I fail to understand how or why it made it to print. Gaiman goes into great detail about how each of the stories in this collection came to be, and I can't help but wonder if the editors who requested a number of these stories only paid for them because they'd asked Gaiman for something and he delivered. Then, said editors felt responsible, perhaps thinking, "Well, we did ask for... something, and he did deliver." The biggest culprit here being the first outing, "Chivalry", wherein nothing happens other than a knight decked out in full armor (in modern times, mind you) trying time and time again to procure the holy grail from a stubborn old woman. In the end, Good Knight Galaad gets his grail and the reader's left wondering exactly what the hell was the story's purpose? There's no conflict, no tension, no drama, no twist, and not even a hint of climax. "Chivalry" accomplished nothing aside from making me slam my forehead into my desk in an attempt to knock the banality of the tale from my conscious mind. I think that, had I read SMOKE AND MIRRORS instead of listening to the audio book, I would have disliked far more of these stories than I did. Gaiman brought a certain whimsical panache to lesser tales, making them a great deal more interesting (e.g. "Troll Bridge", "Shoggoth's Old Peculiar" and "We Can Get Them for You Wholesale"). I think this came from knowing how the author felt the dialogue and prose should be read in order to get the most from the verbiage.

    The stories that made me want to stick ice picks in my ears were: "Chivalry", "Don't Ask Jack", "The Daughter of Owls", and "One Life, Furnished in Early Moorcock". I didn't simply dislike these stories, I downright loathed them. Even Gaiman's narration seemed dull, as if he were apologizing for their existence by phoning in his performance.

    The tales that stood out are as follows: "The Price", "Troll Bridge", "The Goldfish Pool and Other Stories", "Changes", "Shoggoth's Old Peculiar" (which didn't have a purpose either, but was enjoyable nonetheless because of the odd characters), "Only the End of the World Again". "Bay Wolf", "We can Get Them for You Wholesale", and "Mouse". Basically, half the collection was worth my time. Everything else was either meaningless or downright boring. Still, not a single entry in SMOKE AND MIRRORS matched the brilliance of his novels. I was hoping for short stroies on par with CORALINE or THE OCEAN AT THE END OF THE LANE or AMERICAN GODS. Sadly, I was disappointed.

    All other stories not mentioned above were wholly unmentionable or entirely forgettable. Meaning, I couldn't even be bothered to complain about them.

    In summation: If you're looking for a collection packed with amazing short stories, you can do far better than this. SMOKE AND MIRRORS is not the worst short story collection I've read, but it comes close. When Gaiman is on, he's terrific and magical and wonderfully creative, but when he's bad, sweet baby Tom Cruise, he'll make you want to castrate him with a rusty battleaxe then boil the dismembered bits in a vat of acid. Still, this grouping of fiction is well written. Even the worst of these tales are readable, which cannot be said for every short story author. Instead of this, I recommend ANANSI BOYS, THE GRAVEYARD BOOK, AMERICAN GODS, CORALINE (and, no, it's not only a children's book), THE OCEAN AT THE END OF THE LANE, or any of Gaiman's other novels. I highly recommend his series of SANDMAN comics, if you can get your hands on them, that is. If you would like a better collection from a different author, try BOOKS OF BLOOD, by Clive Barker (in my opinion, Barker is much better at short fiction than he'll ever be as a novelist), SKELETON CREW, by Stephen King, and any collection by Ray Bradbury.

    2.5 out of 5 severely disappointed stars. (If you're reading this on Goodreads, I've rounded up to three.)
  • (2/5)
    There are two or three good stories, but it's mostly filler. It reminds me of Douglas Adams' Salmon of Doubt: a lot of half-finished drafts and things found lying around - a collection of enough things to make a book, not a book of things written to be in a book.
  • (3/5)
    Rating: 3 of 5I borrowed Smoke and Mirrors primarily to read "Snow, Glass, Apples," which turned out to be a brilliant retelling of Snow White from the Evil Queen's POV. I gave it 5 stars!The rest of the collection, however, was just okay. The only other story that really engaged my interest was "Don't Ask Jack" which supported my reluctance to ever play with a Jack-in-the-Box. I'd give that one 4 stars. "We Can Get Them for You Wholesale" was a black comedy about obsessive bargain hunters. I could so picture extreme couponers in that scenario. "Babycakes" would be best appreciated by vegetarians, vegans, and animal rights activists. Or anyone who connects with that saying about judging a nation by how it treats its animals.My favorite thing about this collection - other than the excellent "Snow, Glass, Apples" - was the Introduction in which Gaiman offered up a bit of background for each story.
  • (3/5)
    As with many of Gaiman's works, I found myself loving some of the stories in this collection, feeling "meh" about most, and loathing a couple of them. The few I loved were magical, entertaining, causing me to ask, "What if?" These were:A Wedding PresentChivalryThe PriceShoggoth's Old PeculiarWe Can Get Them for you WholesaleVampire SestinaSnow, Glass, ApplesA couple of the stories I was in love with until the end, which made either no sense to me, or was a great let down.When We Went to See the End of the WorldMurder MysteriesThe rest of the stories either left me cold or nauseated me because they focused on the grime, the dirt, the sickness of the human condition without any hope or thought of the glory of it. When I read the Sandman series, my daughter edited them for me, knowing my aversion to hopelessness. I should have had her pre-read these as well.
  • (4/5)
    Having read two of Neil Gaiman's short story collections, Smoke and Mirrors and Fragile Things, I do prefer this one. It's a tighter, more cohesive book than Fragile Things; the stories and poems are subtly linked by a shared tone, a certain, peculiar outlook on life or the recurring leitmotifs of angels, fairy tales and mythology or magic. Some of the stories, like 'Murder Mysteries' and 'Troll Bridge' are very similar to Neil's Sandman comics. The anthology is almost entirely other-worldly and fantastic, but my favourite story was one of the most down to earth, 'One Life, Furnished in Early Moorcock' a slowpaced, affectionate look at one boy's daydreams about the hero of his favourite adventure novels. If you enjoy Weird Fiction, I'd definitely suggest finding yourself a copy.
  • (4/5)
    Excellent collection. I especially enjoyed the alternative 'Snow White' story. Less poetry than his last collection that I read, which I also enjoyed. Great for people with little time that just need a moment away from the real world every now and then.

