Sandman: Book of Dreams is a short story collection edited by Neil Gaiman and Ed Kramer, based on Gaiman’s best-selling Sandman comic. Effectively it is a licensed fanfiction anthology, in the best possible way.
The premise of the Sandman franchise is difficult to describe in one paragraph. The main character is the personification of dreams and fiction, and as such is called Dream. Dream and his six alliterative siblings, names all beginning with D, are responsible for the emotional and psychological facets of every plausible universe. Besides Dream, the most important Endless person is Death, who is consistently written to be the Coolest Woman in the World. The video clip for ‘The Killing Moon’ best encapsulates the creepy feeling of the Sandman.
Sandman is a really great comic, encompassing a veritable smorgasbord of genres and expectations. The main theme is the necessity and inevitability of change. My guess is that Book of Dreams was commissioned by DC Comics to lure those who see Literature and Comics as distinct into reading the Sandman.
On the back of the book’s dust-jacket there is a list of authors, most of whom I don’t recognise. Clive Barker is listed as a contributor, although all he contributed was a picture of Death. Now it was a very nice picture, but I was disappointed that there wasn’t a creepy Barker story. I know one of his stories would have fitted right in, I’ve read Abarat. Another familiar name is Gene Wolfe. I haven’t read any of his books, maybe I’ve read him in a Year’s Best SF anthology. His story, ‘Ain’t You Most Done’, was enjoyable in the protagonist’s dreamlike acceptance of a suddenly becoming a successfully country singer.
‘The Writer’s Child’ by Tad Williams was another notable story. It was a two-streamed story, about a pedophile’s fantasy about his daughter and how her teddy bear rescues her. (This IS the Book of Dreams we’re talking about here!) What made this story great was the dread that the father would get what he wanted, and the relief when the girl escaped. I detected similarities in the girl’s first person narration to Christabell Sorenson, a character from William’s Otherland series. The first Otherland book was published the same year as the Book of Dreams, so maybe Williams was just in the habit of writing from a young girl’s perspective at the time. I guess most authors have stock characters that they can use in different scenarios, and a convincing young girl is one of William’s.
Another story worth mentioning is Susanna Clarke’s ‘Stopp’d Clock Yard’. I didn’t like it all that much. The style reminded me of Johnathon Strange and Mr Norrell, which I just couldn’t get into. If you liked Clarke’s first book, I’m confident you’ll like her story in the Book of dreams.
Other memorable stories include George Alec Effinger’s ‘Seven Nights In Slumberland’ which is a Little Nemo crossover, Barbara Hambly’s ‘Each Dark Thing’ which is focalised through the psychotically vindictive Cain, and Will Shetterly’s ‘Splatter’ which takes place at a convention for Serial Killers.
I understand that DC Comics weren’t all that super towards the authors who submitted stories for the book. Many stories were withdrawn, including ones by Harlan Ellison and Jane Yolen. The book’s Wikipedia page provides a few terse details and links to two stories that didn’t get into the final product. Michael Berry’s ‘Merv Pumpkinhead’s Big Night Out‘ does a really good job of capturing the voice of the handyman, but I haven’t got round to reading Karawynn Long’s ‘The Voice of Her Eyes.’ If I were DC Comics I’d send fruit baskets to all the authors alienated by the project mismanagement, and beg to have their stories included in some sort of anniversary edition.
The Book of Dreams will be best received amongst fans of horror, fantasy and maybe even science-fiction. I’d recommend reading the complete Sandman series before this book, in order to understand the characters and their context. The foreword gives a very general synopsis of what’s going on, but you’ll enjoy the book more if you’ve read the series. I say go read all of the Sandman, and then read this.