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Urbane without being arch, sweet without being maudlin, mysterious without being cryptic.-Cory Doctorow, BoingBoing A dazzling, postmodern debut collection of pulp and surreal fictions: a writer of alternate histories defends his patron's zeppelin against assassins and pirates; a woman transforms into hundreds of gumballs; an emancipated children's collective goes house hu Urbane without being arch, sweet without being maudlin, mysterious without being cryptic.-Cory Doctorow, BoingBoing A dazzling, postmodern debut collection of pulp and surreal fictions: a writer of alternate histories defends his patron's zeppelin against assassins and pirates; a woman transforms into hundreds of gumballs; an emancipated children's collective goes house hunting. Benjamin Rosenbaum's stories have appeared in Asimov's Science Fiction and McSweeney's, been translated into eleven languages, and listed in The Best American Short Stories 2006, Shortlisted for the Hugo and Nebula awards, Rosenbaum's work has been reprinted in Harper's and The Year's Best Science Fiction, He lives in Switzerland with his family.


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Urbane without being arch, sweet without being maudlin, mysterious without being cryptic.-Cory Doctorow, BoingBoing A dazzling, postmodern debut collection of pulp and surreal fictions: a writer of alternate histories defends his patron's zeppelin against assassins and pirates; a woman transforms into hundreds of gumballs; an emancipated children's collective goes house hu Urbane without being arch, sweet without being maudlin, mysterious without being cryptic.-Cory Doctorow, BoingBoing A dazzling, postmodern debut collection of pulp and surreal fictions: a writer of alternate histories defends his patron's zeppelin against assassins and pirates; a woman transforms into hundreds of gumballs; an emancipated children's collective goes house hunting. Benjamin Rosenbaum's stories have appeared in Asimov's Science Fiction and McSweeney's, been translated into eleven languages, and listed in The Best American Short Stories 2006, Shortlisted for the Hugo and Nebula awards, Rosenbaum's work has been reprinted in Harper's and The Year's Best Science Fiction, He lives in Switzerland with his family.

30 review for The Ant King, and Other Stories

  1. 5 out of 5

    Eric Orchard

    This is the exact kind of book I'm always looking. I kind of see this collection as the storytelling equivelant of pop surrealism, whimsical, dark, insightful and deeply compelling. At times difficult and challenging at other times breezy and funny. I found the fantasy stories stronger than the science fiction ones, but that's my personal preference, I love the mystery of his fantasy stories and the strange imagery. Highly recommended. This is the exact kind of book I'm always looking. I kind of see this collection as the storytelling equivelant of pop surrealism, whimsical, dark, insightful and deeply compelling. At times difficult and challenging at other times breezy and funny. I found the fantasy stories stronger than the science fiction ones, but that's my personal preference, I love the mystery of his fantasy stories and the strange imagery. Highly recommended.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Terence

    The eponymous first story in The Ant King almost made me stop reading. It's a far too self-conscious, self-referential retelling of the Persephone myth; and there are several more in this collection that were similarly annoying but there are also some extraordinarily clever ones that saved this book for me (I downloaded a free version from some website many months ago so the edition represented above is for aesthetic reasons - I hate the blank, generic thumbnails otherwise). The first story in th The eponymous first story in The Ant King almost made me stop reading. It's a far too self-conscious, self-referential retelling of the Persephone myth; and there are several more in this collection that were similarly annoying but there are also some extraordinarily clever ones that saved this book for me (I downloaded a free version from some website many months ago so the edition represented above is for aesthetic reasons - I hate the blank, generic thumbnails otherwise). The first story in the "saving" category is "Biographical Notes to `A Discourse on the Nature of Causality, with Air-Planes,' by Benjamin Rosenbaum," set in an alternate universe where Hinduism forms the underpinnings of the world's civilization. Other 3+ and above starred entries: "Start the Clock" - A world where people can stop their physiological aging at any point in their lives. The story is about a Nine who has to reconsider the costs and benefits of being prepubescent for life. "Embracing-the-New" - A story about an alien species that ensures continuity of memory and personality with symbionts (like the Trill of "Star Trek: Deep Space 9" but better written). "The Book of Jashar" - A "lost" book of the Hebrew/OT Bible that tells the story of David and Jonathan from the Philistine's point of view. "Other Cities" - This is an anthology-within-the-anthology, being made up of 1-3 page vignettes about various cities. Some of the stories work, others don't, but the former outweigh the latter. "Sense and Sensibility" is an homage to Jane Austen. I confess to never having read Ms. Austen so I was largely blind to that aspect of the tale but I did enjoy it. The final story, "A Siege of Cranes," is an at times gruesome fantasy about a man attempting to avenge the slaughter of his family and village. It's a fairy tale but the ending is unsparing and definitely not "happily ever after." Overall: I'm not going to rush out and buy all things "Rosenbaum" but I'm open to reading more of his stuff if opportunity puts it in my way.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Matthew Gatheringwater

