BOOK REVIEW: The Sandman, Vol. 1: Preludes and Nocturnes by Neil Gaiman

The Sandman Vol. 1: Preludes & NocturnesThe Sandman Vol. 1: Preludes & Nocturnes by Neil Gaiman
My rating: 5 of 5 stars Page

In this, the first, eight-issue volume of Sandman, we’re introduced to Morpheus / Dream – the king of dreams & nightmares and one of the seven Endless – when he’s captured by an amateur occultist who was trying to kidnap Death [the (not-so Grim) Reaper and also Dream’s sister.] The story told in “Preludes and Nocturnes” is one of Dream’s captivity, escape, and the subsequent missions to reacquire three magic artifacts that were stolen from him when he was captured (i.e. his bag of sand, helmet, and ruby-like jewel.) That last sentence makes it sound like a far-out fantasy, but it’s really a relatable and human set of stories.

This imaginative and compelling opening volume is at its best with “24 Hours” (as well as “Passengers,” the issue that precedes “24 Hours” and sets up its story.) In “24 Hours,” escaped villain, John Dee, torments the occupants of a smalltown diner by manipulating their reality (a capability he achieved when he came into possession of Dream’s “ruby.”) It’s a story that’s both horrifying and thought-provoking as Dee forces the diners to shed the masks of polite society and get to know the uncensored versions of each other.

Another favorite is the concluding issue, “The Sound of Her Wings,” which is really more of an epilogue, given the story has been brought to a successful and satisfying conclusion with the penultimate issue. “The Sound of Her Wings” introduces us to Death (the kinder, more charismatic, and more articulate Gaiman-version of the Grim Reaper) and shows us interaction between Dream and Death as Dream learns a crucial lesson from his sister.

“Sandman” is an excellent series, and the volume where it all began is no exception. I’d highly recommend it for readers in general.

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BOOK REVIEW: The Dreaming, Vol. 1: Pathways & Emanations by Simon Spurrier

Pathways and Emanations (The Dreaming, #1)Pathways and Emanations by Simon Spurrier
My rating: 5 of 5 stars Page

This title is part of the “Sandman extended universe” that was spurred by the success of Neil Gaiman’s comic about the lord of dream realm –“the Dreaming” being said realm of dreams and nightmares. The Dreaming is usually presided over by Dream of the Endless, one of seven siblings commanding various domains. In this story, Dream is gone, no one knows where. Readers of Sandman will remember that in the original run Dream is kidnapped and imprisoned for 70 years. This isn’t the same disappearance (it’s not even the same “Dream,” but as he’s not a major figure in this book, there’s no need to elaborate.) While this may seem like a rehash, the Sandman story was focused on the character of Dream and mostly took place in our world, occasionally visiting the Dreaming as relevant to Dream’s story. This story is all about what happens within the Dreaming when the master is away, allowing decay, internal treachery, and the potential for invasion.

The story heavily focuses on three characters: Lucien, Mervyn, and Dora. One of the things this story does well is to build a tension between Lucien and Mervyn, a tension that is relatable and contributes substantially to the turmoil within the story. Lucien is ordinarily the librarian, and he’s a scholarly fellow who is an excellent librarian but is in over his head running the Dreaming (especially as he’s trying to keep it a secret that Dream has vanished so as to avoid panic or invite attacks.) Mervyn (Pumpkin-head) is like the head of maintenance, a blue-collar stiff who doesn’t know Dream is gone and thinks Lucien is making a powerplay and has bitten off more than he can chew. Dora is a mysterious rogue of a character who we don’t know much about other than that she’s not from the Dreaming (but lives there with Dream’s permission,) she’s quite powerful, and she does her own thing — which often runs her afoul of the staff of the Dreaming.

I felt this volume offered an entertaining story and resolved it nicely, while setting up for continued chaos in additional volumes. If you enjoyed the Sandman comics, this book is definitely worth a read.

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The Naked Dream [Free Verse]

There is a dream
in which one is naked.

But no one is looking at you,...

And that is so much worse;
the anticipation of being gawked at 
is more disconcerting 
than being gawked at.

And, yet, one can't bring oneself 
to shout,
attracting onlookers, 
so as to end the misery of anticipation.

One can only sit with one's naked
expectations --
wading in anxiety.

Cold Shore [Free Verse]

Was it a lifetime ago,
or was it a dream?

I remember it being a 
long drive to a cold shore.

And I sat alone
on that shore,
and I sought a shark --
not out in the waters,
but within myself. 

Finding nothing,
I felt the thing to do
was to 
rattle in rhythm with
the twisted hustle of
pounding waves,

and I awoke, 
shivering under piercing
points of light
that somehow felt cold,
made me feel cold -
deep inside.

BOOK REVIEW: Sandman Vol. 2: The Doll’s House by Neil Gaiman

The Sandman Vol. 2: The Doll's House - 30th Anniversary EditionThe Sandman Vol. 2: The Doll’s House – 30th Anniversary Edition by Neil Gaiman
My rating: 5 of 5 stars Page

“The Doll’s House” story arc is the second volume in the original run of “Sandman,” and consists of issues #9 – 16. After a prologue that tells an African tribal myth about a love between a mortal woman and a god, the other seven issues tell the story of Rose Walker, a young woman whose mere existence will become a threat to the Dreaming (the world of dreams and the dominion of Morpheus, god of dreams.) The prologue story introduces concepts helpful for the main story, but does not otherwise share characters or plot details with the larger arc.

