Neil Gaiman and Al Sarrantonio




Unfortunately more of an impression than a review – I wasn’t able to write this until several months had passed.


Heaps of stories – 27 – and by several highly respected contemporary writers (e.g. Gaiman, Wolfe, Picoult, Doyle, Mosely, Straub). I glanced back through them just now and was really struck by how consistently dark they were, preoccupied with psychosis and murder. I’m not sure how far this reflects on the editors or on wider contemporary mores, but it’s got to be saying something. Gaiman wasn’t commissioning a deliberately murder themed collection, and in his intro he pushes the key idea of stories being to get the readers asking, “and then what happened?” I’ve gotta say, after half a dozen of these stories, I was increasingly less surprised at the outcomes. I mean, sure, these are stories, and I’m as up for things going dark here and there as the next guy, but when the only demand on your writers is to engage and surprise it is telling that I think only a couple of them weren’t essentially macabre (one a fairly obvious joke on the twelve days of Christmas, the other Kurt Anderson’s far more able ‘Human Intelligence’).


I know that many of the writers here have a greater range of subjects and techniques to involve readers than the shortcut of murder and death (and skills to present this evergreen in their own ways) – but you wouldn’t know it from this collection. Moreover Gaiman’s focus on novelty for its own sake raises the spectre I’ve criticised in Steven King’s The Gunslinger, a triumph of (impressive) style over substance (and King would have fit very comfortably in this anthology).


It doesn’t have to be that way – even if you’re drawing on stories written in the same year. Even if editors are focussing on stories they particularly like. Gardner Dozois’ collection of the Year's Best SF stories 1991, for example, had a far greater range of tone and subject matter, despite being restricted (unlike ‘Stories’) to a particular genre, as well has maintaining laudable quality. A joy of a collection should be the range it offers, but while the writing was professional, the preoccupations here were too similar.


December 2010