Despite a table of contents packed with powerhouse names like Joe Hill, Neil Gaiman, Brian Keene and Frank Darabont, Smoke and Mirrors is not going to be for everyone. It’s no knock on the quality of the stories told here, but instead an understanding that a book of scripts is going to appeal to a smaller segment of the reading audience than a collection of short stories or novels would. This is the kind of collection more likely to be sought out by aspiring screenwriters looking for examples to study, or by dedicated fans who want everything written by their favorite author.
It’s a shame, too, because anyone passing over a book like this because of its unusual format is missing a stellar collection of stories. And make no mistake about it, these are stories. Yes, they are blueprints for visual media (there are comic scripts and stage plays alongside the movie and television scripts), but these writers are masters of their craft, and the unique talents they bring to their traditional prose work shine through in their contributions here.
Take Joe Hill’s “Freddy Wertham Goes to Hell” for example. Written for the comic book anthology series Grave Tales (also from Cemetery Dance, publisher of Smoke and Mirrors), it’s a multi-layered skewering of the censorship movement that crippled EC Comics back in the 1950s, told in the style of one of those same EC Comics. That this comes clearly through in script form without the benefit of the visuals that accompanied the finished comic is a testament to Hill’s considerable storytelling skill.
Anyone familiar with the work of Joe R. Lansdale will instantly recognize his unique voice at work in “By Bizarre Hands,” the stage adaptation of the author’s story by the same name. The dialogue is pure Lansdale, and the action descriptions give stage directions that are both clear and entertaining at the same time.
Neil Gaiman tackles an H.G. Wells story with “Magic Shop” and produces a script that easily captures the surreal nature of the original story, while Kealan Patrick Burke transforms his own story “Snowmen” into a tension-filled exercise in suspense and restraint.
One aspect of this collection I particularly enjoyed is editor Richard Chizmar’s decision to reproduce each script in the author’s own formatting, allowing us to see exactly how each person works. This is especially revealing when looking at William F. Nolan’s “The Joy of Living,” for which typewritten pages are reproduced complete with Nolan’s handwritten notes. As a writer I love stuff like that, and I can’t help but believe that anyone reading that selection will enjoy it as well.
Chizmar has put together an exciting collection in Smoke and Mirrors, and I hope that readers hesitant to dive into the script format will give it a chance. With writers this good, the format quickly melts away and, just as with any good prose story, you forget that you’re looking at words on a page and get caught up in the worlds they are creating.