I’ll admit it: I picked up Unnatural Creatures: Stories Selected by Neil Gaiman from the bookstore shelf because it carried Neil Gaiman‘s name on the front. A collection of short stories focused on fantastical creatures “that exist only in our minds,” each is a golden nugget by writers both classic and new, every one an enjoyable and creative read.
Which is why I was more than a little disappointed to put Unnatural Creatures down after the last story. Introduced by a short paragraph by Gaiman, each tale was a refreshing and creative new creature, each defying or belying any fairy tale paradigm.
In addition to more traditional creatures like the griffin and phoenix, there are the cartographer wasps and anarchist bees, time travelers inadvertently stealing away history’s fantastical creatures, multidimensional dots, and a werewolf against Nazi spies. Some are fun, others dark, and nearly all have a twist that leaves a smile.
In “The Compleat Werewolf” by Anthony Boucher we find Professor Wolfe Wolf, who is mocked behind his back by his associates and students as “woof woof.” It is California in the 1940s, though, and Nazis are more a danger to America than werewolves.
In “Prismatica,” Samuel R. Delany writes an homage to James Thurber with the tale of the poor but clever Amos, who will journey to the deepest swamp, to meet the North Wind, and to a land of many colors in search of his fortune.
The incomparable Larry Niven is here, as well, with a story of a time traveler from a time when the horse is extinct and the General Secretary wants one for his birthday. However, information about what exactly a horse looks like is sparse, almost as sparse as information about the middle ages. The result is a humorous and grin inducing trip to the middle ages.
The sixteen tales of Unnatural Creatures are as creative as the creatures they feature, and with them Gaiman has produced a book as interesting and complete as any that he might have written himself.
Review first published as “Book Review: ‘Unnatural Creatures,′ Edited by Neil Gaiman” on Blogcritics.org.
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