    Benjamin Rosenbaum is my new favorite writer of science fiction because... ...he imagines a waterfront district where old women cruise grandmothers' bars. ...he has written not one, but several, one-page stories that have altered my hope for the future. ...when he writes about a woman turning into gumballs it isn't a silly surrealist throw-away, but an important clue to understanding a story. ...he has re-written Sense and Sensibility in a way that makes me ashamed of my own literary pretensions. ... Benjamin Rosenbaum is my new favorite writer of science fiction because... ...he imagines a waterfront district where old women cruise grandmothers' bars. ...he has written not one, but several, one-page stories that have altered my hope for the future. ...when he writes about a woman turning into gumballs it isn't a silly surrealist throw-away, but an important clue to understanding a story. ...he has re-written Sense and Sensibility in a way that makes me ashamed of my own literary pretensions. ...after reading this excellent and varied collection of stories, he is the living writer I'd most trust to imagine a virtual reality into which I'd allow my dying brain to be uploaded.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Aaron

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. A cool anthology, with a wide range of stories. I didn't like most of the "slipstream" fiction. Perhaps I didn't understand the symbolism or themes Rosenbaum was trying to explore. The Ant King and The Orange were really the only two that I liked. The rest were pretty lame. I enjoyed all of the author's actual science fiction stories. Start the Clock and Embracing-the-New were the best of the science fiction, but Falling was also pretty good. All of them were original and had thought-provoking th A cool anthology, with a wide range of stories. I didn't like most of the "slipstream" fiction. Perhaps I didn't understand the symbolism or themes Rosenbaum was trying to explore. The Ant King and The Orange were really the only two that I liked. The rest were pretty lame. I enjoyed all of the author's actual science fiction stories. Start the Clock and Embracing-the-New were the best of the science fiction, but Falling was also pretty good. All of them were original and had thought-provoking themes. Start the Clock: what would the world be like if aging suddenly stopped? Embracing-the-New: how would an alien race function if its memories were literally passed on from one generation to the next by tick-like creatures. Falling: how would people react to a society that simply expects volunteerism. His fantasy stories were pretty good, too, the best being Siege of Cranes. My synopsis and individual review of the stories is below. Beware of spoilers. "The Ant King: A California Fairy Tale" by Benjamin Rosenbaum published in the anthology The Ant King: and Other Stories. This was a surrealist (absurdist? slipstream?) story about a man whose girlfriend suddenly becomes a bunch of yellow gumballs and how, while his concept for selling yellow gumballs on the internet is sold to venture capitalists and his little business is turned into a huge corporate empire, he decides to go and rescuse his girlfriend from the Ant King, who has kidnapped her. The story had interesting characters (a formerly male, now female, six and a half foot tall corporate promoter, her uber-goth niece named Corpse, the Ant King himself, and even the girlfriend (who ends up getting saved, but running off with the CEO of the company that sells the gumballs). The whole thing was pretty strange, although I for some reason found it entertaining. "The Valley of Giants" This was a post-apoctolyptic absurdist story about a grandmother whose family has all died and runs away to a valley of giants that take care of humans. I did'nt really like this one. I'm not sure I've understood any of the stories I've read in this anthology so far, but this was the first one that I didn't enjoy reading (good thing it was short). "The Orange" Very short story about a very kind, benevolent orange that ruled the world, until it was eaten. Another absurdist story that I still found enjoyable to read. I read this one to my kids (leaving out the line about the lesbian daughter on Wall Street), and they asked for me to read it to them again immediately. "Biographical Notes to 'A Discourse on the Nature of Causality, with Air-Planes,' by Benjamin Rosenbaum" This one went over my head. And yes, the title of the story included the phrase "by Benjamin Rosenbaum." The main character is Benjamin Rosenbaum in an alternate universe where travel is by Zepplin, and those Zepplins are attacked by pirates. There was some cool discussion of the philosophy of causation, but ultimately, I didn't really get this one. "Start the Clock" Cool story about a future earth in which at some point everyone's age freezes, and people stop aging, even though they grow older. The story is told from the point of view of a nine-year-old girl, and focuses on her efforts to keep her group of Nines together, while they try to decide whether they will buy a house (built like a giant galleon in a neighborhood named "Pirateland"). This was the first story in the anthology that wasn't absurdist, but instead, read more like a true-blue science fiction story. I really liked it a lot. The story explored what such a world would be like (as well as Billings, Montana of the future, including high-flying slidewalks and all), and the issues that would arise as treatments to allow the aging process to continue were developed. He also explored what it would be like to hang out with a genetically and technologically enhanced toddler. Like I said, this one was pretty darn cool "The Blow" A short story about a detective that gets hit in the head by the bad guy, causing the detective to become physically diabled. The detective's assistant and the bad guy then take care of the detective. A bizarre "slip stream" story. "Embracing-The-New" Individuals of an alien race pass on their memories and skills by tick-like creatures embedded in their chests. A young alien is apprenticing to a "god carver" who makes the statues and amulets that represent the various characteristics and traits that the aliens worship. The young alien is competing with several other apprentices for the god carver's inheritance (the god carver is dying) but does not hold out much hope because of his poverty. The god carver (after displaying an astonishing lack of respect for "lesser" forms of life on the alien world) asks the young alien to carve a nice piece of jade into a new god. The young alien carves a large alien that has no ticks on his chest that is reaching for an orphan tick that apparently has had no former owners (and thus, would presumably not carry the memories of any older aliens). The god's name is "Embracing-The-New." The god carver changes the statute because it is blasphemous, and the young alien then sneaks in and vandalizes the statue. He is kicked out of the alien society, and his ticks are removed -- causing him to become a savage animal-like creature. "Falling" Another cool SF story about a far future Germany where the cities are suspended kilometers in the air (apparently to allow living space for the world's enourmous population, allowing space for growing food, etc.). The economy is neither capitalist