Stories edited by Neil Gaiman and Al Sarrantonio (2010) 496 p.

This dully-titled anthology features an incredible breadth of talent, ranging from chick-lit writers like Jodi Picoult to thriller writers like Jeffrey Deaver to Booker-prize winners like Roddy Doyle. This is part of the reason I bought it, but I suspect it actually ended up being a weakness rather than a strength – for every story I read tailored to my liking, I had to read several in genres I didn’t care for.

Despite Gaiman’s declaration in the introduction that he wanted to make an anthology of fantastic fiction (i.e. fantasy in the sense that the impossible can happen, not Tolkien-derivative fantasy), most authors paid only lip service to this notion and still wrote firmly within the genres they were comfortable with – Jodi Picoult wrote a story wringing every scrap of emotion she could out of the loss of a child (confirming my suspicion that she’s the kind of woman – yes, not author, but woman – who thrives on heartbreak and sadness), Jeffrey Deaver wrote a ham-fisted story about a murder and a court case, and in many cases the authors ignored Gaiman’s wish and didn’t even insert the token fantasy contributions that Picoult and Deaver did.

And in spite of all that – because I’m not actually genre-prejudiced, and don’t care whether the stories contained an element of “fantasy” or not provided they were good – this collection still falls short of the mark. There were only a handful of stories I really enjoyed: Joe R. Lansdale’s “The Stars Are Falling,” about a soldier returning home after World War I, “The Devil On The Staircase” by Joe Hill, and – surprisingly, given I wasn’t a fan of much of his previous work – “The Truth Is A Cave In The Black Mountains,” by Gaiman himself. (Speaking of Gaiman, two of the stories – Joanne Harris’ “Wildfire In Manhattan” and Michael Marshall Smith’s “Unbelief” – were heavily derivative of Gaiman’s novel American Gods, and I’m surprised he even considered them, let alone accepted them.)

Overall I was fairly disappointed. It’s not a bad collection – I was never exactly bored while reading it – but it did fail to match the expectations I had for an anthology from such a huge array of famous names.