Our assignment was to read the first two issues of A Game of You. I (Mike) will be reviewing both this week.

Glyph’s introduction to Sandman, in three parts, here, here, and here.

Preludes and Nocturnes recaps here: Glyph and Patrick tackled the first four issues, Jaybird tackled the fifth, Glyph recapped six and seven. Mike Schilling recapped number eight.

A Doll’s House recaps here: KatherineMW took on the first two issues, then the next two issues. KatherineMW and Jason Tank then reviewed the fifth and sixth, respectively. Mike Schilling reviewed the final two issues.

Dream Country recaps here: Glyph reviewed Calliope then Jaybird and Maribou reviewed Dream of a Thousand Cats in the first review post for Dream Country. Alan Scott reviewed A Midsummer Night’s Dream then Mike Schilling reviewed Façade in the second.

Season of Mists recaps here: Jaybird reviewed the first two in this post. Jason Tank reviewed the next two here. Boegiboe reviewed the next two after that here and here. Ken reviewed the final two here.

It’s very difficult to discuss this book without discussing the next one (or the one after that, or the one after that), if you want to discuss something with a major plot point: please rot13 it. That’s a simple encryption that will allow the folks who want to avoid spoilers to avoid them and allow the people who want to argue them to argue them.

We good? We good! Everybody who has done the reading, see you after the cut!

Chapter 1: Slaughter on Fifth Avenue

We begin in a cold, empty, snowy mountainscape, enlivened (if that’s the word I’m looking for) only by the corpse of a messenger whose chest has apparently been torn open.  Our view moves towards and eventually into a dark cave, in which nothing is visible but a single pair of eyes.   During all this we hear, as what in a film would be voiceovers, a conversation among four voices.  Three are named Prinado, Luz, and Wilkinson, and are in great despair, being cold, hungry, miserable and about to die, though only Wilkinson feels it helpful to go on about that.  They had been waiting for the dead messenger, but are aware he’s not coming., because the Black Guard (a weak pun) got to him.  Another possible help, Colonel Knowledge, is not only a second weak pun but also unreliable.    The fourth voice is our old friend Martin Tenbones, Barbie’s dream companion from The Doll’s House.  Rather than give up, he will find Her with the Porpentine, lest the Land be lost to the Cuckoo.

There’s an acronym used by SF fans: EFP, for Extruded Fantasy Product.  It refers to the sort of doorstop fantasy trilogy that’s full of Quests that fulfill Prophecies, in which Heroes and Heroines fight the Good Fight, generally with edged weapons, and join forces with Wizards and other Magical Beings to face the Evil Forces that would Rule The World and defeat them once and for all, or at least until the sequel.   The term EFP suggests that such works are not written so much as manufactured to fit a standard mold.  We seem, for the time being, to have stumbled into one.

After the title, we are in a slightly less mythical setting: New York City, where an attractive blonde woman is sleeping messily.  It’s our old friend Barbie, and she’s awakened, still messy, by her friend Wanda, who’s provocatively dressed and has flaming red hair, but still manages to be completely unsexy.  She apologizes for waking Barbie out of a lovely dream, but Barbie insists she does not dream.  Ever.  They banter as Barbie gets ready for their planned shopping trip. They want coffee, so Barbie sends Wanda to borrow some cream from her neighbor Thessaly, who turns out to be a plain woman with oversized glasses.  She only has soy milk, so Wands goes next door to see Hazel and Foxglove.  Hazel, a very masculine woman with short hair, answers the door, and seems incapable of making any decisions. All questions are relayed to the punkish Foxglove, who agrees to give Wanda some cream in a cute frog-shaped mug.  Foxglove is up to 80, though we’re not sure 80 of what.  On the way back, Wanda crosses paths with George, who passes her without a word, looking mean and determined.  Mostly mean.  Barbie in the meantime has put on her face, which consists of a black-and white checkerboard pattern covering half of it.  They two leave to go window-shopping.

Dream is having a chat with Matthew.  He’s waiting for something to happen, though he’s not sure what, and then it does.  Something is beginning which will cause the death of one of the distant islets of the Dreaming.  Dream’s not too worried about it.  Easy come, easy go.

