03 July 2011

Faster than a DC Bullet: The Sandman Spin-Offs, Part VI: Book of Dreams

Mass market paperback, 402 pages
Published 2002 (originally 1996)

Borrowed from the library
Read July 2011
The Sandman: Book of Dreams
edited by Neil Gaiman and Ed Kramer

I wanted to like this book a lot more than I ultimately did. It's a collection of prose stories set in and around The Sandman mythos. I was anticipated something full of dark magic and fantastic moodiness; instead, I just got a jumble of dullness. Many I just never got into and ended up skimming: Colin L. Greenland's "Masquerade and High Water," both stories about Wanda (Caitlín R. Kiernan's "Escape Artist" and Robert Rodi's "An Extra Smidgen of Eternity"), Karen Haber's "A Bone Dry Place," Delia Sherman's "The Witch's Heart," Steven Brust's "Valóság and Élet," and Susanna Clarke's "Stopp't-Clock Yard." (Interestingly this last one feels like it's set in the same world as Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, the world of English magic.)

Some, I had more specific negative opinions about. Lisa Goldstein's "Stronger Than Desire" seemed to just hinge on a revelation that wasn't very revealing. B. W. Clough's "The Birth Day" was all right, but not up to much in the end. And for some reason there are two stories about sexually-abused children being protected by their dolls. The first, Tad Williams's "The Writer's Child" just irritated me with its faux child style (I hate prose that tries to mimic how kids write; it's never real). And the second, Mark Kreighbaum's "The Gate of Gold" starts off great, but just becomes cruel for a reason I don't understand.

Some, I had more mixed reactions to. I really wanted to like Barbara Hambly's "Each Damp Thing," a tale set in the Dreaming which unites all my favorite recurring characters: Cain, Abel, Lucian, Merv, and best of all, Matthew the Raven. Unfortunately, it sees them all battling something the absorbs organic matter, which feels like something out of an sf story, not a dream. Will Shetterly's "Splatter" is very well done, and very enjoyable, up until the end. It's set during the serial killer story arc in The Sandman, and I think I just disagree with the story philosophically, refusing to believe that anything like what the story depicts could actually exist. Nancy A. Collins's "The Mender of Broken Dreams" has a great premise, but expresses that story with a plot that's not a plot at all: character wants to know where he comes from, character asks, character is told, character is happy now.

There were some good ones, though. John M. Ford's "Chain Home, Low" was probably my favorite in the book, telling the tale of several different characters affected by the sleeping sickness that struck the universe when Dream was imprisoned. It's a moody, poignant tale about failed ambitions, and the prose is great, to boot. George Alec Effinger's "Seven Nights in Slumberland" is quite good, bringing Little Nemo into the DC Universe and The Sandman mythology; like Gaiman says, it really is a Winsor McCay comic in literary form. Cleverly done. And Gene Wolfe's "Ain't You 'Most Done?" is fantastic, the last haunting, moving dream of a dying man who never dreamed while he was alive. They feel like stories that could have been actual side stories during the series, haunting and fascinating in the ways that the best of those were. But three good stories does not a good anthology make.

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