Tag Archives: Neil Gaiman

Review: InterWorld

InterWorld (InterWorld, #1)InterWorld by Neil Gaiman
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

“What if Neil Gaiman wrote a sequel to A Wrinkle in Time—what would that look like?”

“InterWorld” is the answer. Well, kind of.

InterWorld seems like a modern spiritual cousin of “A Wrinkle in Time,” except it’s less tightly organized and more definitively a young adult book.

InterWorld follows a boy (Joey Harken) as he discovers he has a special power—he can walk between worlds, parallel worlds, that are similar but not exactly the same as the Earth he knows. And that there are people who want to kill him, and all those like him, for their own nefarious purposes. Joey stumbles into a camp full of all the alternates of himself—the people descended from birds, the robotically enhanced humanoids, the girl Joeys (*gasp*!)—and has to be trained to use his powers to fight back against those who would destroy everything.

But this is a half-Gaiman book, so it’s not light on the tragedy. It’s handled in a very appropriate way, but it could be jarring to those who expect a kids’ book to be nothing but happiness and sunshine.

The story is a little jumpy and it’s hard to get attached to any of the characters besides Joey, but InterWorld has a lot of charm. It would be great for an emerging nerd in middle school, someone who could potentially get more into sci-fi later but is still a developing reader. Someone who feels a little bit like a misfit.

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Inclusion as Rebellion: Adding Diversity in Fiction

Tales from Earthsea poster

It shouldn’t be surprising that Hollywood made the cast white when they made a movie version. But apparently it’s also just a really bad film.

I didn’t happen to think much of Ursula LeGuin’s A Wizard of Earthsea, but I did absolutely love the author’s afterward. In it, she talks about writing A Wizard of Earthsea in 1967, and how she ever-so-quietly tried to subvert convention. Her rebellion? The main character, Sparrowhawk, and the vast majority of the “good guy” supporting cast, are all non-white people. The people who are pale are seen as the dangerous outsiders.

She writes: “I was bucking the racist tradition, ‘making a statement’—but I made it quietly, and it went almost unnoticed.”

But LeGuin writes about how she was, is, somewhat disappointed. It seems her rebellion was a little too subtle, and didn’t attract the notice it deserved, most notably because cover artists tended to put a white person in the artwork, and apparently many readers didn’t pick up on the many small hints of the characters’ skin color. (My copy was released in 2012, and features a hawk, no people.)

She goes on to discuss the philosophical roots of her book, how the main action turns aside from battle and war, favoring instead to be a rather quiet hero’s journey of the self (which…ok. But I found it a little too detached). But I’m fixated on that concept of trying to push cultural boundaries with fiction.

The most notable and painfully glaring example is Rue from The Hunger Games. Despite many clear mentions of Rue and her companions as black characters, some movie-goers were rabidly furious when they showed up to the film and saw the (incredible, wonderful!) acting done by Amandla Stenberg. Not only were these people poor contextual readers, apparently (seeing as they missed this fact), they felt they actually had a right to be angry about a black actor being cast for a black character. It was stomach-churning.

It’s not the only example, either. Neil Gaiman makes a point of writing in non-white characters (my favorites show up in Anansi Boys) but even so, a challenge was famously issued to stop reading books by white men which prominently featured his (multicultural) book American Gods. When some readers/fans cried foul (either because they liked Mr. Gaiman or realized that the book’s character was himself nonwhite), Gaiman stepped in to say, “no, absolutely, go read those other books. Have at it.”

And if that’s not enough for you, this year’s Hugo Awards were hijacked by a group calling themselves “Sick Puppies” who felt, for whatever reason, that books featuring straight, white, men were being somehow maligned by authors who wrote other things or who themselves came from different backgrounds. They effectively rigged the awards and caused a lot of controversy. All because science fiction authors did what they are supposed to do: push cultural boundaries.