nor communist, but is instead driven by volunteerism -- people wanting to simply serve the government and other civic organizations. A man sees a woman jump off of one of the high walkways. She is of course rescued by a swarm of smart robots, and the man's freind, with whom he was walking when they see the woman, is appalled at the waste of resources and the selfishness of the woman's act. The main character is enthralled with the woman, however, and goes to talk with her, and discovers that he also wants to jump, even though it is a waste of resources. "On the Cliff by the River" A woman in Africa jumps off a cliff with her baby to escape a tiger. The woman is able to grap a root and hang the baby on it before falling to her death. The story is told by a shape-shifting crocodile (?) in the river below the cliff, and it is revealed that the crocodile is telling the story to the baby, after it has grown older. This one was okay. "Orphans" A woman falls in love with an elephant that is wandering through the city. She helps the elephant, and then is resentful when the elephant's relatives come to town to convince him to do elephant things again. I didn't really get this one. "Fig" This one was probably the strangest story in the anthology yet about a cat that steals a girl's fig, causing the girl to stop growing up and the cat to feel bad and jealous, hiding the fig in a separate universe of trillions of figs that the cat breathes into a coffee can. A toy soldier falls in love with the girl and tries to get the fig, but the cat has booby-trapped the coffee can with harpees, who cause the toy's fellow soldiers to fall in love with and then marry them. The harpies then kill the soldiers. The toy soldier escapes and reports his failure to the girl. She then eats the soldier. This one was pretty bizarre. Good thing it was short. "The Book of Jashar" This was a cool idea about the "translation" of a codex found by Rosenbaum's friends with the Qumran scrolls, but other wise kind of falls flat as a story: a demon (or maybe the follower of a demon?) is trying to kill David (after successfully killing Jonathan). The "Book of Jashar" is actually mentioned in the Old Testament. "The House Beyond Your Sky" I actually read this one before on the Strange Horizons website. A highly stylized, almost metaphorical, look at the end of one universe and the beginning of another. An entity becomes hopelessly depressed by all the pain and suffering in the universes in his library, begins to create his own universe, and a part of the entity that created him tries to stop him. The entity ends up bringing into his universe a little girl to watch over his library (and the various souls that he has sprung free in his home from the worlds in which the souls realize that they are in a simulation). He has been watching the little girl, whose father is beating her mother, and worrying about how to save her when "the pilgrim" (the poriton of the entity that created him) shows up and tries to enter into the universe that he is creating. The story is a study of the cause of pain in life in general, and essentially speculates that it is possible for there to be a universe without suffering. A very interesting story. Nominated for the Hugo and several other awards in 2007. I enjoyed it (and I think understood it) more when I read it a second time in the anthology. "Red Tassles" The worst story in the book. It's a stream of conscious telling of one absurd event after another. A man walks out of a business meeting because he's lost his shoes with red tassles, goes up on the roof, is carried away by birds, falls in love with a woman he sees below him, his wife finds out, and has an affair with a woodpecker to spite her husband. Lame. Really lame. "Other Cities" I liked this one, even though it's not really a story; it simply describes various make believe cities (some of which aren't so make believe) around the galaxy. "The City of Peace" obviously describes Jeruselem and posits a reason for why the violence there won't end (both sides love the city too much to agree to give up any portion of the city to the other). "Bellur" is a city of censors. "Ponge: The White City" is supposed to be awful, and everyone is supposed to want to move to the better city, Strafrax, but the people make excuses for not leaving, and deep down obviously really like to live in Ponge. "Ahavah" is a mythical city that hoboes and transients search for as they ride the rails, but discover that, by being part of the hobo and transient network, they already live in Ahavah, whose citizens take care of one another and always share their food and love for free. "Amea Amaau" is a brand new, beautifully built city that no one ever actually lives in but just passes through. "Ylla's Choice" is a city inside a spherical space station that is throtteling toward destruction by a pulsar. Time has slowed for the citizens of the city, and everyone ponders what the ideal society is and try to implement it. "Zvlotsk" is a city where Lutgenmetzger has discovered how to completely eliminate crime by predicting where it will occur with 100% accuracy and then stopping it from happening. The description is a funny telling of how society would react if this actually occurred, with amateur detectives falling in an out of fashion, media companies encouraging murders by publishing books like "How to Tell if He's Cheating and Deserves to Die." "New-n Perch" is where the citizens of New-n-1 Perch are sent if they can't work out their differences with the majority of the citizens of New-n-1. The city has a conscience that is actually one of its original founders who agreed to be "eaten up" by the city. "Jouiselle-aux-Chantes" has a mushroom that causes its people to forget their past, so it is a place where couples can go to be like they are newly in love again. "Penelar of the Reefs" used to be very difficult to find, and was a place of refuge for those wanting to escape their lives, but now there is a highway that goes there. "Myrkhyr" is a city that I didn't really get -- people travelling and settling -- I'm not sure. "Stin" is a refuge city (?) -- another one I didn't really understand. "Sense and Sensibility" Another nonsense story, this one based on the Jane Austin novel, except this one takes place on and in the body of a giant. Some funny parts, especially the asides about how an author hopes to communicate with a reader, who sometimes is nonexistant or can even disappear. Otherwise a lame story. "A Siege of Cranes" A haunting story about a man whose wife and daughter mysteriously dissapear in the destruction of the man's village. The many is hunting down whatever has taken his wife and daughter, and ultimately finds a huge machine made out of the body parts of its victims (including his wife's arm). The man makes friends along the way (an Egyptian jakal man and a djinn with a flying carpet) who join him on his quest to defeat, what he comes to know as, the White Witch. The man defeats the White Witch by remembering who everyone in the giant machine is, discovering that the White Witch is a crazy girl who had previously lived in his village and to whom he had shown kindness when no one else would. He allows the djinn to take her, after tricking her into thinking that he will marry her.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Darrell