    Ironically, I think that I had read this book (at least some of the stories) before. It only came back to me once I started reading them. It's bad when you've read so many books you start to forget them.
  • (4/5)
    I have read several of the more popular Gaiman books, but this is my first anthology. In no particular order, these are my favorites: Chivalry- comicalTroll Bridge- strangeMouse- Guard catMurder Mysteries- very clever, would like to read again
  • (3/5)
    A book of Short stories. I liked the one about the chap trying to hire an assassin for his ex the best. Gaimen is a author that throws twists in his writing that you don't see coming. :)
  • (4/5)
    Another good selection of short fiction from Neil Gaiman.
  • (1/5)
    What a less than average writer! I don't see what the fuss about Gaiman! Maybe he's not the author for me but some of the glitches in his writing are universally recognized as disjointed, especially by my former English teacher.Smoke and mirrors got more than 4 stars on this site, and it's an outrageous score. There's simply just no perspective anymore. And I thought IMDB had bad scoring...live and learn, I suppose. One star.
  • (4/5)
    Neil Gaiman has the rare ability to be equally brilliant in short and long form. His prose style and his invention stand out among contemporary fantasy/SF authors. This collection of short stories is presented with brief notes on each one in the introduction, as well as a bonus short story in the introduction.
  • (3/5)
    A bunch of really good short stories and a few that were just ok. My favorite was "Murder Mysteries" which is about the fall of Lucifer over God's Justice. Loved it.
  • (4/5)
    It's no secret I'm a Neil Gaiman fan. Love the man. And his audiobooks are always fantastic and Smoke and Mirrors is no exception. Gaiman's narration is spot on. As always when I listen to him tell a story, it feels like he's letting me in on a secret. You know, telling me a special tale that not many people know. I'd heard many of the stories in this collection in other places; but lots were brand new to me. They also opened up some new insights into Neil Gaiman that I hadn't seen before. This collection highlights Gaiman's unique talent and masterful ability to tell a story.
  • (5/5)

    1 person found this helpful

    At that moment, Neil Gaiman became her favorite author of all time.

    1 person found this helpful

  • (4/5)
    Initially read in 1999 or thereabouts. Not reviewed at the time.

    Upon re-reading:

    ***** “The Goldfish Pond and Other Stories” by Neil Gaiman
    I'm usually not that interested in the whole 'glamour of Hollywood' theme, but this is probably the best commentary on it I've ever read.
    Clearly partially autobiographical, this tells the story of a British writer who's flown out to L.A. to talk about converting his bestselling novel into a movie. A shifting cast of film execs gradually morph his story past recognition. Meanwhile, he gets to know the elderly groundskeeper at his decaying hotel, who tells him stories of the glory days of silent films.
    Multi-layered, ironically humorous, but ultimately poignant. Beautifully done.


    _____

    Other included pieces (from the wiki).

