Neil Gaiman's latest collection, Fragile Things, compiles 31 Short Fictions and Wonders, including such varied items as a story based on tarot cards and short pieces written for Tori Amos CD booklets. However, the book is also full to the brim (and spilling over there is even an extra story in the introduction) with Gaiman's incredibly imaginative stories. In some of his best, Gaiman opens up other writers' fictions, examines the core and shines quite a different light on them.
In The Problem of Susan, he considers Susan's unsatisfying fate at the end of C.S. Lewis' Chronicles of Narnia. In the poem Instructions, the reader is given advice on how to survive various fairy tales. And in the first story, the Hugo Award winner A Study in Emerald, Gaiman mixes H.P. Lovecraft's Elder Gods and Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes with great panache. Other stories play with familiar forms: Gaiman likes to tell stories, or have his characters sit around and tell stories, so that in pieces such as Sunbird, the reader almost has the sensation of hearing the story read aloud.
Gaiman began as a journalist, wrote comics and now writes everything from poetry to films. His work shows the ease with which he moves between these worlds; he straddles many genres and crosses many lines, one of which is the (sometimes invisible) line between adult and young adult fiction. As with many of the pieces here, Instructions was originally published in a young adult anthology. But Gaiman's popularity among both sets of readers shows that, while occasionally facile, he neither talks down to or waters down his work for either set.
Only one new story, How to Talk to Girls at Parties, is included in Fragile Things, but due to the wide range of venues the other stories have appeared in, most readers will find plenty of new material here to enjoy. Gavin J. Grant is the co-editor of The Year's Best Fantasy &andamp; Horror: 2006 (St. Martin's).