The highlights of this collection, for me, were “The Truth is a Cave in the Black Mountains,” “A Calendar of Tales” and “The Sleeper and the Spindle” (the last of which I’d listened to before, as a separate audio CD).
“A Lunar Labyrinth” – An atmospheric, slightly creepy story. Gaiman mentions in the introduction that it’s an homage to Gene Wolfe’s “A Solar Labyrinth” which I have now had a chance to read. The Wolfe story is available online with the permission of the author:
(The Wolfe story is excellent – one of those stories that is more unsettling for the things it never quite spells out.)
“The Thing About Cassandra” – This was clever. A man meets a woman from out of his high school fantasies. There’s an additional twist, but I won’t give it away…
“Down to a Sunless Sea” – A creepy story about a sea voyage. This one is available online, and I had read it before.
“The Truth is a Cave in the Black Mountains” – This might be the best story in the collection, and probably has my favorite opening of all of them. It’s a dark story of revenge, love, and loss.
You ask me if I can forgive myself? I can forgive myself for many things. For where I left him. For what I did. But I will not forgive myself for the year that I hated my daughter, when I believed her to have run away, perhaps to the city. During that year I forbade her name to be mentioned, and if her name entered my prayers when I prayed, it was to ask that she would one day learn the meaning of what she had done, of the dishonour that she had brought to my family, of the red that ringed her mother’s eyes.
I hate myself for that, and nothing will ease that, not even what happened that night, on the side of the mountain.
“Orange” – A whimsical story in which a girl explains her sister’s encounter with aliens in her answers to a police interview. I thought bits of this were pretty funny.
“A Calendar of Tales” – I really enjoyed this. It’s a series of very short stories, one for each month of the year. “April” was funny; “August” is a pretty good disaster story; “September” is eerie.
This one is online, with audio and text, at:
“The Case of Death and Honey” – A Sherlock Holmes story, featuring Old Gao, a Chinese beekeeper, who tolerates the extended visit of an elderly white man who comes to study his bees. The man is Sherlock Holmes…
“The Man Who Forgot Ray Bradbury” – This was written in honor of Ray Bradbury, and it works in a bunch of references to Bradbury’s work. It’s a strange story about a man who is losing his memory.
“An Invocation of Incuriosity” – Gaiman says in his introduction that this one was written for a collection of stories inspired by Jack Vance‘s The Dying Earth, and it does have that feel to it. (I’ve read some of those stories, but only the first volume.) The narrator meets a mysterious ancient being at a flea market.
“The Sleeper and the Spindle” – I like this one a lot. I listened to it last year as a separate audio CD. This is a fairytale retelling, combining elements from Sleeping Beauty and Snow White. The story starts with a recovered Snow White as queen of her own kingdom, and with three nameless dwarves, all that remain of the original seven dwarves. The dwarves discover that a neighboring kingdom is falling under some sort of sleeping spell; the princess there has been cursed many years before, and the curse, which was at first confined to the princess’s castle, is slowly spreading to cover the whole land. Snow White, having previously broken the sleeping spell that was placed on her (this is backstory, and there isn’t much said about it – I would have liked a bit more detail) travels to the neighboring kingdom to rescue the princess.
Black Dog – A longer story set in the universe of American Gods. It was pretty good, but my attention wandered a bit during this one, maybe because of length or maybe because I’m not a fan of that book – I didn’t finish it – and so I wasn’t as engaged by this one as a lot of Gaiman’s other readers probably would be.