    "The included stories and poems are different between some of the editions. The US, UK, and eBook editions have some differences in the stories they contain (see table to right):

    †Not in US print version
    ‡Not in eBook version
    *Appears in eBook version as Apple
    Reading the Entrails
    The Wedding Present
    Chivalry - written for an anthology by Marty Greenberg
    Nicholas Was...
    The Price
    Troll Bridge - retelling of The Three Billy Goats Gruff written for the anthology Snow White, Blood Red by Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling
    Don't Ask Jack
    Eaten (Scenes from a Moving picture) †‡
    The White Road - A narrative poem
    Queen of Knives - A narrative poem
    The Facts in the Case of the Departure of Miss Finch †‡
    Changes
    The Daughter of Owls
    Shoggoth's Old Peculiar
    Virus - Written for the anthology Digital Dreams by David Barrett
    Looking for the Girl - Commissioned by Penthouse for their 20th anniversary issue
    Only the End of the World Again
    Bay Wolf - A story poem retelling Beowulf
    Fifteen Painted Cards from a Vampire Tarot †
    We Can Get Them For You Wholesale
    One Life, Furnished in Early Moorcock - Written for an anthology of Elric stories by Michael Moorcock
    Cold Colors
    The Sweeper of Dreams
    Foreign Parts
    Vampire Sestina - A poem originally published in Fantasy Tales and later reprinted in the Mammoth Book of Vampires by Stephen Jones
    Mouse - written for Touch Wood, edited by Pete Crowther
    The Sea Change
    How Do You Think It Feels? †‡
    When We Went to See the End of the World by Dawnie Morningside, age 11¼
    Desert Wind
    Tastings - Included in Sirens by Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling
    In the End †*
    Babycakes
    Murder Mysteries - written for the anthology Midnight Graffiti by Jessie Horsting
    Snow, Glass, Apples
  • (4/5)
    Compilation of peculiar short stories told in the typical “Neil Gaiman” style, these two are the same as that of Fragile Things. I love it.
  • (3/5)
    3.5 stars.This is a collection of short stories by Gaiman. I don’t read a lot of short story collections, but I picked this one up specifically for one: Snow, Glass, Apples - a retelling of Snow White from the Queen’s point of view. It was probably one of my favourite stories in the book, along with The Price, which focused on a stray black cat who lived on the porch of a family; every night the cat got completely beaten up by something, so they wanted to find out what was doing it and to try to protect the cat. I won’t give away the ending…But, like with any short story collection, some are better than others. I don’t like poetry, so anything that wasn’t in regular prose style, I tended to skim through. Even still, I rated this higher than I do most short story collections, probably because I like the horror/supernatural type theme that was behind a lot of the stories.
  • (5/5)
    My favorite story out of this collection was once "The Price." I think it captivates the way Neil Gaiman tends to think in his stories, and the ending couldn't have been more perfect.

    But as I've come back to this collection I now find myself rereading "It's Only the End of the World Again," which has quite possibly the perfect opening to a story. What I love is that the opening delivers on its promise to be great. And Gaiman's skill at making the supernatural a completely accepted part of each world in his stories ALMOST makes me believe in an afterlife—which is more than I can say for any church. In each of his stories, no matter how creepy, I want to crawl through the page and explore that world again and again. Excellent stuff.
  • (3/5)
    The stories in this book are sometimes horrifying, sometimes thought provoking, and sometimes just plain weird. Overall, I enjoyed this book.
  • (4/5)
    I don't normally like short stories, but Neil Gaiman has them down to an art. His short stories don't feel like shrunken down versions of a novel: they feel like short stories. My favourite story in the whole thing is actually the story in the intro, the wedding present. Well worth reading.
  • (5/5)
    Want to know how good this book is? Well, I bought it because it's a book of short stories. My husband and I were going on a trip to Hawaii, and I figured I'd read it on the plane.

    Which I did. I then kept reading it -- in our hotel, in the car, on the way to the beach, at the beach. My husband was getting so irritated at me because I was spending our vacation on the island of Oahu reading a book.

    That is how great this book is. I picked it over snorkeling.
  • (5/5)
    Of course it's 5 stars... It's Neil Gaiman! Eclectic and brilliant story-telling that always comes out perfect.
  • (5/5)
    I love Gaiman's short stories more than his novels (well, almost haha)! He is a master storyteller and does such a great job at pulling the reader in. What I love is that his stories don't always tell you everything...you have to guess as to why certain things are happening the way they are. There's a great blend of fantasy, reality, and the unbelieveable, as well as a few dashes of horror. He included longer stories, as well as short poems in this collection (and they're all amazing). My personal favorites are "Chivary", "Murder Mysteries", "Snow, Glass, Apples", "Nicholas Was...", and "Bay Wolf". The great thing about this collection is you can pick it up, flip to a story, then come back again to read more. There's no order you have to read in. You can go back and read them over and over again. But all of the stories stay with you.
  • (3/5)
    I was already a huge fan of Neil Gaiman's writing when I borrowed this book from a friend. This is a collection of short stories all written in typical Gaiman style with twists and surprises. Two of my favorites in this collection were "Chivalry", a story about the Holy Grail (accidentally purchased by an elderly woman in a thrift store) and a retelling of Snow White called "Snow, Glass, Apples" in which we get the queen's version of the story (if you like Gregory Maguire's Wicked, this story will likely appeal to you). Wonderfully and masterfully written and always with Neil's dark edge.
  • (5/5)
    The first Gaiman I've read and a truly fantastic book. Definitely made me want to seek out more from him. Often deliciously creepy, and a mixture of mundaneness and fantastic that seemed difficult to pull off but somehow he did.