Trigger Warning: Short Fictions and Disturbances (Neil Gaiman)

Trigger Warning is the newest short story collection by Neil Gaiman.
Finished on: 16.03.2015

Trigger Warning is a good collection, with a wide range of stories – from fanfiction (Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Who) to tributes (among others to Ray Bradbury); from fairy tales to horror; from fantasy to science fiction; and everything in between. And it has a new short story sequel to American Gods. In his introduction, Gaiman describes the context of origin of each of the stories, which I loved but would have prefered as a paragraph just before each of the stories – it would have saved me from a lot of going back and forth in the book. As usual with these collections, not every entry can be a winner for everyone, but altogether I was very content with what I got to read.

[I have my misgivings about the title and Gaiman’s explanation in the introduction why he’s using it. Trigger Warnings don’t exist to create an all around safe world that coddles people so much they never have to confront pain or negative feelings. Trigger Warnings exist as a specific(!) warning of potentially triggering (as in: making traumatized people acutely relive their trauma) content to create a space for the traumatized which is insofar safe as they can choose whether they’re in the mood to engage with that topic right now, or not. It will never be possible to make the entire world such a safe space – people will still be confronted with that topic without being prepared for it – nor will it be possible to issue warnings for all potentially triggering things for all individuals. But that doesn’t mean that we can’t or shouldn’t try to make the spaces we can control good spaces for the traumatized to be in.
That Gaiman chose a blanket Trigger Warning as his title, that the only actual warning he gives is for tentacles, after having basically derided people for needing trigger warnings, seeing as they’re only too weak to grow through the disturbing content they read, leaves a very bad aftertaste in my mouth. Especially considering that, while some of the stories are scary, none really needs (any of the big) trigger warnings.]

gaiman_triggerwarningAfter the jump, I’ll talk about each of the stories individually.

Shadder

Shadder is barely a page long and feels more like the idea to a story than an actual story, which is probably why it got buried in the introduction.

Making a Chair

A poem about writer’s block and as usual with Gaiman’s poems, I don’t like them a whole lot. I just don’t find an access to them.

A Lunar Labyrinth

A visit to a roadside attraction – a maze made of rosemary – takes a surprising turn.
This story was an atmospheric beginning to the collection, even if it didn’t blow me away and wasn’t completely unpredictable.

The Thing About Cassandra

When Stuart was a young boy, he invented Cassandra, his girlfriend. So how can it be that his friend receives a facebook message from her and his mother runs into her at the supermarket?
I really loved The Thing About Cassandra. It’s funny in a very twisted way, creepy and atmospheric and while I did guess the plot twist in advance, it didn’t take away from my enjoyment of the story itself.

Down to a Sunless Sea

You run into a woman at the edge of the sea who tells you a story about her son, the lost sailor.
Down to a Sunless Sea was sufficiently creepy as I read it, but as soon as I was done, I had forgotten it again. I just re-read it to remind myself of what happened – never the best sign for a story.

“The Truth is a Cave in the Black Mountains”

A very small man hires a very tall man as a guide to search for a cave that gives you all the riches in the world – but only if you leave something behind.
This story was beautiful and atmospheric. It had an almost hypnotic quality and drew me in deep. Very deep.

My Last Landlady

Another poem, about a quaint little Bed and Breakfast and its landlady. It was better than the Chair poem, but that’s about all I can say to that.

Adventure Story

His mother is the type of person whose adventures consist of running into somebody they know at the supermarket, so when she starts to talk about dinosaurs, Aztecs and airships, it’s probably dementia. Or is it?
Andventure Story was fun, but not great. I enjoyed it, but I also forgot it pretty quickly.

Orange

We get to read the answers to a questionnaire, given by a teenage girl who talks about her sister who is addicted to tanning lotion, and her mother, a scientist – and the unintended consequences of these two facts.
Orange is funny and very weird. I enjoyed it very much and laughed out loud a couple of times.

