It should come as no surprise to find that Neil Gaiman dedicates FRAGILE THINGS to Ray Bradbury, Harlan Ellison and the late Robert Sheckley. After all, they are undisputed masters of the writing world in the science fiction and fantasy genre, occasionally gaining acceptance from the outside writing universe as well. Of these three, Bradbury is the most successful beyond the barrier that is still upheld between Literature and lowly genre fiction. It is no small thing, then, to declare that Neil Gaiman is our generation's Ray Bradbury.
Much like Bradbury, Gaiman has a lyrical way with his stories. When you pick up a Neil Gaiman work, be it a novel or even FRAGILE THINGS, what you readily discover is that Gaiman is not just an author; he does not merely place his words on a page for you to look at. Rather, he has the same incredible ability as Bradbury to pull you close and make you feel as if the two of you are sitting beside a fire in a warm and dimly lit chamber, and he is recounting the story for you. Gaiman is, above all things, a storyteller, and that is a great deal different from being a mere writer.
The stories collected in FRAGILE THINGS run the gamut of emotions, but all will leave you impressed. And lest you immediately pass off on this collection simply because it is classified as "fantasy," be assured that you will find plenty to enjoy that seems much like any of your standard literary fiction escapes. Gaiman is not about sword-swinging, dragon dueling epics, though he could probably pull it off with great flair. His work is about legend, myth and the spaces in between, about relationships and dreams and the magical realism that also can be found in a magician's sleight-of-hand trick. He will make you shake your head in disbelief, make you say "wow!" at the turn of a phrase, and make you laugh. All the while, you and he are on the same level ground; he is no more than a friend talking to you and sharing his visions.
FRAGILE THINGS is a collection of award-winning short stories and a smattering of other less fortunate tales and poems. Its opening story, "A Study In Emerald," was a Hugo Award winner and is a brilliant combination of H.P Lovecraft's monstrous horror and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes. It is an astounding murder mystery with a touch of the supernatural that immediately immerses you in what Gaiman can do. But this is not all he has to offer, for he can impress you just as well --- and slightly more deeply --- with his one-page take on the end of the universe. In his story "In The End," God gives the entire world to Mankind save for one garden, and the events of Genesis play in reverse, with the Man giving the Woman an apple that she gives to a Serpent who returns it to the tree, and ultimately all is good again. It ends with a heartwarming and likewise heartbreaking line, "And after that there was nothing but silence in the Garden, save for the occasional sound of the man taking away its name from another animal."
Gaiman also includes his novella, "The Monarch of the Glen," which takes up once again with Shadow, the main character from his awe-inspiring AMERICAN GODS. It has been two years since the end of that work when we find Shadow taking a vacation in Scotland only to be wrapped up once again in the shape of things being manipulated by forces beyond mankind. It is a great teaser for what could come in the future should Gaiman return to the AMERICAN GODS world and give us more in the life of Shadow.
While all of the stories are worthy of reading, what is just as worthy is the introduction. As he did with SMOKE AND MIRRORS, Gaiman invites us into his head and along the road down which the stories are forced to walk from birth to print. His dialogue and his explanations are as much a story and wholly entertaining as any other story between the covers, and he also tells us of the great necessity for each of us to tell stories to others. "There are so many fragile things, after all," he says. "People break so easily, and so do dreams and hearts."
The people are real enough to reach out and touch, and it is possible to read his words and to feel the soul that each of the characters bare, as they expose their hearts and their dreams with each page. At the same time, you can also feel Gaiman's own dreams and his own love for the craft of storytelling left within each line to thrill you, to entertain you and, most importantly, simply to share with you.
Just like Bradbury.
Reviewed by Stephen Hubbard on October 2, 2007