Sunday, 24 November 2013

Unnatural Creatures

Level: Adult
Genre: Fantasy
Obtained: Borrowed from a friend
Reviewed by: Nic Echo

One word: Amazing! This cover is absolutely spectacular! The design, font, colouring, and placement for Unnatural Creatures is practically perfect. It's a mix of the fantastic and a little bit of horror, which sums of this book nicely. As for how well it grabs someone's attention, well, I had at least five people ask what I was reading when I had this out. It's a cover that looks interesting and makes one think what the pages hold.

About the Book:
New York Times bestselling author, Neil Gaiman, has complied several short stories from a variety of authors, all of which write about fantastical creatures of some sort. Some you will know, like a werewolf or a griffin, while others come from the depths of pure imagination. 

Rating: 9/10
What a fantastic read! I remember seeing this in the bookstore, but I ended up deciding against it as it was simply stories chosen by Neil Gaiman (though he did write one of the stories). However, a friend suggested that I read it, and I am bound to purchase my own copy so that I can reread at my leisure. Like many short story collections, Unnatural Creatures is full of marvelous reads, some mediocre, and a few that didn't quite live up to the others in my opinion. Granted, I only found two out of sixteen boring. One was because I found it to be much too predictable nor did the writing save it from its predictableness. The second was boring to me due to the writing style. Don't get me wrong, Yu was an excellent writer, but that doesn't always make an enjoyable piece. Now, I will also be looking into the short stories one by one, but as for the collection as an overall whole: Unnatural Creatures held many wonderful reads that were full of imagination and the unusual. They all easily had a connecting theme. Some were more whimsical while others were more terrifying, but all were fantastical. I certainly would suggest giving it a read.

Inksplot by Gahan Wilson      
What an amazing story! Though I had read something with a similar concept in Stephen King's "The Raft," I found this had something quite unique to it. The basic premise was Archer notices a small black spot on his tablecloth. This spot is not normal as it moves and grows every time you look away from it. Although that is a fun and eerie concept in itself, what really made this story was the illustrations that came with it. You get to see the spot grow and change throughout the pages. "Inksplot" was fantastic, and I would certainly recommend it more if possible (only recently found a title for it that could be pronounced).

The Cartographer Wasps and the Anarchist Bees by E. Lily Yu
No offence to Ms. Yu as she is an excellent writer, but I found this story completely boring. It was like one of those books you read in school where you can see what the author is writing about. However, since the text made your mind so numb that message completely passed you by. She does a lovely job of giving the insects human traits and shows how society can be taken over and its effects on the young. It was just a shame that it bored me to tears.

The Griffin and the Minor Canon by Frank R. Stockton
This was a story that was bot uplifting and sad. Although I wouldn't place it as great, I would still say that it was good. A griffin learns that there is a statue in his likeness in a town so he decides to go down to see it. The villagers are much frightened of him and have the minor canon speak with him. Again, driven by fear, the villagers convince the minor canon to leave and hope the griffin will follow. This does not work out as planned, but I rather not spoil the ending. Although the story may be more quit than many may like, it is still well written with emotion. I really liked the bittersweet ending and the friendship that developed between the griffin and the minor canon. Was it a favourite? No where close, but it still brought a smile to my face.

Ozioma the Wicked by Nnedi Okorafor
This was one of those stories that was just there. That isn't to say that it was awful or tedious. However, it certainly didn't have a lasting impression on me. Truthfully, the only thing I really recall from this is snakes. The main characters is shunned since she is able to talk to them. Someone at the village is attacked by a snake. Ozioma talks to it and later a goddess appears. Nothing much happened. Personally, I wouldn't recommend this one.

Sunbird by Neil Gaiman
I really ended up liking this one (though admittedly I may be a bit of a bias Neil Gaiman fanboy). This group of people have eaten everything, including unicorn meat, so now they are bored with their cuisine. Crowcrustle, one of the members, suggest they try sunbird (aka a phoenix). Gaiman has a way of really making you want to figure out what is up his sleeve (well, he has this effect on me, at least), and he gives you several red herrings. Like Stockton's "The Griffin and the Minor Canon," what brought this read up was the ending (actually that happens a lot in these shorts). The overall read was still quite enjoyable and had a nice trotting pace to it. I would certainly recommend "Sunbird" (though again I am a Gaiman fanboy).

The Sage of Theare by Diana Wynne Jones
Okay, I was really excited for this take as I love love LOVED Diana Wynne Jones' Howl's Moving Castle. "The Sage of Theare" was a bit of a let down. Like Okorafor's "Ozioma the Wicked," I really couldn't remember much from it. Basically, a child is born who will cause the people to question the gods and the gods to fall into chaos. It sounded really interesting, but as I said, it was easily forgettable.

Gabriel-Ernest by Saki (aka H.H. Munro)
This was another one that ended on high on the scale. It's basically just a werewolf story, but Saki is able to put such an unnatural feel to his work. "Gabriel-Ernest" feels wrong and deadly and really it was this tone that made this story so thrilling for me. The ending really brought that tone home, slamming it down with full force. Highly recommended.