The volume presents a clean and satisfying story. Gaiman is among the most superb developers of stories within stories such that his serial work always leaves the reader satisfied. The troubles that play out in this volume result from Morpheus’s (a.k.a. Dream’s) earlier incarceration [volume 1,] but one learns what one needs to follow it during the telling of this story. Besides the issue of Rose Walker, there were escapes and shenanigans in the Dreaming owing to the lack of proper supervision. Morpheus has to fix these problems without a clear picture of what has happened.

Gaiman creates a story that is at once engrossing and humorous. The story reaches its heights in both regards in the issue called “Collectors,” [a.k.a. “The Doll’s House, Part Five”] which involves Rose Walker’s stay in a hotel that is holding a convention that is nominally for the breakfast cereal industry, but is – in fact – for serial killers and collectors of human beings (or artifacts, thereof.) The world of Sandman is gripping and brilliantly creative, and I highly recommend this book.

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Dream Door [Triolet]

I dreamt the door looked out upon treetops
and I could walk out on blue sky and cloud
and see the world as would a tall cyclops.
I dreamt the door looked out upon treetops,
but in my dream I plunged into the copse.
Sky walking proved more dream than was allowed.
I dreamt the door looked out upon treetops,
but could I walk out to blue sky and cloud?

POEM: Subway to Dreamland


I flicker into sleep

like a bad fluorescent.

Then, the drift, floating down.

Nothing said, nothing meant.

So ends the subway to dreamland.

In the bowels, in the dark,

below the city of my mind,

lurking in a world so stark.

In dreamland, random rules.

Any change can happen here.

A tiny flea bloats big,

the sum of all your fears.

No childhood toy is free

from being terror’s shill.

To dance you into darkness,

little Teddy fits the bill.

But here you can script flip.

If you can keep your sense.

You see the secret that few know,

 your mind pays all the rent.

FLASH FICTION: Bob Newhart with a Gun

Attribution: Jim Wallace (Smithsonian Institution) Bob, Bob! Why do you want to kill me? Bob.

Attribution: Jim Wallace (Smithsonian Institution)
Bob, Bob! Why do you want to kill me? Bob.

In my dream I remember running, running away from Bob Newhart, a revolver gripped tightly in the comedic actor’s hand. I don’t know whether it was supposed to be Bob Newhart the person, or if my subconscious thought that Bob Newhart was the best actor to convey life’s dark comedy. I knew why Newhart was chasing me.  I worked in a machine shop and had a less than reliable partner who had apparently made a wild promise that our little shop could never deliver upon. It must have been important to Newhart. So I understood why Bob Newhart was mad and I accepted it. If it was me, I might be homicidal too—because I just rage that way sometimes. Still, I didn’t want to die because I was associated with a dodgy rogue. I guess that’s what the dream was about.

There was a kid with me–not my kid–at least I don’t think the dream ran that far afield. I’m willing to accept that my subconscious would see me as a machinist—a career unlike any in my bookish résumé. Furthermore, I can fathom that my subconscious imagining Bob Newhart wanting to kill me with a snub-nosed revolver—even if for something that was not my fault. However, I can’t imagine my subconscious thinking I would have a kid.

Anyway, Newhart saw us as he was maniacally driving a car toward the machine shop. We, the kid and I, were walking down the sidewalk away from the shop, having just closed up for a glorious summer afternoon in the way of slackers everywhere. I don’t know where my shady partner was, the unreliable always escape unscathed—maybe that’s what the dream was about.

I saw the murderous gleam in Newhart’s eye, and turned to run back to the shop. I grabbed the kid by the arm and tugged him in that direction—maybe I do have some paternal instinct. My plan was to get into the shop, lock the door, and call the unreliable person to come and get shot by an enraged Bob Newhart. However, in the panic of thinking that Newhart, who had done a bootlegger-180 with his car and was now driving straight for us, was going to crush us under the car, I forgot to lock the door behind us. (Or maybe there are no working locks in dreamland.) Locking the door was, after all, the one good part of the plan. (I don’t know what I had been thinking about calling the unreliable person, unreliable people never show up when you call them–they show up at 2:30am on a Sunday morning wanting to borrow $20 and a condom.)

Anyway, Newhart parked legally, but when he got out I saw the snub-nosed revolver in his hand, framed perfectly in the window in a way that can only happen in dreams. I ushered the kid around a partition wall that separated the small storefront from the shop beyond.

Newhart was walking like one of those geriatric mall-walkers, or like a man who’d drunk a 32 oz. cola and driven six hours only to get to a rest-stop restroom that was probably locked. When Newhart threw open the door, the little bell tinkled cheerfully—the bell clearly didn’t know what was about to go down. As I rounded the partition wall, pushing the kid into the darkened shop, I picked up a steel pipe. Despite the perennial advice that one should never bring a steel pipe to a gunfight, I felt a cool calm wash over me. (Maybe it was that I knew gun-toting men Newhart’s age usually shot blanks in their dreams.) Anyway, I hid in wait.

Then I woke up. I’ll never know whether Newhart shot me or whether I bludgeoned one of America’s beloved comedic elder statesmen to death with a steel pipe. Maybe both would have happened. Maybe neither. I know if I go back to sleep, the dream won’t resume. They never do. I’ll never know. Maybe I don’t want to know. Maybe that’s the point of the dream.