Monday, May 26, 2008

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

Every Monday, I'll be doing spoiler-free, bite-sized book reviews.

Rosenbaum's writing covers a diverse variety of subjects and incorporates elements like surrealism, fabulation, metafiction, and fantasy/science fiction--sometimes all in the same story! The Ant King and Other Stories collects Rosenbaum's vast repertoire and those who haven't experienced his style of writing will be in for a treat. Seventeen stories are included in this collection including several flash fiction pieces. A strength of Rosenbaum is his clearly his flexibility. In one story, we read quick, simple paragraphs while in another, we have him writing long, stylized prose. Another strength is his ability to inject literary conventions--or sometimes mix them up--into his genre stories to provide us with a reading experience that deviates from the norm.

Having said all that, here are my top three stories: the opening piece, "The Ant King: A California Fairy Tale" is a strong story to begin with and shows us how different Rosenbaum's writing can be. Surrealism and fabulation combine with modern fantasy to give us something that's funny and enjoyable on various levels and ends in the last place you expect it to. The language is simple enough and quite easy to get into. "Start the Clock" on the other hand reads more like a serious science fiction piece that delves into the question what kind of society would result if we did manage to stunt our growth. Despite the fact that most of the protagonist's encounters are with young adults and children, Rosenbaum tackles very adult concerns as he focuses on his main character, exploring her motivations and personality. Last but not least is "A Siege of Cranes", a more traditional action/adventure fantasy story whose conceit is that it's an epic in under 10,000 words and the author manages to pull it off.

What I enjoyed the most out of this collection is that I literally don't know what's coming next as I dive in from one story to another. Rosenbaum tries his hand in nearly everything and while I wouldn't say he succeeds in every story, there's a lot of them that I do enjoy and forces me to rack my brain for the answers (there was one story for example when I wondered "was that a Babar reference?"). And at the end of the day, you have to give credit to the author's unique style of writing and his willingness to experiment and splice his stories. The Ant King and Other Stories worked well for me and hopefully readers give this publication a look.

Rating: 3.5/5.

Rating System:

1 - There are better ways to spend your time.
2 - Ho hum books, usually typical of its genre. Probably only recommendable to die-hard fans.
3 - A cut above the rest, usually with one or more elements that sets it apart from the norm.
4 - Highly recommended and is easily a pioneer of the genre.
5 - A classic or it will be.


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