    "The American highway is a self-contained system, Stan thought. Its rest stops have video games, bathrooms, restaurants, and gas stations. There's no reason ever to leave the interstate highway system, its deadness and perfection and freedom. When you do reach your exit, you always have a slight sense of loss, as when awakening from a dream." The title story of this collection, "The Ant King" is absolutely hilarious. I first heard this narrated on the Starship Sofa podcast. While simply reading i "The American highway is a self-contained system, Stan thought. Its rest stops have video games, bathrooms, restaurants, and gas stations. There's no reason ever to leave the interstate highway system, its deadness and perfection and freedom. When you do reach your exit, you always have a slight sense of loss, as when awakening from a dream." The title story of this collection, "The Ant King" is absolutely hilarious. I first heard this narrated on the Starship Sofa podcast. While simply reading it isn't as funny as listening to it, I found it just as funny the second time around as the first. We get great lines such as "Wile E. Coyote is the only figure of any integrity in twentieth-century literature." There's a petulant teenager who says things like "Your kind will be first up against the wall when the revolution comes!" when asked his/her gender. When another character is asked what his sexual orientation is, he replies, "about 80-20 straight". The main character, Stan, joins a support group after his girlfriend inexplicably turns into gumballs. He then starts a gumball company which becomes hugely successful. He eventually ends up inside a video game where the ridiculousness of carrying multiple items is pointed out: "Stan looked down at the crook of his arm, where he was uncomfortably carrying a rod, an axe, a loaf of bread, and a key." His friend Vampire guiding him through tells him to do things to get extra points when all he wants is to rescue his girlfriend. Vampire ends up betraying him and starts working for the villain, explaining, "This is just the career move I think is right for me right now." When Stan gets fired from his own company, he's told "we want you to enjoy your indefinite unpaid leave." He becomes a bum, but "at campfires he felt alienated from the other bums--he didn't know any of the songs they liked, and they didn't want to talk about Internet stocks." The next story has the unwieldy title of "Biographical Notes to "A Discourse on the Nature of Causality, with Air-Planes," by Benjamin Rosenbaum". It takes place in a world in which cause and effect are fiction. There are air pirates and talking ants, so it's a lot of fun. I particularly liked the moment when the narrator tries to cut a cord with a knife, but it goes wrong: "My strength, as it happened, was extremely insufficient. The tether twanged like a harp string, but was otherwise unharmed, and the dagger was knocked from my grasp by the recoil." This story also contains the best description of being a writer I've ever come across: "It is said we fabulists live two lives at once. First we live as others do: seeking to feed and clothe ourselves, earn the respect and affection of our fellows, fly from danger, entertain and satiate ourselves on the things of this world. But then, too, we live a second life, pawing through the moments of the first, even as they happen, like a market-woman of the bazaar sifting trash for treasures. Every agony we endure we also hold up to the light with great excitement, expecting it will be of use; every simple joy we regard with a critical eye, wondering how it could be changed, honed, tightened, to fit inside a fable's walls." I'd say this qualifies as meta-fiction since the story comments on its own implausibilities. Another great line from this one: "Which is more real -- a clod of dirt unnoticed at your feet, or a hero in a legend?" "Start the Clock" takes place in a world in which aging has stopped. The narrator doesn't mind being a child forever, but has a friend who wants to start aging again. "The Blow" is a flash fiction story giving us a realistic look at a detective receiving a blow to the head. Instead of a brief moment of unconsciousness as in most fiction, the detective gets permanent brain damage as would happen in real life. "Embracing-The-New" features aliens who inherit memories from each other. A great story in which the aliens are truly alien. "Orphans" features a talking elephant. Here's a quote I liked: "They were terrified, yet the great web of etiquette and propriety that holds our town steady--like a fly already mummified, and not yet eaten, in a spider's web--kept them from running and screaming, from saying anything." "Fig" is a delightful etiological story that explains why girls like cats. "The Book of Jashar" contains a reference to Thomas Pynchon's Crying of Lot 49. It's a story about the Biblical King David squaring off against a vampire. I didn't care much for this story overall, although I did like this line: "Why is David chosen, and why Israel? That God's love may be an arbitrary and capricious passion is as unnerving to us as it was to Mezipatheh. Yet, if our theology cannot encompass the arbitrariness of Divine favor, how can it hope to deal with our present world?" "The House Beyond Your Sky" is a story of a six-year-old girl with an abusive father who ends up becoming instrumental in the end of the universe. "Other Cities" isn't a story, but rather a series of descriptions of fantastic cities. For example: "Oddly, deep in their hearts, the citizens of Ponge are happier than those of Strafrax. Ponge's motto is "What Did You Expect?" and the Pongeans (etc.) whisper it to themselves in bed at night as they think back on the day's events. "Well, what did you expect?" they think smugly, pugnaciously. "What did you expect? We live in Ponge." Strafrax's motto is "Anything Can Happen," and you can imagine where that leads." I like the implication here that pessimists are happier than optimists. Pragmatism is also favored over idealism. In another city, people looking for heaven end up creating it right where they are. Another city has achieved utopia due to being caught in a time distortion. There's a city in which solving crime is just a fad. A city of legend gradually transforms into a tourist destination. Another city gets destroyed by monsters every once in a while. I really loved this piece. "Sense and Sensibility" is a hilarious retelling of the classic story taking place among tiny people living on a giant's face who himself lives on an even bigger giant. He breaks the fourth wall by directly addressing the audience throughout. "A Siege of Cranes" is a quirky story about a man trying to track down the witch that destroyed his home town. Along the way, he encounters a jackal-headed man obsessed with proper funerary rights and a djinn who lends him a flying carpet. Whimsical, tragic, and funny in places.

