“Smoke and Mirrors” – A Geek’s Book

I’m a borderline geek. But i don’t usually go for books that a true geek loves.

At work, we have fliers posted in the hallway when some famous authors are on campus to give a talk, and sign books. Usually the company would buy the books ahead of the time and give them out for free to employees who go to the talk. So the audience would have a book in hand for the author to sign. It is a nice way to get free books.

I haven’t been very interested in any of these talks. Mainly because i have never heard any of the authors and based on the fliers they seemed to be all in the fantasy writer categories.

What is this love affair between a geek and fantasy?

Last Friday we had Neil Gaiman. Another unknown to me. But one of my office mates brought back a whole stack of books by Neil Gaiman, left them on the table next to me, and went on her little getaway weekend trip.

I couldn’t resist books. Especially spanking new ones with attracting cover design. So i picked up the top one on the pile, “Smoke and Mirrors”.

The writing flows well. I got interested. Left a sticky on the book pile and took it home to read for the weekend.

Started reading last night and just finished it.

The first half of the book was truly a pleasant surprise. Creative, original, good writing, and interesting stories. The best part was how Gaiman mixed realistic modern life with magic and fantasy. I loved that. His prose had good rhythm, they ran smoothly like a beautiful river.

My favorites are the one about the black cat (“The Price”). “He looked like a small panther, and he moved like a patch of night.” and the one about Hollywood “The Goldfish Pool and Other Stories”. Or rather, i liked the courtyard in “The Goldfish Pool and Other Stories.” The main character’s friendship with the old black man. Their talks of past stars in that quiet courtyard. I always imagined there were leaves on the ground, damp and colorful, and the wind of the Fall blow through the desolate scene. All that used to be glorious are no longer, except the three gold fish running around and around in circles…

I walked out to my chalet through the rain, my overnight bag in my hand, clutching the set of keys that would, the desk clerk told me, get me through the various doors and gates. The air smelled of wet dust and, curiously enough, cough mixture. It was dusk, almost dark.

Water splashed everywhere. It ran in rills and rivulets across the courtyard. It ran into a small fishpond that jutted out from the side of wall in the courtyard.

The rain had stopped. The sunshine was warm and bright., proper Hollywood light. I walked up to the main building, walking on a carpet of crushed eucalyptus leaves – the cough medicine smell from the night before.

The other ones that I would recommend are “The Wedding Present”, which is hiding in his introduction; “Chivalry,” “Troll Bridge,” “Murder Mysteries,” and “Snow, Glass, Apples.”

These are cleverly written. Rich in originality and beautiful or tender imagination.

The rest fell back into the category of fantasy that i don’t care for, werewolf, vampire, and unnamed creatures took over something, someone, or someplace. The Stephen King stuff that would sure make you fear and sick to your stomach.

I also like what he wrote in his introduction, about writing.

Writing is flying in dreams.
When you remember. When you can. When it works。
It’s that easy.
–Author’s notebook, February 1992

Mirrors are wonderful things. They appear to tell the truth, to reflect life back out at us; but set a mirror correctly and it will lie so convincingly you’ll believe that something has vanished into thin air, that a box filled with doves and flags and spiders is actually empty, that people hidden in the wings or the pit are floating ghosts upon the stage. Angle it right and a mirror becomes a magic casement; it can show you anything you can imagine and maybe a few things you can’t.

Stories are, in one way or another, mirrors. We use them to explain to ourselves how the world works or how it doesn’t work. Like mirrors, stories prepare us for the day to come. They distract us from the things in the darkness.