A Calendar of Tales

Based on twitter suggestions, Gaiman wrote a story for every month of the year, making A Calendar of Tales a collection within a collection. I liked some of the stories a lot, others not so much. And I really would have liked to know the tweets that prompted the stories. Favorites include: April (about a guy trying to con ducks), May (about a very strange year), July (about a book igloo) and October (about a genie who comes to a woman without wishes).

The Case of Death and Honey

Why did Sherlock Holmes take up beekeeping in his retirement? It could be that there is an actual and very good reason for that.
I’m not the world’s biggest Sherlock Holmes fan and I never actually read any of the stories (I think) (I borrowed the collection from puzzledpeaces, maybe I’ll get around to it at some point), but this one was pretty nice – even if it felt like I wasn’t the intended audience.

The Man Who Forgot Ray Bradbury

A story about a man who keeps forgetting words and people.
This one was really sad and touching. I might have teared up while reading it.

Jerusalem

A couple on holiday in Jerusalem gets first hand experience of Jerusalem syndrome.
This story was okay, but it didn’t blow me away.

Click-Clack the Rattlebag

A writer is supposed to tell the brother of his girlfriend a good night story. Instead it’s the brother who does the telling.
This was the only story of the collection I knew already, even though only in audio form. I’m usually not so much the audio type, but in this case, I prefered that version to the written one. Maybe just because I wasn’t surprised by it anymore. But no matter the medium, it’s a nicely creepy story.

An Invocation of Incuriosity

A chance encounter on a fleamarket and an act of kindness are the backdrop to a rather unusual life story.
This was one of the weaker stories, I thought. Trying a little too hard, maybe.

“And Weep, Like Alexander”

A man in a bar tells the story of how he keeps saving the world by uninventing things.
I really loved the idea of uninvention and Gaiman makes it really funny. Whether it’s true or whether the guy is just boasting – who knows? In any case nobody cares.

Nothing O’Clock

Amy Pond and the Doctor face a new threat to earth: property sharks from outer space.
I am not a huge fan of Eleven, and Amy Pond could have been an interesting companion if it hadn’t been for Steven Moffat in my opinion. Gaiman didn’t change my mind on both those counts, but he gives us a surprisingly creepy new villain.

Diamonds and Pearls: A Fairy Tale

A modern fairy tale of a mother who sends her two daughters out to get her drugs.
This fairy tale doesn’t quite follow fairy tale rules and it left me rather cold.

The Return of the Thin White Duke

The Duke is bored. He has lived too long, he needs a new challenge. Said challenge comes in the form of a quest.
This story was weird, but not bad at all. I really liked it.

Feminine Endings

A letter to a woman from a living statue she doesn’t know.
Basically this has been done by the Smashing Pumpkins already and I liked it better then. [If you listen to the song, you’ll know the twist to this story.]

Observing the Formalities

A poem version of Sleeping Beauty (or rather, Maleficent).
Ehhhh, yeah, Gaiman and poetry is just not my thing.

The Sleeper and the Spindle

A queen sets out with three dwarves to save a princess whose sleeping sickness threatens everything around her.
The Sleeper and the Spindle is an extremely interesting take on both Sleeping Beauty and Snow White. I really have nothing to complain about with this ones – I just really enjoyed it.

Witch Work

A poem about a witch and her services.
This poem I actually liked! I know, I can hardly believe it myself. But it’s true. It had a good rhythm and creative ideas.

In Relig Odhráin

A poem about Saint Columba.
And my liking of Gaiman poetry comes to an end as soon as it starts. It isn’t bad, but I just didn’t care for it.

Black Dog

Shadow arrives in a small town in the middle of nowhere where he gets taken in for a bit by an older couple, haunted by their past – quite literally.
I love American Gods and whenever Shadow turns up, I’m happy. This Shadow here seemed a lot older than the last Shadow we’ve met, but that is not a bad thing – and he did see a lot in the meantime, so it’s not surprising that he has grown in some way.

Summarizing: Excellent, if uneven collection.

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