  6. 5 out of 5

    meeners

    Sheila split open and the air was filled with gumballs. Yellow gumballs. This was awful for Stan, just awful. He had loved Sheila for a long time, fought for her heart, believed in their love until finally she had come around. They were about to kiss for the first time and then this: yellow gumballs. Stan went to a group to try to accept that Sheila was gone. It was a group for people whose unrequited love had ended in some kind of surrealist moment. There is a group for everything in California. Sheila split open and the air was filled with gumballs. Yellow gumballs. This was awful for Stan, just awful. He had loved Sheila for a long time, fought for her heart, believed in their love until finally she had come around. They were about to kiss for the first time and then this: yellow gumballs. Stan went to a group to try to accept that Sheila was gone. It was a group for people whose unrequited love had ended in some kind of surrealist moment. There is a group for everything in California. (opening lines of "the ant king: a california fairy tale.")

  7. 5 out of 5

    Benjamin Parzybok

    The title story is wild and line-crossing and so well written.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Evan Jensen

    Definitely one of the finest fantasists I've come across Definitely one of the finest fantasists I've come across

  9. 4 out of 5

    Kathy

    I'm not always a fan of short stories, but decided to give this a try based on a review in a library journal. On the positive side, Rosenbaum does have quite the imagination and creates some interesting worlds and situations. He also has a sense of the absurd, at times. One of the shortest stories, "The Orange," caught my attention, for this reason, especially. But, on the other hand, I was glad this was a short work. I am ready to read a novel that doesn't take much thinking... So, my rating wou I'm not always a fan of short stories, but decided to give this a try based on a review in a library journal. On the positive side, Rosenbaum does have quite the imagination and creates some interesting worlds and situations. He also has a sense of the absurd, at times. One of the shortest stories, "The Orange," caught my attention, for this reason, especially. But, on the other hand, I was glad this was a short work. I am ready to read a novel that doesn't take much thinking... So, my rating would probably be more of a 2.5 based on the world-building and cleverness, at times. Some readers might love this work; it just wasn't my cup of tea. I liked it well enough to continue beyond my self-set marker of deciding whether to continue after reading a quarter of a work... Checked out from Sunflower eLibrary (Overdrive).

  10. 4 out of 5

    Hugo

    A book of allusive tales, based around such diverse inspirations as The Story of Babar and Sense and Sensibility, though mostly told as fables or parables, or experimental in nature. There are a couple of good SF tales in here - Embracing-the-New and Start the Clock - but otherwise the collection lacks stories of plot and character, and has a sameyness which quickly becomes wearing. A book of allusive tales, based around such diverse inspirations as The Story of Babar and Sense and Sensibility, though mostly told as fables or parables, or experimental in nature. There are a couple of good SF tales in here - Embracing-the-New and Start the Clock - but otherwise the collection lacks stories of plot and character, and has a sameyness which quickly becomes wearing.

