Neil Gaiman and Ed Kramer, editors,
The Sandman: Book of Dreams
(HarperPrism, 1996)

Neil Gaiman's The Sandman was the first comic book I ever read, and that was long after the series was originally written. I was fascinated by the scope of the world Gaiman had created, by the sheer inventiveness of his storytelling, by the -- well, by everything about it, damn it!

Apparently, so were a lot of other people.

So Gaiman, being the nice guy that he is, invited these people (who are, incidentally, some of the best writers in the fantasy and horror fields) to put pen to paper and explore the characters he brought so vividly to life. Twenty authors contributed short stories that chart some more of the shifting territory of the endless realm known as the Dreaming.

Each story focuses on at least one of the characters from The Sandman, whether it's Tori Amos's discussion of her friendship with Death, reprinted from the introduction to Death: The High Cost of Living, or Caitlin R. Kiernan's chilling examination of Alvin-Wanda in "Escape Artist." Truth be told, there's not a bad story in the bunch; each author brings a distinctive style to Gaiman's characters.

Frank McConnell's "Preface" is a highly intelligent examination of the myths and literature that fuel The Sandman series. Colin Greenland's "Masquerade and High Water" introduces us to two new characters through the Dream King, and does so in a highly introspective, soul-searching way. "Chain Home, Low," by John M. Ford, takes us on a journey into the minds of those people who caught the "sleeping sickness" while Dream was captured, while Lisa Goldstein's "Stronger than Desire" examines an age-old question: which is stronger, love or desire?

Barbara Hambly sets her story right in the heart of the Dreaming; "Each Damp Thing" gives us another look at Cain and Abel and their sometimes funny, sometimes scary, relationship. "The Birth Day," by B.W. Clough, retells an old myth about the Lord Shaper and a tribe of wandering people, subtly playing off the romance that runs below the surface in much of Gaiman's stories about Dream. Will Shetterly takes us inside the Serial Killers Convention, along the way giving us a glimpse of how crazy book signings can sometimes get in his story "Splatter."

George Alec Effinger's "Seven Nights in Slumberland" is a charming story that plays off the popular "Little Nemo" cartoons, and Robert Rodi's "An Extra Smidgen of Eternity" is a beautifully touching story about what happens when you die before the story ends. Tad Williams writes a spooky little horror story, "The Writer's Child," while Lawrence Schimel pulls out all the stops with his brilliant "Endless Sestina." (And don't worry! Nice guy that he is, Gaiman tells those of us who don't know exactly what a sestina is.) Mark Kreighbaum's "The Gates of Gold" is a companion tale to Tad Williams's story -- light where the other is dark.

"A Bone Dry Place" includes several of the Endless, but Karen Haber's treatment of Delirium is one of the most delightful I've seen. Delia Sherman's gorgeous story, "The Witch's Heart," reads like a fairy tale, and is probably closest to something that Gaiman himself would have written. Nancy A. Collins figures out exactly where "The Mender of Broken Dreams" comes from in her fine story, and Gene Wolf speaks of the power of dreams and redemption in "Ain't You 'Most Done?"

Rounding out the collection is another fabulous Hungarian folk tale by Steven Brust ("Valosag and Elet") and Susanna Clarke's "Stopp't-Clock Yard" is a well-executed story about the boundaries between death and dreams.

Each story is introduced by Gaiman himself; these introductions are witty and revealing and MUCH TOO SHORT. Clive Barker also contributed an exotic and rather spooky drawing for the frontispiece and, as usual, Dave McKean did another knockout job on the cover.

Due to an unfortunate misunderstanding about contracts and all that other publishing stuff, several stories that were written for the anthology never saw print. Charles de Lint, Jane Yolen, Martha Soukup and Harlan Ellison all have Sandman stories floating around somewhere; I know that de Lint's story was eventually published with his latest collection of stories. A few other authors, such as Karawynn Long, went ahead and posted their stories on their own Web sites. A little savvy Internet searching will probably turn those up for you.

Despite these problems, though, the stories that did make it into the anthology are excellent. It's a true testament to the power of a story when you can fill almost 300 pages with tributes. The Sandman: Book of Dreams is just that: a powerful tribute to the storytelling genius of Neil Gaiman, who, being the nice guy that he is, would never let it go to his head.

Instead, he just writes more amazing stories. I'm sure a Neverwhere anthology is in the works.

[ by Audrey M. Clark ]