TagNeil Gaiman

Review: THE DJINN FALLS IN LOVE & other stories

Mahvesh Murad and Jared Shurin‘s THE DJINN FALLS IN LOVE & other stories is a stunning anthology of multicultural perspectives on the various lives and natures of the creatures known alternately as Djinn, Jinn, or Genies. Each story is, in its own way, breathtaking, heart-wrenching, melancholy, and joyous; at once familiar and fundamentally alien and Other. Which is precisely as it should be for a collection about the places where the lives of these beings intersect with our own.

As Murad and Shurin note in the introduction, almost every Asian culture—as well as many North and East African cultures—has something like a Djinn. The creature that burns brightly, made of smokeless fire, or fireless smoke; that grants wishes, or resolutely does not; that knows of our desires, tastes them, feels them, and seeks to make them real; or twists them to show us our ignorance, our selfishness, our folly. The Genie of the Lamp, the Ring, the Rug; the Djinni made by God, before humans, capable of a form of salvation and divine communion that humans could never fully grasp; the Jinn, who see us and know us, but perhaps don’t quite fully understand us. And whom we don’t quite fully understand. This book opens a window onto them all.

After the introduction, the anthology opens with the eponymous poem, by Mohamed Magdy, whose pen name is “Hermes.” If you read our previous review, then you are perhaps struck by what it means for the name Hermes to appear writing in Arabic to explore the concept of the place where divinity and humanity meet, where love and compulsion and and possession and freedom are one thing. It is the title poem, for a reason.

Kamila Shamsie‘s “The Congregation” is a story about what it means to sacrifice and what it takes to shape yourself in the name of love. Love of yourself, and love of others. Family.

Kuzhali Manickavel‘s “How We Remember You” is about that place in which the cruelty of youth sits within the vault of guilty memory. About being confronted with the miraculous, the divine, the otherworldly, and needing to bleed it of that so that it might prove itself to you. About understanding that you’ll never get to understand what you broke and what you stole.

Claire North‘s “Hurrem And the Djinn” is a story about expectations regarding the type of power women wield, about a refusal to respect that power or assess those expectations, and about how that chain of events can come to spell disaster.

J.Y. Yang‘s “Glass Lights” is about desire. Want. Need. About what a creature made to sate desires, might desire for herself. About how little we understand of what it takes and means to grant a wish.

Monica Byrne‘s “Authenticity” is about desire, too, but desire as a brutal hunger. A dreamlike touch and taste, moving from once thought, one touch, one node of resonance to the next. Desire felt in the visceral urges and needs, in the juice from bitten orange, the abrasion of rough sand.

Helene Wecker‘s “Majnun” is about loss and loneliness. About seeking redemption in the whole of what you are, by paradoxically denying what you have been. About abjuring that which made you happy, and the question of whether you get to make that choice for anyone but yourself.

Maria Dahvana Headley‘s “Black Powder” is about desire twisted into regret, about time and hate and family. A story about killing what you love, and loving what you kill. About someone loving you enough to stop you, so everything can start again. It begins with a paragraph that stars “The rifle in this story is a rifle full of wishes” and ends “Maybe all rifles seem as though they might grant a person the only thing they’ve ever wanted.”

[The cover image to THE DJINN FALLS IN LOVE & other stories]

Amal El-Mohtar‘s “A Tale of Ash in Seven Birds” is about being hunted, being driven, being forced and tricked to change yourself, for the sake of another, and about what you can become when you finally learn to anticipate those tricks, and embrace that change for yourself.

James Smythe‘s “The Sand in the Glass is Right” is about thinking that if you just had a little more time you could finally get it right, and about the many ways you can be told that maybe there’s no “right” to get.

Sami Shah‘s “Reap” is about the many ways the 21st century puts the lie to the idea that we are any of us disconnected, detached, objective. About the ways in which what we put out comes back to us.

Catherina Faris King‘s “Queen of Sheba” is about dreams and legacies, about the traditions we pass down from one generation to the next, and about what’s going on in all those houses with the well-lit windows while noir detectives are out there in the dark.

E.J. Swift‘s “The Jinn Hunter’s Apprentice” is about the future of our relationship with the magical and the strange. Is about what might happen if we as a species make our way up and out only to find that some of our oldest companions came along for the ride. Or were already there, waiting.

K.J. Parker‘s “Message in a Bottle” is about duality and trust. It’s about who we think we are and know ourselves to be, and the paralyzing fear that comes with being shown that what we thought we knew—about ourselves, or about our world—is supposition and speculation at best.

Saad Z. Hossain‘s “Bring Your Own Spoon” is about building community in the face of degradation, in the face of people trying to strip every last bit of person-ness from you. It’s about the warmth and joy that come from sharing a meal with a friend, and about the hope that meal can bring, even in the face of all evidence to the contrary.