  11. 4 out of 5

    James

    Many of these stories are simply sublime. In this, the first collection of his work, Rosenbaum successfully lilts between genres between and even within stories. It's an auspicious start that will leave readers craving whatever is to come. "Biographical Notes..." is simultaneously a steampunk alternate history, a postmodern romp with comic flourishes, and an action story that pauses occasionally to consider the nature of cause and effect. Joyously, it all works. The story strings together assassi Many of these stories are simply sublime. In this, the first collection of his work, Rosenbaum successfully lilts between genres between and even within stories. It's an auspicious start that will leave readers craving whatever is to come. "Biographical Notes..." is simultaneously a steampunk alternate history, a postmodern romp with comic flourishes, and an action story that pauses occasionally to consider the nature of cause and effect. Joyously, it all works. The story strings together assassins, pirates, Eastern philosophy, and zeppelins while the main character, Benjamin Rosenbaum, creates our own world as a fictional landscape in which to ground his latest plausible fable. Also impressive are: "A Siege of Cranes" - a sober, dark fairy tale in which a man seeks vengeance for his family from the mysterious cataclysm that ruined his village. The climax is a bit lacking, but the journey there is fantastic. "Embracing-the-New" - a science fiction story set on a seemingly pre-industrial alien world. Told through an entirely alien perspective, the story evokes themes of artistic expression, identity, and innocence while involving the reader in the main character's plight. "Start the Clock" - a science fiction story with cyberpunk overtones set in a future in which aging is optional. The story follows a small cadre of young professionals that are biologically prepubescent. The story succeeds both in its portrayal of aged children and in its overarching theme of tolerance. The low points of the collection: "Sense and Sensibility" - It may be my unfamiliarity with the well-known novel, but the humor and absurdity of this postmodern story never hit the mark for me. "Other Cities" - This sequence of short vignettes that each describe a fictional city occasionally piqued my interest but never reached the standard set by the rest of the collection. The collection is rounded out by a few other stories and a number of mostly agreeable postmodern interstitials. Overall, the breadth and quality of the stories is remarkable. The collection is an easy recommendation to any fan of science fiction or postmodern fiction.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Alan

    Surreal and pleasantly loopy. That's a good thing, right? These stories are mostly light—some very light, one-page mood pieces that reminded me more than a little of some of the better posts to the Usenet newsgroup talk.bizarre, back in its heyday in the 1990s. Rosenbaum's already high-profile—his Acknowledgements page thanks a dozen or more luminaries of modern and post-modern sf, and his work has appeared in an astonishing range of venues whose names I recognized, from McSweeney's and Lady Chur Surreal and pleasantly loopy. That's a good thing, right? These stories are mostly light—some very light, one-page mood pieces that reminded me more than a little of some of the better posts to the Usenet newsgroup talk.bizarre, back in its heyday in the 1990s. Rosenbaum's already high-profile—his Acknowledgements page thanks a dozen or more luminaries of modern and post-modern sf, and his work has appeared in an astonishing range of venues whose names I recognized, from McSweeney's and Lady Churchill's Rosebud Wristlet to F&SF (The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction) and the online Strange Horizons. Standouts for me included the metafictional steampunk alternity called "Biographical Notes to 'A Discourse on the Nature of Causality, with Air-Planes,' by Benjamin Rosenbaum" (fresh from its appearance in All-Star Zeppelin Adventure Stories—and note the placement of those quotation marks) and the gene-hacked Peter Pandora's Box world of "Start the Clock," as well as the wry and evocative "Other Cities" vignettes, especially "Ahavah" and "Ylla's Choice." I found Rosenbaum's collection as a whole to be somewhat uneven; it seems to me that Rosenbaum is still finding his way... but by any stretch of the imagination it's a pleasant stretch for the imagination.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Lorina Stephens

    Call me despicable, an ignoramous, whatever villainnous epithet you wish; I just didn't get these stories. I tried. I really did try. There is very much the device of the parable in these stories, but what the moral of each story was eluded me. Rosenbaum throws aside the conventions of plot arc, character development, environmental description. In fact, he doesn't seem to use many literary conventions but those of his own devising. Which made me think: maybe I'm just too obtuse to get these stor Call me despicable, an ignoramous, whatever villainnous epithet you wish; I just didn't get these stories. I tried. I really did try. There is very much the device of the parable in these stories, but what the moral of each story was eluded me. Rosenbaum throws aside the conventions of plot arc, character development, environmental description. In fact, he doesn't seem to use many literary conventions but those of his own devising. Which made me think: maybe I'm just too obtuse to get these stories. I kept feeling the way you do when you can't remember a name. The knowledge is right there, sliding around behind neurons and ganglia, but despite all your efforts you can't latch on to that elusive information. By the time I arrived at the series of vignettes about cities, well, I'd had enough, and it's not often I give up on a book. And this from the person who loved Rushdie's The Satanic Verses. And if these stories were meant as humour, which the first and titular story is likely supposed to be, well, that eluded me as well. I didn't find humour in a woman becoming gumballs. Seemed nonsensical and pointless, but then humour is a very personal thing, and it is well known it's difficult to make me laugh. So, I'm sorry, Benjamin Rosenbaum. While I appreciate the free download, I'm very glad I didn't pay for this collection.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Isaac

