Aug 13, 2013

[Books] Stories: All-New Tales

Short stories are a special kind of magic unto themselves. I've written a number of them over the years and a times it feels that they're harder to write than full-length novels. After all, short stories are about editing - the need to keep things tight and yet still satisfying for the reader. You don't want to ramble on too long nor do you want keep things overly brief and thus unsubstantial.

So on a personal level, I have a lot of respect for short story writers. It's a skill that I continually try to work on as a writer and one that this book has reminded me to return to as well.

Neil Gaiman is an excellent writer and who understands short stories, in my opinion. He has published many anthologies of his stories and they've all been nicely delightful experiences. And he doesn't limit himself to one genre - it seems the range of his stories remains as boundless as human experience itself. And while he didn't pen this collection himself, he did have a hand in selecting and editing the stories and I did want to see what the resulting stories would be like.

Synopsis: Stories: All-New Tales is an anthology of short stories by many different writers as edited by Neil Gaiman and Al Sarrantonio. It's a pretty diverse collection indeed and one that provides one a lot of different options.

I forget which Neil Gaiman story story collection included his discussion about his personal joy with reading such books and the fact that each story presented something new to the reader. He had talked about how not liking a story wasn't a bad thing since there was always another one to look forward to and experience.

And this collection is very much like that, but admittedly the stories lean predominantly towards ones that I enjoyed versus those that didn't quite tickle my fancy. The sort of driving theme for this collection is the fact that for Gaiman, a good story makes the reader or listener ask the question "...and then what happened?" as you prompt the storyteller to continue the tale. Thus the various stories in this collection don't always wrap things up neatly at the end of their arcs - they tease you with just enough of the tale to have you wanting to learn more.

Stories contains 27 distinct short stories written by many different notable authors including Chuck Palahniuk, Jodi Picoult and Neil Gaiman himself. Some are fantasy pieces and some touch on science fiction while others just seem to be slice of life stories with just a bit more than what we normally experience. It's not easy to pick a "best" or "favorite" story in the collection, but there are quite a number which I personally enjoyed a bit more than most.

Roddy Doyle's "Blood" has us going through one man's strange transformation into something not quite human. Neil Gaiman's "The Truth is a Cave in the Mountains" starts off like just another quest for would-be heroes until you finally get to the truth of things. Jodi Picoult's "Weights and Measures" has us sharing the painful experience of a couple losing a child. Jeffrey Deaver's "The Therapist" is a somewhat dark tale of a psychologist determined to save the world from an elusive threat. And Kurt Andersen's "Human Intelligence" is a different spin on an alien visitation story that is oddly heartwarming and humorous.

Stories is a great collection and is perfect in its diversity even if you don't perfectly enjoy every single tale. The stories did indeed have me asking the fated question of "...and then what happened?" as the respective narratives only give you as a reader a taste of the world of these different characters. And this experience of sampling so many different lives was quite inspiring in itself - a nice reminder to writers like me of what stories should be all about. Thus the book rates a solid 4.5 characters striving to remain human in a not so human world out of a possible 5.

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