Neil Gaiman’s “Somewhere in America” is about need and power and fear and the ability to finally understand an give yourself over to what you truly want. It’s about finding your way in a new place and accepting a new role, and never, ever granting wishes.

Jamal Mahjoub‘s “Duende 2077” is about find oneself in suspicion and fear, and the place we might all find ourselves if authoritarianism took hold and stamped out all opposition. It’s about the voices that whisper of revolution and revolt, and it’s about the understanding that those voices’ interests might not be recognizable to us, on the other side of that fear.

Sophia Al-Maria‘s “The Righteous Guide of Arabsat” is about letting fear rule you, letting it twist you, letting it push you away from everything you claim you desire, and toward a cracked, desperate version of yourself. It’s about refusing to see what’s right in front of you.

Kristy Logan‘s “The Spite House” is about a world in which the social pressures of otherworldly neighbours cause humans to make blandly evil choices. It’s about being trapped in our own need and hatred, and about needing to push that off onto someone else, to make them responsible for the thing you wanted all along.

Usman T. Malik‘s “The Emperors of Jinn” is about the monstrousness of having every desire immediately sated, about the innocent and casually evil lives of spoiled children. It’s about what that lack of limitation might cause us to become, and about the forces we might unleash when we demand the same instant gratification of time and history and divinity itself.

Nnedi Okorafor‘s “History” is about celebrity and about being a part of something much larger than you could ever hope to comprehend. It’s about not needing or wanting to comprehend it, but knowing that you’ve done your part to make that thing real.

But that’s just some of what all of these stories are about, and I’ve told you nothing of the richness and lushness of the settings, the depth of the characters, the feel of these worlds. Many of these stories are masterful expressions of the short story form, in that they are finished in themselves, giving whole windows onto complete arcs, with the fullness of a world behind them. And some of these stories instead offer keyhole glimpses onto sections, snippets of lives that make you want more and more, whole books and series worth of more. Which is to say that every story in this anthology is pretty much perfect.


You can get THE DJINN FALLS IN LOVE & other stories pretty much everywhere.

Neil Gaimon Interview from 1993

I’ve been looking for this article for a long time. This particular quote was really important for me:

My old school got me in a few times to do “careers advice.” I was the token writer, and people would come up to me and say “How do I get to be a writer?” and I said “Well, first of all, if you can do anything else, do that. You know, there are lots of other things you can do that are an awful lot more fun, pay a lot better, will let you sleep far easier.” [laughs]

I also really like this bit:

Your fans are known as serious gift-givers. Jill Thompson says you’ve probably gotten more tapes than any writer at Musician magazine.

NEIL: Most of the tapes I’m given are terrible. You know, Scandanavian death-metal or whatever. You know: [sings in a deep, slightly American voice] “Oh, Morpheus, come down from the sky and give me good dreams CHA-DUNG CHA-DUNG CHA-DUNG” or one guy accompanies himself on a harmonium or whatever.

Well, that last one sounds interesting…

NEIL: It wasn’t. But I still play them. I had a tape given to me in San Diego a couple of years ago by somebody who said “A friend of mine is a huge Sandman fan, she’s just recorded this, she wants you to have it, she talks about you on one of the songs.” About three weeks later I got around to playing it, and it was terrific. Absolutely stunning. There was an address on it, and I wrote to her and said, “I think it’s wonderful, and thank you very much for mentioning me on the song,” and that was Tori Amos, and that was the tape that later became a number of tracks on Little Earthquakes.

Full Story: Neil Gaiman Interview, Hero Illustrated #4 (October 1993)

I’d give that same advice to anyone else considering a career in writing. I tried to find something else I could do for living, but I was never able to.

I thought I remembered a part with him talking about deciding to become a journalist, but I guess it was a different interview from around the same time. I did find this interview with him telling more or less the same story:

I’d always wanted to be a writer and I had a really bad night, the kind of long dark night of the soul, one of those nights you only get once or twice in a lifetime and I got one when I was about 20. I remember being unable to sleep and about four in the morning I keep thinking “I keep thinking I’m a writer. I like to think I could write stuff just as good as anybody else out there but I’m not really doing anything about it.” And that’s not the bad thing. What’s the bad thing is that in 50 or 60 years time I could be on my deathbed and I would say to myself, “I could’ve been a writer,” and I wouldn’t know if I was lying or not. It was the long dark night of the soul that genuinely changes everything. So I said “Okay, I’m gonna try and be a writer because even if I’m not, at least I’ll know that I’m not.” So I started writing. I wrote a children’s book, I wrote a bunch of short stories, and a lot of other stuff and sent them out to people . . .and the stories came back. Then I thought, “I’m doing this wrong. Either I’m not a very good writer (which I choose not to believe), or I’m doing this wrong. I want to understand how publishing and all that works. So I got up the next morning and said, “All right, I’m now a journalist. I’m a freelance journalist.” So I got on the phone to editors and pitched them story ideas about things I wanted to write and by the end of the day—by dint of lying cheerfully about previous experience—I now had several commissions and then had to turn them in.