One good thing may have come from these incidents, at least: people are talking about the power of fiction in culture, the power to change culture, and the importance of inclusion. We need more stories, from more people; different stories, interesting stories. I know for my book I worked hard to create a diverse cast of background characters from different nationalities, while also working to ensure that the main character (the reader) remained gender-neutral and accessible to just about anyone who decided to pick up the book.

Do you attempt any cultural rebellions in your books or in the books you read? Do you see value in including a variety of characters of different skin colors? Or of breaking other boundaries? Let’s talk about it.

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Should Books Come With Trigger Warnings?

Neil Gaiman’s most recent book was a collection of short stories under the title Trigger Warning. He opened the book with a short discussion of “trigger warnings” (an internet phrase that is used to indicate that there may be objectionable or deeply troubling content to follow, to allow readers to “opt out” if they feel unprepared for it). Gaiman comes out neither for or against trigger warnings—he basically says if someone will be greatly upset by something, they do have a right to avoid it, but that sometimes it is good to introduce ourselves to troubling things, in order to grow as people—and I didn’t think too much about it beyond “hm.”
Then I read Ship of Destiny. Not to spoil too much, but there is a sudden and unexpected rape scene in the story. Much like a real rape, it occurred practically without warning. It was not a particularly graphic scene, violence-wise, but the word choices and the trauma of the victim that played out over the next several chapters deeply troubled me.
I think I would have liked to have had a trigger warning that there would be a rape in the book. I think I would have still read it—it was very well executed, sensitive to the victim, and made it clear that the villain was a deeply conflicted, messed-up person—but I would have liked some warning, so I could have emotionally prepared myself.
I struggle with rape scenes in all genres. I was interested in Girl with a Dragon Tattoo until I heard there was a graphic rape scene, and I know myself well enough to know I just can’t handle that. I had to stop watching a movie (I think it was The Missing?) because it looked like the main female character was going to be raped–I ran out of the room crying and couldn’t bear to finish.
Someone I know has told me she wishes TV shows and movies came with trigger warning-esque labels: she has a crippling anxiety about people being shot in the head after someone close to her died that way. I can’t blame her for that.
But of course, content creators may not want their work to be labeled in this way. (Publishers probably wouldn’t!) It might put off potential book-buyers. People might protest something that, if they just read it in context, would be fine. There’s a danger inherent to telling people your work might be challenging to them.
I don’t know that I feel that all books should carry a trigger warning. After all, I found Kushiel’s Dart …troubling… but it was still a great book and I’m glad to have read it. (The difference between that and Ship of Destiny? Kushiel’s Dart had lots of clear warnings about what I was getting into!)
I agree with Gaiman that sometimes we have to push our boundaries a little, and that may mean reading something we find unnerving. But I also think people do have a right to protect themselves, particularly that very delicate emotional scared place we all have.
What do you think? Would you want your book to have a trigger warning?

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Review: Trigger Warning

Trigger Warning: Short Fictions and DisturbancesTrigger Warning: Short Fictions and Disturbances by Neil Gaiman

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I’m a huge Neil Gaiman fan. Let’s just get that out of the way. I cried when he signed my copy of The Ocean at the End of the Lane because I was so excited.

But this book barely got its 3rd star from me. If you’re already a fan of Gaiman, there is very little in this short story collection that you haven’t already read somewhere else, or for free via his blog. It’s a collection of short stories with no coherent reason behind them, no theme, no real organization. It feels, honestly, like a book put together because someone–and probably not the author?–said it would be great to be able to sell more books.

I find that a little frustrating.

That said, there were three stories out of this collection that really made the whole thing worthwhile. If you buy it and feel like me, just skip to the end of the book: that’s where the good stuff is hidden.

First, we have a delightful little short story from the witch’s perspective in “Sleeping Beauty.” It’s dark, mysterious, and does a great job following close to the theme and tone of the real Grimm fairy tale. It’s very quick, but really enjoyable.

