Review: The Ant King: and Other Stories by Benjamin Rosenbaum

The Ant King

If you go here, you can find links to most of the stories, a link to a free download of this entire book and plenty of ways to actually purchase the book. I first encountered Rosenbaum on EscapePod and highly recommend listening to Start the Clock, The House Beyond Your Sky, The Death Trap of Dr. Nefario (not in this collection) and of course The Ant King: A California Fairy Tale (podcastle). You can also check out my non-traditional review of True Names which he wrote with Cory Doctorow. This discussion analyzes the stories much better than I could, though I don’t agree with any of them 100%.

I read the stories in this collection over the last few months. I like the structure and CRAZY genre mixing of “Biographical Notes…” and “Sense and Sensibility.” Both question the role of the author in the story. “Biographical Notes…” mixes steampunk, pirates and philosophy. “Sense and Sensibility” paints a fractal with a mixture of Jane Austen and Lovecraft. The other amazing example of genre mixing would be the biblical vampire tale, “The Book of Jashar.” I totally geek out on the structure of these 3, but they’re far from my favorites in the collection.

I Love the short shorts, including the “Other Cities” series. Fitting a thought provoking and enjoyable story into a few pages (or even just one) is quite a skill. My favorite way to read these is in a loop. I probably read “The Orange” a dozen times before I put it down.

Of the stories I first experienced in audio form, “The House Beyond Your Sky,” is the one that sticks with me the most. The universes and calculations and changes in scale of both the story and setting gave me everything I loved in “True Names,” but much more colorful and dark and less coldly sci-fi. I don’t know if that description makes any sense, but if you’re going to listen to ANY of the ones I linked above I’d recommend this one. The reality that the fantasy of “The Ant King,” is painted gives it a special place in my heart: A surreal silicon valley love story. “Start The Clock” makes me think of my younger brother that passed away. He will forever be in my mind the way too wise 15 year old in a 10 year old’s body. It’s that perfect kind of science fiction that very simply talks about a lot of important things by focusing in on fascinating what if, in this case, what if kids stopped aging.

The last 2 stories I want to mention specifically were pleasant surprises. I enjoyed the concept of a symbiotic intelligence presented by the Trill in Star Trek. “Embracing the New” takes that a few steps further and manages to ask the question: How do we filter all of our experiences into what makes us who we are? I really like this story. The final story in this collection is “A Siege of Cranes.” It’s an intense dark epic writ all the more large because of it’s density. The formula could be described thusly:

  1. Strange happens
  2. Learn lesson
  3. repeat, unless climax
  4. resolve climax via lessons

The simplicity makes it no less awesome. Of everything in this collection, this is what I’d most like to see expanded into a longer format.

Now I need to go reread “Other Cities” a dozen more times.

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~ by mentatjack on February 24, 2009.

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