FWOMP: And how did that go?

Neil Gaiman: It actually went fine although I must say as long as I had a typewriter, which was probably the next couple of years, there was a piece of paper taped to it that said, “Don’t let your mouth write no check that your tail can’t cash.” I think that’s a quote from Muddy Waters. And every now and then it would make me think, “I just got myself into a book contract. How the fuck did that happen? What do I do? I’ve never written a book and now I have a book contract.” So I’d write books. But it was good. There’s nothing for getting you good fast like having to be good fast, if that makes any sense.

Karen Berger, Comics’ Mother of “the Weird Stuff,” Is Moving On

The New York Times has a profile of Karen Berger, the editor of Vertigo Comics. Berger announced earlier this year that she is leaving Vertigo. The Times has no update on what she’s doing next.

For the roster of artists she leaves behind, Ms. Berger’s exit raises questions about the future of Vertigo and where its renegade spirit fits into an industry and a company that seem increasingly focused on superhero characters who can be spun off into movies and TV shows.

“It’s really hard to tell at this stage,” said Mr. Gaiman, a best-selling novelist and fiction writer who was scouted by Ms. Berger in the 1980s. “That was DC Comics, now we have DC Entertainment. It is a different beast, being run by different people.”

Sitting in a DC conference room a few days ago and surrounded by shelves of Vertigo titles that she published, Ms. Berger, a soft-spoken woman of 55, said she quit to pursue new challenges. “It’s time to ply my storytelling skills elsewhere,” she said. […]

Comic sales have fallen off substantially, Mr. Morrison said, and the qualities that defined Vertigo’s titles have become widely imitated. They have “bled into the mainstream in such a way that you almost didn’t need it anymore.”

Mr. Morrison said he could still remember when his Vertigo series “Sebastian O,” about an assassin in Victorian-era England, sold about 90,000 copies of its first issue in 1993 — a modest quantity that would make it a Top 10 best seller in 2013. (DC said it doesn’t provide sales figures.)

Full Story: The New York Times: Comics’ Mother of ‘the Weird Stuff’ Is Moving On

There is no one who shaped my tastes more than Berger. I can’t wait to see what she does next.

Neil Gaiman Writing Sandman Prequel

i09 reports that Neil Gaiman announced at Comic-Con that he’s writing a prequel to Sandman. J. H. Williams III of Promethea fame is set draw it. Here’s a transcript of part of Gaiman’s pre-recorded announcement:

When I finished writing The Sandman, there was one tale still untold. The story of what had happened to Morpheus to allow him to be so easily captured in The Sandman #1, and why he was returned from far away, exhausted beyond imagining, and dressed for war.

Full Story: io9: Neil Gaiman’s writing a prequel to Sandman in 2013

I haven’t read Sandman since I was 15 – about half my life ago. I have no idea if it’s actually good – it was the best thing I’d ever read up to that point (other than Watchmen), but I hadn’t read all that much. I think it’s time for a re-read.

Famous writers write six word stories

Machine. Unexpectedly, I’d invented a time
– Alan Moore

I’m dead. I’ve missed you. Kiss … ?
– Neil Gaiman

The baby’s blood type? Human, mostly.
– Orson Scott Card

With bloody hands, I say good-bye.
– Frank Miller

Read Them All: Wired.

Jorge Luis Borges’ Influence on Other Writers

Here’s a great sub-site from a Jorge Luis Borges site with analysis of Borges’ influence on numerous writers, including: Grant Morrison, William Gibson, Joyce Carol Oates, Neil Gaiman, Harlan Ellison, Umberto Eco and others.

Morrison: I had a dream where I was on a train going through a horrible bone-like station. The name on the platform said “Orqwith,” so I’d thought I’d use it. Also, part of this dream was that this fictitious world was infiltrating parts of itself into our world. But like you say, it’s got a lot to do with stealing work of a blind Argentinian writer.

AH: I’m afraid I stopped reading after “The Garden of Forking Paths.”

Morrison: So you haven’t finished Labyrinths?

AH: I did read ‘”Tlon, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius” and the one about Don Quixote.

Morrison: I think he’s wonderful. I just have baths in this sort of thing. That was one of the things I wanted to Introduce in Doom Patrol. All those strange paradoxes and philosophical curios.

Borges as an Influence

(via the Barbelith Underground).

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