Title: Smoke and Mirrors
Author: Neil Gaiman
First Published: 1998
Genre: Fiction, Short Story Collection
Smoke and Mirrors is, summarily, an interesting collection of short stories and poems from Neil Gaiman. Though most of the works in the collection have been published in magazines and anthologies, a handful of these gems have never appeared in print. I suppose this ‘unveiling’ of ‘never-before-seen’ works, this illusion of exclusivity, is all part of this book’s allure.
But to me, what really makes Smoke and Mirrors an irresistible piece of fiction is how it shows the development of Gaiman’s writing. In creating a pastiche of past works, the author creates a roadmap to his success—success being defined within the confines of this paragraph as finding one’s voice and reaching a specific caliber of writing.
Gaiman makes the reader’s journey easier by writing a lengthy introduction that discusses the origins of each work. I say lengthy, because there are about 30 works in Smoke and Mirrors, and a summary of each one’s backstory is carefully typed out by the author himself. Though these works aren’t arranged chronologically, you can find each story’s original publication date on the notes section of the book. By going back and forth between the notes section of the book and the actual story, one gains perspective when it comes to the shifts, improvements, and general changes in Gaiman’s writing style.
Another thing I loved about this book is the variety it offers. To be honest, I’m not particularly keen on Gaiman’s tech-centered works or his brand of erotica (which isn’t bad, really… just unexpected), but I do love his fantasy and detective stories. As for his poetry, I found his sestina to be absolutely superb. The rest, I felt, would’ve been better fleshed-out as shorts rather than poems.
All in all, I found Smoke and Mirrors an interesting and exciting read worth recommending to all Gaiman fans and lovers of the Strange.