Barbie and Wanda on the subway.  Wanda tells a panhandler to go away, but the more tender-hearted Barbie gives her a few coins. The panhandler starts screaming, scared by seeing a puppy a few seats over.  It’s an irrational reaction; the dog isn’t at all menacing, but she flees out of the car and up the stairs into the light.  Wanda insists that you can’t let the crazies get to you, but our sweet Barbie’s heart goes out to the poor demented soul.  As well it should, because a woman terrified by a puppy is in no way prepared for the twelve-foot-high furry monster that is Martin Tenbones, who has appeared in front of her.  She collapses, though whether in a faint or something more serious we’re not shown.

Barbie and Wanda, apparently having exited the subway elsewhere, stop for breakfast.  Barbie explains that she doesn’t dream.  She used to, when she was with Ken, with a dream that continued the same story each night, but her bad breakup took that dream away.  Wanda enjoys her dreams, and especially remembers a sex dream starring a thinly disguised version of a Bizarro, a character from Superman comics who looks like Frankenstein’s monster and does everything backwards, like saying “Goodbye” when he enters a room and being sad if his boss gives him a raise.  Barbie explains that after one weird night (the vortex), she wouldn’t s-e-x anymore, so Ken started bringing girlfriends home, and her life went to pieces.  Fortunately Hal had a friend named Scarlett, who runs the same sort of rooming house for oddballs and took Barbie in.  Wanda mentions that she thinks of herself as Bizarro Alvin (Alvin being her birth name.)

Martin Tenbones searches for the princess (Barbie).  He doesn’t much care for New York and its tall cliffs.  He begins to attract attention.  The two friends walk obliviously, confiding how each has disappointed her parents,  finally noticing some heavily armed police, one of whom is urging passersby to keep walking, assuring them as unconvincingly as is physically possible that there’s noticing to see.  Barbie turns and sees….

Martin Tenbones, surrounded by cops with high-powered rifles.  He might be OK if he stayed perfectly still, but of course he runs towards Barbie.  He’s almost torn apart by bullets, but manages to reach her before he dies, to urge her to take the Porpentine and save the Land from the Cuckoo.  The cops continue to be brutal, rude and clueless.

Back in the cave, it’s light now, and we can see that Luz is a bird wearing a bow tie and a dickie, Prinado a monkey with a red jacket and fez, Wilkinson a rat in a trench coat. Luz has sensed Martin’s death.  Wilkinson, cheerful as ever, figures that things have become so hopeless than Martin is the lucky one.

Wanda has helped Barbie back to her room.  Either Barbie hasn’t talked or Wanda hasn’t listened, because Wanda thinks Martin was a dangerous animal that Barbie was lucky to escape. Nosy neighbor George asks about Barbie, but Wanda tells him to go away.  In her room, Barbie looks at the Porpentine, and is suddenly surrounded by birds: first black, then white, then they’re gone. She is petrified.  George catches a bird in the hallway.  He takes it to his room and swallows it whole.  Then he admires a picture of the other Barbie, and evilly gloats to himself that our Barbie is helplessly ignorant of The Children of the Cuckoo.

Chapter 2: Lullabies of Broadway

Once agan, we start with Barbie hearing the door buzzer.  She hides the Porpentine and opens the door to find Hazel, who asks to come in.  Hazel needs some advice from the person in the house closest to being a practicing heterosexual female.  She seemed a bit slow before, and indeed she is.  A co-worker talked her into letting him stay the night and sleep with her without using any protection, and now she’s afraid she’s pregnant, even though that should be impossible because they were standing up the whole time.   Barbie advises her to get a pregnancy test, and assures her that they no longer involve killing a rabbit.  Barbie also admits that she was pregnant once and had an abortion: and leaves Hazel with one last piece of advice: when sex is involved, men always lie. Hazel thanks her, retrieves the frog-shaped mug, and goes. (It occurs to me that Hazel looks uncommonly like Peter Lorre.)  Barbie, now alone, is scared of going to sleep. She turns the TV on,  but keeps having half-waking dreams about commercials, Hazel, and Ken, together with one that might be a message from the Land.  She falls asleep, opens her curtains, and she’s in the Land with Wilkinson.