    The first few stories in this book are actually the weakest in my opinion -- or maybe Rosenbaum's internal logic just made more sense to me as I read on. Many of these tales combine seemingly unrelated ideas in unexpected ways, like the incredible "Sense and Sensibility," a gloss on Jane Austen that takes place in a cosmology where planets are actually human bodies (themselves living on ever larger human bodies), and incorporates occasional metafictional asides that directly verbally abuse the r The first few stories in this book are actually the weakest in my opinion -- or maybe Rosenbaum's internal logic just made more sense to me as I read on. Many of these tales combine seemingly unrelated ideas in unexpected ways, like the incredible "Sense and Sensibility," a gloss on Jane Austen that takes place in a cosmology where planets are actually human bodies (themselves living on ever larger human bodies), and incorporates occasional metafictional asides that directly verbally abuse the reader. When Rosenbaum is on, somehow this all works seamlessly. When he's not (as in the title story), his stories can be meandering and unaffecting, like a flat description of someone else's dreams. Others are more straightfaced science fiction, but with inspired worldbuilding (like "Embracing-the-New," which was unexpectedly moving). Metafiction and self-referentiality crop up fairly often (as in "The Book of Jashar" and "Biographical Notes to 'A Discourse on the Nature of Causal- ity, with Air-Planes,' by Benjamin Rosenbaum"). There's even a respectable tribute to Italo Calvino ("Other Cities"). It's all pretty great.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Wyatt Montague

    In general, the short stories gathered here are fine and somewhat entertaining. The biggest problem I had was that the writing felt forced at times, emulating other authors directly or via substance/style. One of the longer stories attempts to mimic "Lost in the Funhouse" (and David Foster Wallace to some degree, I would argue) while mirroring "Sense and Sensibility" in a surrealist setting. This is all good and well, but it just doesn't leave much of an impression other than underwhelming. The In general, the short stories gathered here are fine and somewhat entertaining. The biggest problem I had was that the writing felt forced at times, emulating other authors directly or via substance/style. One of the longer stories attempts to mimic "Lost in the Funhouse" (and David Foster Wallace to some degree, I would argue) while mirroring "Sense and Sensibility" in a surrealist setting. This is all good and well, but it just doesn't leave much of an impression other than underwhelming. The most readable section was "Other Cities" and the reason I enjoyed it was because it felt like something from Italo Calvino's "Invisible Cities". The tales aren't poorly written, don't get me wrong. At best they remind you of works from famous authors. At worst, they're ultimately forgettable. An entertaining read, but nothing you'll really remember a day or two out.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Adam

    I read about one-third of this story collection and enjoyed much of what I read. Rosenbaum doesn’t create traditional plots or three-dimensional characters so much as he paints weird little, dream-like fables. The best of what I read were the very short, very surreal stories “The Fig” and “Falling.” Also memorable were “The Orange,” a flash fiction piece, and “Orphans,” a riff on the classic children’s book character Babar. Some of the stories sort of put me off though. I suppose that you really I read about one-third of this story collection and enjoyed much of what I read. Rosenbaum doesn’t create traditional plots or three-dimensional characters so much as he paints weird little, dream-like fables. The best of what I read were the very short, very surreal stories “The Fig” and “Falling.” Also memorable were “The Orange,” a flash fiction piece, and “Orphans,” a riff on the classic children’s book character Babar. Some of the stories sort of put me off though. I suppose that you really know this collection is the book for you if you’re into reading a story here and there in which fairy tales devolve into bizarre sexual adventures.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Lettie Prell

    Please understand, my 4-star reviews should probably be 5s; 3 stars from me is like 4. Make no mistake, The Ant King is good literature. At his best, Benjamin Rosenbaum's tales remind me of Donald Barthelme's. Pieces like "The Blow", "Fig" and "Red Leather Tassels" are near-perfect surreal delights. The story for which the anthology is named is modern and unpredictable in its unfolding. I loved it. Overall, a great debut, and I'm looking forward to more. Please understand, my 4-star reviews should probably be 5s; 3 stars from me is like 4. Make no mistake, The Ant King is good literature. At his best, Benjamin Rosenbaum's tales remind me of Donald Barthelme's. Pieces like "The Blow", "Fig" and "Red Leather Tassels" are near-perfect surreal delights. The story for which the anthology is named is modern and unpredictable in its unfolding. I loved it. Overall, a great debut, and I'm looking forward to more.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Kelly Flanagan

    Wow, ok, so I like weird. in fact, My mother warned me "Do NOT talk to strangers!" This has never been an issue for me, as I have never met anyone stranger than I am. Ever. This book, if it were human, and therefore maybe the author himself, is almost as odd an entity as I am. Finally! Read along my fine normal friend(s)Maybe afterwatrds, I won't be able to talk to you... Wow, ok, so I like weird. in fact, My mother warned me "Do NOT talk to strangers!" This has never been an issue for me, as I have never met anyone stranger than I am. Ever. This book, if it were human, and therefore maybe the author himself, is almost as odd an entity as I am. Finally! Read along my fine normal friend(s)Maybe afterwatrds, I won't be able to talk to you...

