Neil Gaiman – Trigger Warning

neilgaiman-triggerwarningIn this new volume, Neil Gaiman pierces the veil of reality to reveal the enigmatic, shadowy world that lies beneath. Trigger Warning includes previously published pieces of short fiction-stories, verse, and a very special Doctor Who story that was written for the fiftieth anniversary of the beloved series in 2013-as well as BLACK DOG, a new tale that revisits the world of American Gods.

Trigger Warning is a rich cornucopia of horror and ghosts stories, science fiction and fairy tales, fabulism and poetry that explores the realm of experience and emotion. In Adventure Story-a thematic companion to The Ocean at the End of the Lane-Gaiman ponders death and the way people take their stories with them when they die. His social media experience A Calendar of Tales are short takes inspired by replies to fan tweets about the months of the year-stories of pirates and the March winds, an igloo made of books, and a Mother’s Day card that portends disturbances in the universe. Gaiman offers his own ingenious spin on Sherlock Holmes in his award-nominated mystery tale The Case of Death and Honey. And Click-Clack the Rattlebag explains the creaks and clatter we hear when we’re all alone in the darkness.

A new Neil Gaiman book or collection is usually greeted by lots of cheers of readers all over the world. When his third short story collection was announced, this was readily apparent all over the internet. And then the title was announced and things got a little less cheery. Gaiman decided to title his collection Trigger Warning: short fiction and disturbances. For various reasons people were unhappy about this. The announcement came at a time when mainstream discussion on trigger warnings and whether to include them on prescribed reading lists at universities and colleges  was turning heated and the discussion was quickly co-opted by the ‘feminism is ruining everything’-crowd. In his introduction to his collection Gaiman explains that he was fascinated by the phenomenon of trigger warnings in an academic environment and his thoughts on the subject led him to decide to slap some trigger warnings on his own fiction before someone else did. 

In a piece for SciFi Now Kameron Hurley reacts to the title and this introduction, explaining why she feels the choice for this title is irresponsible, and she puts into words a reaction that ran across many online spaces when the title was announced. I’d also like to point you to this review by Mavesh Murad on tor.com, not just for the well-written review itself, but for the comments as well, which encapsulate many of the arguments and are quite respectful and friendly compared to the awful, vitriolic comments below the SciFi Now article. If I hadn’t been interested in reading this collection of previously published stories before this discussion broke loose, I was after, because I was interested to see Gaiman’s take on the matter and to see whether people had cried foul too quickly. Unfortunately, I think the masses were right, in that to me it felt as if Gaiman underestimates how awful experience being triggered can be for those who suffer from PTSD, even if he doesn’t make light of the phenomenon. In my opinion, Trigger Warning was a poor title choice, one that detracts and distracts from the stories held within the collection’s covers.

Because those stories? They were a solid collection. Not all of them worked as well for me and I’m notable for my under-appreciation of most poetry, so the poems didn’t strongly resonate with me either, but there were some gems in this book. There were three stories that just didn’t work for me. The first, Orange, had a format that I found hard to parse – it was just the answers to an interview, no questions – which left me more removed from the story than drawn in. The story Feminine Endings just creeped me the hell out. The premise was intriguing, but I found the stalkerish behaviour of the narrator unpalatable. Diamonds and Pearls: A Fairytale was a reworking of Diamonds and Toads, which is closely linked to one of my favourite childhood fairytales Frau Holle, and the ending just fell flat for me. This is exactly the kind of story I normally love, but I just didn’t in this case, which surprised me.

That wasn’t the only surprise of the collection, however, as I was completely charmed by Nothing O’Clock. That’s quite odd, since I actually don’t care about Dr Who at all – I just don’t get it – so to read a Dr Who story that made me consider that I might actually enjoy reading Dr Who tie-in fiction was unexpected. A story I had expected to enjoy as I’d read and loved it before was The Sleeper and the Spindle, a Sleeping Beauty/Snow White mashup that blends the two tales and sets Snow up for a totally different happy-ever-after. The Case of Death and Honey was a fantastic Sherlock Holmes tale that has Holmes go up against death itself. Told alternatingly by Holmes and an old Chinese apiarist called Gao, it’s an interesting look at the fear of mortality. Click-Clack the Rattlebag is a really creepy story, but creepy in a good, shiver-inducing way. My favourite story of the bunch though was Black Dog. A story set in the American Gods universe and dealing with Shadow’s stay, this story made me want to pick up my copy of American Gods post-haste and finally read it.

Overall, Trigger Warning was a solid collection despite its unfortunate title. I do suspect I like Gaiman more when he writes long form than when he writes short stories, as I enjoyed his novels I’ve read far more than his short fiction. Still, Gaiman fans will want to read this for the Black Dog story alone and for those new to his work, this is certainly a great introduction to his work.

This book was provider for review by the publisher.

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