Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Stories by Various

Stories: All-New TalesStories: All-New Tales by Neil Gaiman

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

How to review this collection.....Hmm..

One one level, for a reader who loves short stories (as I do), for the pure essence of the medium of storytelling, this is an excellent collection. There is no question that all the writers here know their craft, and very well. I had the pleasure of being introduced to many new authors I had never read, and none of the stories were boring. I know I will definitely seek out some of these new authors to read more of their stories. Others, I'm not so sure about. Not because of a lack of ability, but I'm not sure that they write the kind of stories I like to read, if the content here indeed represents their output. It's completely possible that the pieces here are a departure. I suppose that like strangers who travel down a similar path (the world of short story literature), we might meet again. As Neil Gaiman intimated in his introduction, most of these stories caught me, and had me on the line, waiting for what happens next. Like Mr. Gaiman, that is a huge draw when I read a story. If I don't care about what happens next, I don't even bother finishing the story. For pretty much all of these stories, even the ones I didn't care for, I did keep listening to find out...what happens next. I wanted to know!

On another level, I think that if a reader picks this collection up to read fantasy/science fiction/speculative fiction and that alone, they will be disappointed. Certainly, there was a good amount of those things on offer. There were also stories that I would place firmly in the literary fiction arena. Which certainly is not a bad thing if that is your sort of reading. And if you like a literary touch to your speculative fiction reading, you will probably be a happy camper. Myself, I don't care much for the genre or its conventions, so I felt a bit like I had gone into a movie theater for a science fiction 'popcorn' movie and ended up watching an IFC-style drama about all the depressing aspects of life that I don't need to be reminded about. Not to say that the latter movie isn't well done and interesting, but certainly not what I wanted to watch, or read, in this case.

So, this one is a bit of the good and bad. I loved a few of the stories. I liked more still. Others I didn't care for or I was ambivalent about. There was one with a woman who was being stalked by an admirer who gifted her in the days around Christmas in the manner of the wonderful carol, "The Twelve Days of Christmas." Take a moment, if you will, to consider how messed up that could be in execution. Yeah. I was bad, and it was highly hilarious and entertaining. That was by far my favorite story. This was by one of my favorite fantasy authors since I was a young girl, Diana Wynne Jones, who passed away this year, and will be mourned by this reader and many others. If that was her last story, I would raise my glass in toast to her. The Joanne Harris story was about Norse Gods in modern NYC, and it was funny and entertaining. Yeah, the Norse mythology part hooked me, but the wit kept me listening intently. The Jodi Picoult story, "Weights and Measures," had me sobbing hard and blowing my nose as I drove and listened. I think I'll avoid her books. I don't like going to that emotional place if I don't have to. But she can write. The most disturbing story was by Lawrence Block. It was called, "Catch and Release" and it was about a serial killer who had developed a habit of doing exactly that, except not with fish, and not all the time. It was....chilling, to say the least. Another story that I found very well-written but I found very unsettling and very sad was "The Stars are Falling," by Joe R. Lansdale. I've been wanting to read him for a while, and he's definitely a talented writer. The story itself was incredibly sad, but the imagery stuck with me. The sign of a good short story. There were others, lots of others, and I could probably talk about each one, but I won't dither here.

Narrator Comments: I think the narrators were very good. There was one man who I felt sounded a little too much like the PBS documentary narrators for my tastes. It took me out of the story because it was too monotone, and a bit too detached. The other narrators I liked very much.

Final Thoughts: My rating is an emotional one (that's how I roll, you see). I gave it three stars because it didn't quite give me what I wanted. That's on me, not the writers here. However, for the reader who has a serious love of the short story, and who wants to bask in that medium for many hours, or however long one wants to spend reading through an anthology, regardless of the genre and subject matter, I think this is a good collection to reach for. In that sense, it's probably more of a four star collection.

So I recommend this one with reservations...

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