Despite the category tag, this post isn’t going to be a review of Neil Gaiman’s Fragile Things. I DO recommend that you read it, though – it’s a wonderful collection of thoughtful and creative short fiction, and the poetry is the cherry atop the cake.
But, after many years of reading and re-reading Gaiman’s works, I think I’ve finally figured out what I don’t like about it. His writing is evocative, touching, technically brilliant, and highly memorable. So what’s wrong?
It’s all humans, all the time. Which is to say, Gaiman’s writing always has a universe which operates according to the principles of the human mind. All of the characters are anthropomorphic in their personalities (if not necessarily their forms), and their problems are human ones, despite their mind-numbing power. Even conditions such as being condemned to Hell are ultimately the choices of the humans involved – it’s the need for punishment that keeps the damned where they are, and if released they just create Hells around themselves wherever they end up.
Even Life and Death are a matter of personal choice, it’s hinted. Death of the Endless drops clues only very subtly, but there are some indication that in the Gaimanverse everyone chooses where they end up within the universe, so that not only are things like the Afterlife a matter of personal belief, but the Predeath is as well.
The problem is that this makes Gaiman’s entire fantasy multiverse nothing but a prison of inward-facing mirrors. There’s nothing fresh and unexpected that can be learned from, no break from the monotony of humanocentric existence, nothing beyond the familiar pattern of the self.
I cannot think of anything more depressing than an entire cosmos that worked on the principles of human prerational thought.