Review: “Trigger Warning” by Neil Gaiman

Trigger Warning contains short stories and poems from the past 10 years, including the new work "Black Dog".

Trigger Warning contains short stories and poems from the past 10 years, including the new work “Black Dog”.

Trigger Warning: Short Fictions and Disturbances
Neil Gaiman
William Morrow, 2015.

I’m always excited by a new book from Neil Gaiman. Admittedly, I’m more excited by his novels, which sadly seem to be rarer and rarer these days (I don’t count the wonderful Ocean at the End of the Lanethat was a novella no matter how it was marketed), but a collection of his short fiction is still welcome.

Trigger Warning is Gaiman’s third collection (fourth if you count the small press miscellany Angels & Visitations, which was released in 1993), gathering his assorted works since 2006’s Fragile Things. Only one included work is previously unreleased — the American Gods sequel “Black Dog”. Alas, that piece was embargoed in the advance copy I received, so I can’t judge it.

fragile2The rest of the collection, however, is uniformly fine, over two-dozen stories and poems, ranging from the dark horror of “Click-Clack the Rattlebag” to the Sherlock Holmes homage “The Case of Death and Honey”, where an aging Holmes travels to the Far East in search of the secret of eternal life. Doctor Who fans will enjoy “Nothing O’Clock”, a short story featuring the 11th Doctor, originally published to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the iconic British sci-fi show. “A Calendar of Tales” features a dozen vignettes, each inspired by a social media post Gaiman received, they are delicious little palate cleansers, a tasty alternative to lengthier works like the magnificent, award-winning “The Truth Is a Cave in the Black Mountains.”

Several of the works were inspired by Gaiman’s wife, Amanda Palmer, like “Pearls: A Fairy Tale”, which was inspired by Palmer’s album Who Killed Amanda Palmer? and the love letter from a living statue, “Feminine Endings”.

smokeTrigger Warning also contains several loving tributes to some of the giants of sci-fi and fantasy. “The Man Who Forgot Ray Bradbury” was a gift to the late author on his 90th birthday. The werewolf tale “A Lunar Labyrinth” originally appeared in the Gene Wolfe tribute anthology, Shadows of the New Sun, while the Jack Vance homage “An Invocation of Incuriosity” is from George R.R. Martin and Gardner Dozois’s Songs of the Dying Earth anthology.

Another nugget from a Martin/Dozois anthology is “The Thing About Cassandra”, from Songs of Love and Death. The story follows a young man who discovers that his imaginary girlfriend may not be so imaginary, a definitive Gaiman conceit.

truthBut the star of the collection is “The Truth Is a Cave in the Black Mountains”. Winner of both the Locus and Shirley Jackson Awards when it was published in 2010, the story follows two men seeking a mythical cache of treasury, hidden in a cave on the Isle of Skye. It is a grand, dark and powerful tale, one I rank with such other Gaiman short works as “Murder Mysteries” and “Snow, Glass, Apples” (if you haven’t read those, track down Gaiman’s first collection Smoke and Mirrors). In fact, I’d recommend splurging for the standalone illustrated edition of “Truth” featuring the brilliant artwork of Scottish cartoonist Eddie Campbell (From Hell, Bacchus).

So, even if I can’t judge the story that is supposedly the selling point for Trigger Warning, it still has plenty to offer for Gaiman fans.

Now if he’d just put out another adult novel…

Trigger Warning hits stores on Feb. 3.

—Michael Senft

Buy Trigger Warning

About Michael Senft

I am a freelance writer and critic from Phoenix Arizona. I spent 10 years covering music, the arts and pop culture for the “Arizona Republic” before life circumstances took me away from newspaper. But I never lost my joy at writing. Or reading.
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4 Responses to Review: “Trigger Warning” by Neil Gaiman

  1. Nothing O’Clock and The Truth Is a Cave in the Black Mountains were probably 2 of the high points for me, although I didn’t care for A Calendar of Tales.


  2. Miriam says:

    I’m not sold on the title of this one. It’s clever but maybe a bit disrespectful and tasteless? (Maybe. I’m not sure if I’m overreacting, but I don’t particularly like it.)

    Glad you liked it anyway, & totally agree that YES another novel would be brilliant.


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