The second story is also about “Sleeping Beauty.” This one, “The Sleeper and the Spindle,” has since been made into an illustrated book. It may be the best story in the collection: it re-imagines both “Sleeping Beauty” and “Snow White” so that the women can be the heroes and live in neighboring kingdoms. I don’t want to reveal too much, but let’s just say if you love either the Disney version, the original story, or the “10th Kingdom” TV serial, you will most certainly adore this story. It’s just fantastic.

The final feather in this hat is “Black Dog”–an additional story featuring Shadow Moon, the main character in American Gods. Even if you found American Gods to be a challenging book for you, I think you’ll like this story, which is straightforward, touches on some delicious little-known history, and is really scary. Gaiman owes me about two hours of sleep for this story–I stayed up past my bedtime to get to the big ending, and then couldn’t stop thinking about it!

It’s that last story that changed my mind on whether the book as a whole was a good purchase. I don’t know that I’ll ever read large chunks of it again, but the ones I loved, I LOVED, so that makes it worth it to me.

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Neil Gaiman on the Origin of Ideas

What would happen if a werewolf bit a goldfish?

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My Top 10 Most Influential Books

I was challenged to the silly “book duel” on Facebook by an acquaintance, and though I typically don’t like those sorts of “pass it on” challenge deals, this was good to think about.

So here are the top ten books that have the most influenced me thus far:

I’ve been challenged to a “book duel,” which sadly doesn’t mean throwing books at other people. But it does mean listing 10 of the books that most influenced me. (I will be opting out of the “challenging” of others. Answer if you wish.) My top 10 most influential books, in no particular order:

1. The Power of One, by Bryce Courtenay
2. The Handmaid’s Tale, by Margaret Atwood
3. Grimm’s Fairy Tales, by the Brothers Grimm –the older, far scarier and more demented versions
4. Sandman comics, all of them, by Neil Gaiman
5. The Bible, without the context of which I wouldn’t understand much of modern literature, in addition to any faith-related benefits
6. Ella Minnow Pea, by Mark Dunn, for showing me how flexible and creative writing can be.
7. Eats, Shoots & Leaves, by Lynne Truss, for my early editing education and one good panda joke
8. The Weather Wardens series by Rachel Caine, because she’s a local author who started young and made it big.
9. Black Beauty, by Anna Sewell. I just love that book.
10. Jane Eyre, by Charlotte Bronte.

Also, it wasn’t until I wrote this up that I realized I’ve MET three out of the 10 authors on this list; if we exclude the ones that are long dead, my percent leaps up to 50%! Wow!

What would make your list? What do you recommend?


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A Complete Listing of the Gods in ‘American Gods’

Keep this link handy the next time you pick up Neil Gaiman’s “American Gods”: it’s a complete list of all the gods mentioned, interacted with, or referred to in the novel (even theories on who “the forgotten god” may be).

It’s a hobby site, and a damned impressive one at that. Even Neil said so, and the Hill House edition of the novel even came with a paper version of the site. That’s some great research!

If you haven’t read “American Gods,” I think you should. It’s a challenging book, and, in my opinion, a great example of the way fantasy can mingle with literary fiction. It isn’t for everyone, though. But if you do read it, this incredible site will help you muddle through all the gods. Gaiman pulled from all sorts of mythologies to create the book, and it’s pretty hard to wrap your head around all of it.

Anyway, a really cool research project that I appreciated and hope to utilize when I read the book again.


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Imaginary Books From Real Books

This is a pretty fun list: pretend books mentioned in real books. It’s designed as a “library,” so (rather inconveniently) organized by imaginary author, alphabetically (personally, I’d prefer to have them listed by the real book in which they are included).

It looks like the curator of this rather impressive and oddball list hasn’t read Neil Gaiman’s Sandman comic books, which is a pity. Sandman has a whole library of pretend books, the premise being it’s a collection of all the books the authors dreamed of writing but never actually got around to. It’s a fascinating list, and shows an interesting peek at sigh authors’ (imagined) psyches.

