Trigger Warning by Neil Gaiman book review

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Release Date: 3 February 2015
352 pages | Hardback/ebook
Writer: Neil Gaiman
Publisher: Headline

Part of Neil Gaiman’s introduction to this book is headed “General Apology” and states that short story collections “should not, hodgepodge and willy-nilly, assemble stories that were obviously not intended to sit between the same covers,” before admitting that “This collection fails this test.” Trigger Warning is a compilation of stories and poems written for anthologies, magazines and so on, plus one all-new story - like a Greatest Hits album that has one new track so you have to buy it even if you already have everything else.

That said, it’s unlikely you will have everything else, and it’s much neater to have it all in one volume. This collection includes fantasy, SF, horror and even some straight fiction; tributes to Ray Bradbury, Jack Vance and Harlan Ellison; and adventures for Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Who. There’s even a sort of superhero origin story for David Bowie. And the short form suits Gaiman especially well – the plotting in his longer works can be a little wayward, whilst here he seems freer, able to unfold an idea in however long it takes, then clear the stage for a new one.

The book gets better as it goes along. Early entry “The Truth Is A Cave In The Black Mountains...”, for instance, ties up well but is baggy in the middle. But “Orange” – a story of alien incursion, told entirely in answers to a written questionnaire – is brilliant, and by the Sherlock Holmes story “The Case Of Death And Honey” – in which the great detective attempts to solve immortality – the collection is hitting its stride. “Click-Clack The Rattlebag” is a lovely horror short, while “Pearls” and “The Return Of The Thin White Duke” apply Gaiman’s love of refashioning myths and fairytales in surprising ways.

The Doctor Who story, “Nothing O’Clock” (which originally appeared as an ebook) boasts a perfect Who concept that plays out with humour and terror. Finally the one all-new story, “Black Dog”, revisits Shadow from Gaiman’s novel American Gods and is the best of them all: a vivid tale of hauntings and betrayal that unfolds with precision and economy.

As per Gaiman’s apology, this can never be an outstanding short story collection because it can’t become more than the sum of its parts. Yet it’s still an essential purchase for anyone who loves Gaiman’s work, and not just for reasons of completism: he’s frequently on top form here.

Eddie Robson