Is there anything by Neil Gaiman I wouldn’t buy and couldn’t love? Well. These days his name does seem to be on an awful lot of things. On the shelf next to Unnatural Creatures was a pile of copies of The Silver Dream, a book he co-wrote with Mallory and Michael Reaves. The sci fi/fantasy blogs are full of announcements about projects he’s working on, kickstarting, or releasing. He’s going to be starring in a noir film soon apparently, and that’s just for starters.
I should be excited. An awesome author putting stuff out at a pace that we’d all like George R.R.R.R. to take a hint from? And yet. And yet! I am starting to feel like the name of Gaiman is getting watered down, and after Unnatural Creatures, I can no longer be sure that I’ll love everything with “Gaiman” printed on the front in big, beautifully designed letters. Realizing that today, I felt a little sad. After all, Neverwhere and American Gods are two of my favorite books. Most of his work is dark and magical and weird and beautiful and scary and right up my alley.
It’s not that Unnatural Creatures was bad. It wasn’t. But it is that it also wasn’t particularly good. I wasn’t blown away by much of anything in it. Certainly not Gaiman’s pleasant, if uninspiring story about one of my favorite mythical creatures: the phoenix. Is it because this book is actually targeted at young adults? I enjoy a lot of YA stuff, but I’d like to think that this may be the reason that I remained unmoved by this collection. Or maybe the rub really just is that this isn’t a Gaiman book. This is a collection of stories that he likes and maybe thought would sell well in this format. Putting together an anthology sounds like pretty hard work, and just because I like the man’s writing doesn’t mean I’ll like the man’s reading. Note to self.
There were exactly five stories (of 16) that I really, really enjoyed. Moveable Beast by Maria Dahvana Headley was a really interesting look at beasts and monsters and normality. The Flight of the Horse by Larry Niven was a good reason for me to not completely blacklist him for the weird racial shit in his post-apocalyptic book Lucifer’s Hammer. The Smile on the Face by Nalo Hopkinson was a really enjoyable introduction to an author I have been meaning to read for months. And Or All the Seas With Oysters by Avram Davidson was a fun horror number featuring bikes. The end.
For a 462 page book, five out of sixteen wasn’t enough. I don’t like to buy books that I don’t plan on keeping forever to read over and over again, and I would have regretted buying it at all if it wasn’t so damn beautiful. The cover, the illustrations, the fonts, and the way each story introduction is laid out? Lovely. But reason enough to recommend it? Maybe to your young niece who you would really like to love fantasy and sci fi, but is feeling kind of skeptical about it. Maybe then. But maybe not.
One out of five unicorns. (Because even one unicorn is pretty good.)
Where I got it: Hugendubel, Frankfurt, Germany