We pan over the rooms of the house.  George is waiting for something, though we don’t know what.  Hazel is reading, Foxglove sleeping, Thessaly brushing her hair, Wanda also sleeping, Barbie dreaming.  George slices open the skin on his chest, and releases the birds caged by his ribs.  Wanda dreams of being popular and helping all the nerdy boys become happy transvestite.  The dream turns into a nightmare as a team of Bizarro surgeons prepare to perform transgender surgery on her, something she’s always been too frightened to allow.  We see there’s a bird on her shoulder as she sleeps.  Hazel has a nightmare in which her zombie baby eats Foxglove’s child.  Foxglove is visited by the ghost of Judy, her former lover who was killed in the diner. Foxglove and Hazel’s sleeping bodies also have birds perching on them.  Thessaly wakes up to find the bird on her, and dashes its brains out against the wall.  She causes it to burst into flames in her hands.  Then she goes upstairs to George’s room, smiles, and asks to come in, hiding a knife behind her back.

Barbie is in the cave, talking to Luz, Prinado, and Wilkinson.   Luz and Prinado are respectful of Princess Barbara, the Heir to the Land,  while Wilkinson is unimpressed, but expects that Martin Tenbones knows what he’s doing. On learning that Martin is dead, he shifts his hopes to Barbie, telling her that she’s got to step up now.  He also gives us another bit of  EFP-talk: “The Hierogram is Still Unbroken.”  Even more: Barbie knows that she needs to get to the Brightly Shining Sea, but to get there they have to avoid the Black Guard and pass by the Citadel of the Cuckoo.  And it’s a long way, so they’d better get going.


  • Blackguard (pronounced “blagerd”)

A person, particularly a man, who behaves in a dishonorable or contemptible way.

  • Hierogram

A sacred inscription or symbol.

  • Porpentine

An obsolete synonym for porcupine.  From Hamlet:

I could a tale unfold, whose lightest word would harrow up thy soul, freeze thy young blood, make thy two eyes, like stars, start from their spheres, thy knotted and combined locks to part and each particular hair to stand an end, like quills upon the fretful porpentine.

This was a favorite quote of Jeeves’s, resulting in the following:

Bertie: You’re sure it’s porpentine?

Jeeves: Yes, sir.

Bertie: Very odd. But I suppose half the time Shakespeare just shoved down anything that came into his head.

Mike Schilling

Mike has been a software engineer far longer than he would like to admit. He has strong opinions on baseball, software, science fiction, comedy, contract bridge, and European history, any of which he's willing to share with almost no prompting whatsoever.


    • I’ve had dreams where there is a character or event or a *SOMETHING* that, for a second, takes me out of the dream because part of my consciousness says “wow, dude, I recognize this from a previous dream”. I’ve made reference to The City before, but, occasionally, I meet someone dreamy and almost rouse myself in recognition that I’ve dreamt them before. The thought that one could be out and about and have that forceful feeling of recognition and then have it about one of your oldest (childhood) friends and then watch this friend of yours die with their face in your hands is something I can’t even imagine. The emotions played with as Barbie says “Martin Tenbones?” just wrecks me.

      Most of the characters in my dreams (the ones that stick around enough to be worth remembering, anyway) have enough of a backstory for me to be able to say that I care about them (at least while dreaming). Trying to imagine all of that crashing in just to be lost again, immediately…

  1. I remember writing off Thessally at the beginning as a dainty vegan nerd girl who wouldn’t be able to do much. Boy, did that turn out to be wrong.

    (Va gur fnzr irva, V svtherq Jnaqn jbhyq or gur bar gb uryc Oneovr gur zbfg. Guvf jvyy nyfb cebir gb or snyfr.)

    Historical note: The rabbit test. Either the rabbit always died, or it never had to. Had nothing to do with pregnancy status.

    • Yeah wierdly enough I became massively fond of Thessally. I think it might have been the creepy birds; watching them afflicting each dreamer in turn and then Thessaly just clinically offs hers.

  2. Barbie in the meantime has put on her face, which consists of a black-and white checkerboard pattern covering half of it. They two leave to go window-shopping.