Still, take a moment and peruse the books that only exist as a figment of someone else’s imagination. It’s sort of fun.

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A Book That Keeps On Giving

I’m a little late to this story, but it’s so precious I feel like I have to share it. One of Neil Gaiman’s books–a rare signed hardback ARC of Stardust–is worth a whole lot more than its cover price.
Author Patrick Rothfuss has been coordinating a charity fundraiser for Heifer International (aside: This is one of my favorite charities, too, making me love this story that much more. I mean, you already knew I love Neil Gaiman). Other authors jumped on board this great cause, including Gaiman, who donated an ARC of Stardust.
The book was put up for auction via random drawing: anyone who donated through Rothfuss’ fundraiser had a chance to win it. And so someone won it.
And then gave the book back, with the stipulation that it be re-donated to the auction.
So it was up again. And then the NEXT guy who won it (for a cool $2500!) ALSO donated it back, same as the person before.
And it happened again the NEXT year.
Then it gets trippy. The year after that, the person who won the last time won AGAIN–so they mailed it to her, feeling like this was destiny.
She took a picture with it, admired it… and sent it back again!
(Man, Gaiman must be a bit hurt that no one wants to keep his book!)
In other words, this one (admittedly awesome) sweet little book has raised thousands of dollars (donated oodles of goats!) for a good cause.
I don’t know if I would have the strength to give it back like all those other nice folks did, but it sure does make for a great and wonderful story.

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A Stegosaurus Blasted My Gender Stereotypes

stegasaurus, stomping gender normsI consider myself to be pretty thoughtful regarding gender issues. I was the kid in kindergarten who, when asked to draw a doctor, scribbled a woman in a lab coat, not a man (earth-shattering at the time, let me tell you (I’m sure this had nothing to do with the fact that my doctor was a woman and we watched  Dr. Quinn: Medicine Woman as a family. Nothing.)) I care about feminist issues and try to be considerate of the issues faced by LBGTQ individuals. I made a female lead character for my science fiction dystopia and wrote a genderless novel for my gamebook.
I think about this stuff a lot.
And yet, I still have so much to learn sometimes. Unconscious biases can be a bitch.
Neil Gaiman was my teacher, as he has been so many times previously. And he did it with a children’s book.
You’ve read Fortunately, The Milk by now, right? I mean, I gave it a breathlessly positive review, so you definitely went out and bought it already, right?
Well, if not, you may not want to read the rest of this post, because of spoilers.
Anyway, I read Fortunately, The Milk. (And it’s marvelous. Practically perfect in the most Mary Poppins way.) One of the main characters is a time-traveling stegasaurus named Dr. Steg. (I mean, of course).
I’m as enchanted by the story and the misadventures as the children in the story, and then… everything came to a screeching halt.
90% of the way through the book, you are informed that Dr. Steg is a “madam.”
To be fair, this comes as a surprise to the narrator/father as well, but this really hit me like a ton of bricks. Why did it throw me off so much? Why did I automatically assume Dr. Steg was a Mr. Dr. Steg?
I’ve given this some thought, and I think there are several reasons:
  • The drawings include no eyelashes or gaudy bows, cultural codes for “lady cartoon.”
  • The drawing depicts a rather heavyset dinosaur. Often, absent other markers, heavyset cartoons are male.
  • Dinosaurs are “boy things.”
  • Despite my kindergarten drawings, doctors, particularly “sciencey” doctors, are male.
  • Time-travelers are male.
— And they all still amount to “you still probably shouldn’t have made that assumption.”
And that’s what triggered me to write this post. Question your assumptions. It doesn’t have to be “that way,” even — especially! — if that is how it has always been done. (I mean, I’d like to see someone write some elves that are not musical, arrow-wielding, thin blond people. (Yes, I’ve just seen The Hobbit…)).
What assumptions did you have squashed by a fiction book?


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