The Cockotoucan; or Great-Aunt Willoughby by E. Nesbit
Nesbit certainly ended up writing quite the colourful story. To put it bluntly, it was whimsical. Matilda ends up in a marvelous kingdom, but things change every time the cockotoucan laughs, causing chaos to spread. She must use her new found clever ways to figure out how to set everything right. The story itself was fun, and I could see many people liking it. For me, well, it wasn't a favourite. It was a cute tale and little more, but for those who love a childlike quality in their fantasy, this would be a great story.

Moveable Beast by Maria Dahrana Headley
This was another one of those tales that delved in the dark. The plot itself is simple. Our main character follows a man into the forest, and he is planning on capturing the beast. Really the thrill of this tale is the buildup of the beast, and I would say it pays off. The downfall is that the story isn't as great of a reread than some of the others in this collection. 
The Flight of the Horse by Larry Niven
Honestly, I had found "The Flight of the Horse" extremely boring when I had first started it. However, the end really bumped it up so that I was lovingly telling people about this tale. The premise of this story is that it is the future and all the horses are dead. A child of someone with a lot of power sees a pictures of one and wants one so Svete is sent back 1000 years in time to obtain one. As I said, it started out slow, but the ending certainly made it worth the read! Hilarious!

Prismatica by Samuel R. Delaney
 This was probably my favourite story in this collection. "Prismatica" has a very folklore feel to it. Amos gets roped into an adventure with a grey man, who is looking for three mirror shards. Along the way, Amos finds The Prince of the Far Rainbow, who the mirror was originally for. Amos must use his wit to help the prince and get him his prize. Personally, I loved getting to see how Amos and The Prince of the Far Rainbow would figure out the puzzles before them. The grey man's "nearest and dearest friend" was also a lot of fun as all you see is a box and hear several odd noises erupt from it. I certainly was aching to see what was in the box. If you're a fan of the folklore style, you are bound to love this. If not, well, it may end up lower on your preferences.

The Manticore, The Mermaid, and Me by Megan Kurashige
This was the other story that I felt just wasn't all that great. Where "The Cartographer Wasps and the Anarchists Bees" was well written yet dull by my standards, "The Manticore, The Mermaid, and Me" just seemed lack luster nonly or extremely inventive. In this story, the main character and Matthew, her good friend, end up at a museum where one of the caretakers creates chimera type creatures. The story has the creatures come to life, and although I won't ruin the ending, everything was very predictable. Granted, you can have a fun story even if the plot outcome is as clear as day. However, the writing in this didn't elevate the work, leaving us with something quite mediocre.

The Compleat Werewolf by Anthony Boucher (aka William Anthony Parker White) (aka H. H. Holmes)
First, the downfall: it's a pretty generic werewolf story. Sure there are a few differences such as Wolf has control in his candid form, and small things were changed so that I wasn't looking at the same cookie cutter shape. However, it still felt generic to me. The story is as follows: Professor Wolfe Wolf  is upset as Gloria turned down his proposal as he wasn't an actor or a G-man, something exciting. Well, one day Wolfe meets Ozzy, who tells Wolf that he is a werewolf. Wolfe decides to use his newfound gift to try to win back Gloria. "The Compleat Werewolf" certainly had aspects that made it different, such as how one transforms and how to tell if one is a werewolf. I also really enjoyed the last paragraph (it made me smile). The story overall was a little too bland for my tastes however.

The Smile on the Face by Nalo Hopkinson
Althought the plot itself was interesting, I really felt what made this stand out was how well Hopkinson was able to portray teenagers. It's not an easy thing to do. Gilla is a teenage girl who ends up swallowing a seed. Afterwards, she starts thinking thoughts that aren't like her at all, and things only become more odd in the end. As I said, the fantasy aspect was certainly fun, and I really liked that something so simple could change our thoughts so severely. However, as stated, it really was the portrayal of being a teenager that went over so well. Hopkinson nailed it on how cruel teenagers can be for those who hit puberty early on or happen to be bigger. A wonderful read.

Or All the Seas with Oysters by Avram Davidson
Like many of these wonderful tales, "Or All the Seas with Oysters" is another fun read. The concept is simple but one that brings forth both a smile to your face and a tremor in your heart. "Or All the Seas with Oysters" deals with how some animals look like objects in nature, but it brings it to the city. It's why your safety pins go missing and your hangers somehow multiply. A very fun read that is easy to expand on in one's imagination.

Come Lady Death by Peter S. Beagle
This was one of those tales where you could easily see the way it would unfold. However, Peter S. Beagle manages to pen a beautiful tale. Of course, this might just be my love for the 18th century talking. The plot for the story is Lady Neville is known for throwing the best parties, and this time she plans on inviting Death. What made me love this story was Lady Neville's idea of Death and how Death must live in London with the other aristocrats as that is where all the important people are. It's just so brilliant! Really what makes this a fantastic read is the characters in "Come Lady Death." You have the poet with a mixture of fear and fascination, a lady who is completely terrified, and a gentleman who remains frightened yet courtly. Beagle really manages to capture the times and like many of these short stories, I would recommend this one as well.                        

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