    Lots here about appearances, and, well, Games of You’s…and soon, jr’yy frr fbzrbar’f snpr pbzr BSS.

  3. So, a question for the other readers. I was pretty brutal about Barbie’s quest, because to me it reads like a parody of all that’s worst in post-Tolkien fantasy (as I detailed fairly lovingly). Is that just me? Does dismissing it harm parts of the story that you enjoy?

    • My memories of that story arc don’t really involve Barbie at all. They involve Martin Tenbones. The nightmares (Hazel’s in particular). Wanda and her denoument.

      My experience of the Sandman stories is similar to my experiences of dreams. Flashes of brilliant moments, unforgettable scenes… then I’m back to remembering the main storylines as post-modern theology instead of horror.

      Then, when I read them again, I say “Oh yeah! This was a horror comic!”

      Barbie has some nice face makeup, I guess.

    • I think it’s meant to be derivative and parodic. This is all part of a fantasy Barbie created as a child, and she hasn’t been shown to be particularly creative or imaginative even now as an adult.

      IOW, it’s OK to make fun of it, but its derivative nature is intended to be saying something about the character to whom it belongs.

      And Martin Tenbones and Wilkinson are pretty awesome regardless, if you ask me.

      • Gaiman is a sufficiently skilled writer that he knows how to use the common fantasy tropes for his own purposes, much as George RR Martin does. In this case, Gaiman is using them to create a sense of the banal, while Martin used them to subvert the readers’ expectations.

    • Well, part of why I asked to do the summary for the upcoming issues in this story arc is that they include the bit where, when I read it this time around, it transformed my opinion of the whole “Game of You” bit from “Lame!!” to “Kind of awesome!”

      On that note, I think I have another week before I’m up. Right?

    • For me I got C.S. Lewis more than Tolkein from it. Considering how it eventually ends (jvgu sne zber guna n funqbj bs Gur Ynfg Onggyr) that’s probably why I have the association.

      • I don’t get Tolkien per se; I get the sort of cheap Tolkien knockoff that was an industry in the 80s and 90s.

          • I didn’t know this until about an hour ago but “The Land” is the setting of The Chronicles of Thomas Convenant. (Which is not itself a cheap knockoff, but is from the right era.)

          • “The Land” is a very general term. It’s also the setting of the “Quintaglio Ascension Trilogy” which is a sci-fi saga involving dinosaurs. It also conjures up Native American imagery to me.

            Middle-Earth, Oerth, the Wyrld… all kinda generic, all sorta foreign but not overly so.

            Besides, I don’t recall anthropomorphic animals in the Thomas Covenant books. 🙂

          • The Chronicles of Thomas Convenant is beautifully written. I’d strongly agree it’s not a cheap knockoff.
            And maybe we’re being too cruel to the Sandman’s “Land”.
            Jr xabj, riraghnyyl, gung “gur Ynaq” jnf perngrq sbe n ybire bs Qernz naq fhofrdhragyl vaunovgrq naq funcrq ol n terng ahzore bs qernzref, bar nsgre gur bgure. Vs jr nffhzr gung gur havdhr ahnapr fbegbs snyyf bss nf rnpu qernzre pbzrf naq tbrf naq bayl gur pbzzbanyvgl ryrzragf sebz qernzre gb qernzre fgnl naq crefvfg gura lbh’q raq hc jvgu n ynaq gung frrzrq n gpu qrevingvir be xabpxbssvfu. “Gur Ynaq” nethnoyl vf gur jnl vg vf abg orpnhfr vg’f ynzr ohg orpnhfr vg’f byq.

  4. Hazel’s nightmare is the worst one for me. It’s the clinical discussion. The dissonance between the horrible/terrible thing being described and the dead emotionless language.

    “The baby smells of formaldehyde, not unpleseantly. It is cold and slightly clammy to the touch. The autopsy scar is sewn together with black silk thread. It has been dead exactly seventy years. It is perfectly preserved.”

    It’s the adjectives that turn this from just creepy to horror.

    • For me it’s Foxglove’s. Not for the situation as such, but for that last line of Judy’s…

Comments are closed.