  19. 5 out of 5

    Marc

    Really entertaining and inventive short stories. A vast range of wildly different narrative voices, almost all endearing and enjoyable. Many will leave you smiling. Recommended even for those who normally eschew science fiction (the term need be applied very loosely) if you enjoy the short story form. Also, for those who love the author vs reader battle, the penultimate story is a rollicking treat.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Annie

    Contains one of my favorite short stories of all time, "The House Beyond Your Sky" (readable for free at http://www.strangehorizons.com/2006/2... if you're interested). Every time I read it, I see something different in it, just an amazing story. Rosenbaum is awesome and more people need to know about him! Contains one of my favorite short stories of all time, "The House Beyond Your Sky" (readable for free at http://www.strangehorizons.com/2006/2... if you're interested). Every time I read it, I see something different in it, just an amazing story. Rosenbaum is awesome and more people need to know about him!

  21. 4 out of 5

    Nikku

    In the vein of Cory Doctorow, Rosenbaum's stories are contemporary, inventive and thoughtfully referential in an original and engaging way. His reworking of Pride and Prejudice is amazing and the title story blurs the line between video games and the real world while laying waste to rampant capitalism and corporatism. Great stuff! In the vein of Cory Doctorow, Rosenbaum's stories are contemporary, inventive and thoughtfully referential in an original and engaging way. His reworking of Pride and Prejudice is amazing and the title story blurs the line between video games and the real world while laying waste to rampant capitalism and corporatism. Great stuff!

  22. 5 out of 5

    Pauline

    .OTHER REVIEWERS I LIKED:.he imagines a waterfront district where old women cruise grandmothers' bars. ...he has written not one, but several, one-page stories that have altered my hope for the future. ...when he writes about a woman turning into gumballs it isn't a silly surrealist throw-away, but an important clue to understanding a story. .OTHER REVIEWERS I LIKED:.he imagines a waterfront district where old women cruise grandmothers' bars. ...he has written not one, but several, one-page stories that have altered my hope for the future. ...when he writes about a woman turning into gumballs it isn't a silly surrealist throw-away, but an important clue to understanding a story.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Laura

    Includes the strangest Austen story you’ve ever seen- set in a cottage on a precancerous mole, a manor carved into a rotten molar, and the perilous journey in between. Fav story: Start the Clock, where a gang of 9 year olds (who’ve been 9 for 25 years after a virus freezes everyone at the age they were) shop for real estate in Pirateland.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Hans

    The 5 stars is more for the "And Other Stories." Rosenbaum has a great talent for short stories and he really pulls you in. In many cases, I didn't want the shorts to end (except for the titular one, which was sub par to the rest). I still think about many of the shorts in the book, there's a ton of creativity in here. The 5 stars is more for the "And Other Stories." Rosenbaum has a great talent for short stories and he really pulls you in. In many cases, I didn't want the shorts to end (except for the titular one, which was sub par to the rest). I still think about many of the shorts in the book, there's a ton of creativity in here.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Don

    Some stories might not be as accessible as others. A couple were on the verge of turning me off a few times, but that's only because I almost lost the patience needed to wrap my head around them. I stuck with it and was rewarded, every time. Some stories might not be as accessible as others. A couple were on the verge of turning me off a few times, but that's only because I almost lost the patience needed to wrap my head around them. I stuck with it and was rewarded, every time.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Su

    I love this wacky writer. Every chapter is a different story of a different bird...figuratively. I don't think there are more than one bird story. He made me laugh like no other. Maybe it's the age and having children thing. Mark wasn't as keen on him. I love this wacky writer. Every chapter is a different story of a different bird...figuratively. I don't think there are more than one bird story. He made me laugh like no other. Maybe it's the age and having children thing. Mark wasn't as keen on him.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Jeff Szymanski

    The title story is a good one. I also enjoyed "Other Cities" and "A Siege of Cranes." Others are less memorable, but all in all, a decent collection. Note that this is a free eBook from manybooks.net. :) The title story is a good one. I also enjoyed "Other Cities" and "A Siege of Cranes." Others are less memorable, but all in all, a decent collection. Note that this is a free eBook from manybooks.net. :)

  28. 4 out of 5

    Natalie

    Strange and imaginative short story that does keep your attention.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Craig Laurance

    Great surrealist debut.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Kris

    I really some of these, mostly the really bizarro ones, but some were duds...especially the last one.

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