A Little Gold Book of Ghastly Stuff

March 24, 2016 at 6:00 pm (Reads) (, , , )

ghastlyA Little Gold Book of Ghastly Stuff by Neil Gaiman

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So, apparently there’s an entire “Little … Book” series published by Borderlands Press, each featuring hard-to-find stories and other original content from a variety of authors. I wasn’t aware of it until I did a little research into this book, which surprises me, since I used to be an avid follower of Borderlands Press. Now most of them are out of print, which is a shame. I’m glad I was able to read this as an ebook, though, since I doubt I would have spent what the secondary market is asking for this volume.

A Little Gold Book of Ghastly Stuff is a “B-Sides and Rarities” collection of Gaiman material, ranging from fiction to poetry to nonfiction, some of which is hard to find. It’s a bit of a mixed bag, though, which is about what one would expect from such a collection. Luckily, there’s more good than mediocre, and more mediocre than bad.

The collection opens with a poem titled “Before You Read This”, which is appropriate, even though I’m not a big fan of poetry. It sets the stage for what’s to come.

“Featherquest”, the first story in the collection, was Gaiman’s first published story, and … well, it shows. It hints at the kind of style Gaiman would grow comfortable with, and touches on his unique blend of humanity and myth, but it was overlong and, frankly, a bit boring. By the end, I was eager to see how it would wrap up, and it did so too quickly, and without much of a conclusion. It’s probably Gaiman’s equivalent of Y Kant Tori Read, since reading it shows you how his talent would develop, but you don’t necessarily want to experience it again.

The next three stories — “Jerusalem”, “Feminine Endings”, and “Orange” — were published in Trigger Warning, but like most short stories, I got a little bit more out of them than I did the first time. Of particular note is that the Jerusalem Syndrome described in “Jerusalem” is a real thing.

Next is a brief story called “Orphee”, about Orpheus, about whom Gaiman has written before. This seemed to have a twist to it, but I kept getting distracted by his use of Orpheus in Sandman, and kept picturing the scene of his beheading. I wish I could have dismissed it so I could have appreciated the story more.

“Ghosts in the Machine” struck me as an autobiographical piece, but given the way Gaiman threw in some nifty ideas for ghost stories, I’m not so sure now. I wish he’d write stories about those ideas, though.

The next piece is “Grimmer Than You Thought”, an introduction to an annotated edition of the Brothers Grimm’s stories. It has some astute observations on fairy tales (Gaiman), but I can’t help but feel like it would be better read with the book it introduced. It pairs well with “Once Upon a Time”, an essay on fairy tales that follows.

Following those pieces is one called “Dresden Dolls”, which is about Amanda Palmer, Gaiman’s wife. She was half of a musical group called the Dresden Dolls, and Gaiman writes about a reunion show, and all the good and bad that comes along with being in a musical group, and what a reunion means. It’s touching and revealing at the same time.

Next is the introduction to a book titled Hothouse by Brian Aldiss, an author I’ve never read. The introduction is one of those that assumes the reader already knows a lot about the book he’s about to read, which can be annoying in a spoilery way, but luckily it stops right at the point where Gaiman starts going into a lot of detail. Unluckily, this is because the piece just cuts off in the middle of a sentence.

“Entitlement Issues” follows, which is Gaiman’s infamous “George R.R. Martin Is Not Your Bitch” piece from his blog. It’s an important piece, not just for Martin fans, but for anyone who get embroiled in an ongoing series and feels some sort of entitlement to future books. You can even read it here, in just a few minutes.

The next piece is also from Gaiman’s blog, and is entitled “Freedom of Icky Speech”, which is an appeal for exactly what it says. It’s an intelligent, reasoned musing on why censorship is wrong, even for things with which we don’t agree. You can also read this one online, though it may take longer than just a few minutes.

Following are two speeches Gaiman gave, one at the 2004 Harvey Awards (which is a nice examination of comics and their importance), another at the 2005 Nebula Awards (which examines science fiction and its importance). Then the volume concludes with another piece of poetry called “Conjunctions”. I like that Gaiman bookends this collection with poetry, though I can’t say I thought much about either.

I purchased this book through a StoryBundle (a fantastic pay-what-you-want bundle of ebooks that contributes to charities), so I read the ebook version of this book, and it’s full of typos and other printing errors. There were several per page, enough so that it became distracting. I paid a lot less for this book (and a lot more to boot) than I would have had I bought a print copy, but I still expect the conversions to be good. The number of errors was inexcusable. Plus, the ebook version of the book appears to be missing two pieces (reviews of Black House and Summerland, apparently), and includes one that may not have been in the print edition (“Dresden Dolls”).

Overall, I’m glad I had the chance to read this material, since I’m a Gaiman completionist. Had I paid a lot of money for it, I might have felt differently, but I appreciate that Gaiman chooses to make this available to folks, even if it’s for a limited time (I’m not sure how available it is outside of that StoryBundle). I wouldn’t recommend it to casual readers, or to Gaiman readers who aren’t the kinds of fans who want to read everything he wrote, but if you are that kind of fan, it’s worth tracking down.

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