the Little Red Reviewer

Archive for the ‘Robert Jackson Bennett’ Category

city of blades RJBCity of Blades, by Robert Jackson Bennett

Published January 2016

where I got it: Received ARC from the publisher (thanks Broadway Books!)

.

.

.

.

.

.

       *    *    *    *    *    *   *    *    *    *    *    *

Two asides, by method of introduction:

 

Robert Jackson Bennett knows how to make a damn good sandwich.

 

I find mythology tragic, yet addictive. It’s like a scab I can’t stop picking at, a trainwreck I can’t look away from. The more we tell these beloved and culturally powerful stories, the more we trap their inhabitants. One of my favorite examples of this is Loki (Fenrir is another).  He is trapped in his destiny, he can’t make other choices or do other things, even if he wanted to. And every time his story is told, the shackles get tighter. As storytellers, we need him to be a particular archetype, we need him to act a certain way, to be a certain lever of the world as we know it. Because otherwise, the myth wouldn’t have the desired effect.

Mythologies are cultural artifacts of incalculable value, and as we gain strength and inspiration from their telling  we enslave the characters within the myth, because we know how the story has to end.

 

Confused yet? Excellent. Let’s talk about City of Blades.

*    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *

City of Blades is both a very easy book to talk about, and yet a very difficult one.  It easily falls into my favorite category of books, those “that aren’t what they say they are about”, which makes it very easy to talk about without spoiling important plot bits. However, it is hard to talk about, because there are intimacies and honesties in this book that as a reader, I feel I have been trusted with. I do not want to betray that trust by mis-speaking about someone’s experiences.   I just realized I am treating Bennett’s characters as if they are real people. I talk about not wanting to betray someone’s trust, yet that someone is a fictional character, whose life and secrets are available to anyone who wishes to turn the pages of her life. You know what? I like thinking about Turyin Mulaghesh as a real person.  It’s a comfort, to give that kind of weight to her life, and to the lives of the other characters in the book.

 

Both this new novel, and it’s predecessor City of Stairs, reminded me a little of Cordwainer Smith – as in both Smith and Bennett flat out refuse to follow any of the expected and so-called “rules” of the genre in which they are writing. Both authors write as if there simply are no rules or conventions, as if no one ever took them aside and said “you know you’re not supposed to present this type of story this way, right?”. With City of Blades, Bennett takes it one step further and joins Seth Dickinson in dragging an eraser through the genre, erasing the so called rules and conventions.

Read the rest of this entry »

2014 has been a pretty good year for me.  Personally, I’m damn impressed with how many of these books were actually published in 2014. As a bonus, there’s even a few novellas and short stories in here. In no particular order, here are my favorite reads of 2014!

Favorite Novels:

city_of_stairs-cover1

City of Stairs by Robert Jackson Bennett (2014) – that this book is on my list should surprise no one. And if you haven’t read it yet, seriously, get with the program. This is one of those amazing books that defies genre categorization, it just *is*.  To give you a big picture without spoiling anything, it’s about watching your worldview dissolve before your eyes, and understanding that games can be played with many sets of rules. Also? it’s simply fucking amazing.

gemsigns

Gemsigns by Stephanie Saulter (2014) – This is probably the most important book I read in 2014. Remember when Cory Doctorow’s Little Brother took high school government classes by storm? I wish the same for this book.  Gemsigns touches on enforced marginalization, building (and breaking down) cultures of racism and classism and fear, and religiously and politically promoted hatred, and handles it in a blunt and emotional way. Also? fucking awesome. And for what it’s worth, I cried at the end.

vandermeer annihilation

Annihilation by Jeff Vandermeer  (2014) –  I’ve been a Vandermeer fan for a long, long time (yet somehow I can still eat mushrooms). Annihilation was strange, surreal, and seemed to be magnetically attuned to me. The words in the tunnel rang for me like a tuning fork. And there was just something about characters who don’t have names. I am a jerk, however, because I own but haven’t yet read the third book in the series.

Read the rest of this entry »

city_of_stairs-cover1City of Stairs, by Robert Jackson Bennett

published Sept 2014

where I got it: received review copy from the publisher (thanks!)

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

 

 

Where to start with City of Stairs? To say this book has everything sounds so cliche, doesn’t it?  To say it is funny and subtle and daring and fascinating would also sound cliche. But I’m going to say all of those things anyways, because this is one of those comes-a-long-once-a-decade books that transcends. It’s like one of those Hubble images where scale is all but impossible, where you can zoom in or out, and continually find new structures that your mind tells you shouldn’t exist. That shiver you feel? It’s your worldview expanding.

 

hubble-carina-20th-anniversary-660x607

Hubble image of the Pillars of Creation, taken in 1995. click here for more info on this image.

City of Stairs is a sort of political book that’s got nothing to do with politics, it’s a fantasy where there are miracles but not exactly magic, it’s got romance that’s not traditionally romantic, not to mention culture and beliefs and history and archaeology being treated as if they are living things sitting right next to you waiting for the right moment to tell you their secrets. Like I said, it’s got everything.

 

I was recently listening to a podcast about Cordwainer Smith, and one of the Karens mentioned something about how Smith had come out of nowhere, that he wasn’t building on what other writers had done, and it was as if he was reinventing science fiction. Robert Jackson Bennett is a modern day Cordwainer Smith in a similar fashion. But, if forced to make a connection comparison (because we all like those!), to say “this book is like this other book”, the only one that comes to my mind is The Scar, by China Mieville, and only because of the depth of secrecy involved and the ultimate and intimately personal goals of some of the characters.

 

*         *          *

 

City of Stairs starts with a courtroom ruling, followed by a train arriving in the middle of the night.

Read the rest of this entry »

scifi month header

Thanks to the amazing organization skills of Rinn over at Rinn Reads, we’re right in the heart of  Science Fiction Month. And I’ve noticed something. Something wonderful: lots of folks who are participating in SciFi Month are completely new to science fiction.

This is fantastic!  That so many people who have never picked up a science  fiction book are interested in giving some weird stuff a try, it warms my heart.  Getting into science fiction isn’t always easy.   Strange names, alien planets, technobabble, far future technologies. . .  it can be a bit much.  Luckily, there are plenty (countless, actually) of “gate way” books, books that take place right now, or maybe a few years in the future, or even a few years in past. Books that don’t leave the solar system, maybe don’t even leave the Earth. You don’t need to be fluent in technobabble or have a degree in astronomy to enjoy these. You just need to turn the first page. . .

to help you on your journey into scifi, I’ve linked the titles to my reviews.  If you have any suggestions for other gateway books, let everyone know in the comments!

American Elsewhere by Robert Jackson Bennett – After her parent’s death, Mona inherits her Mom’s old house in a sleepy town in the southwest. It’s one of those old fashioned towns, where everyone knows everyone else, and the oldsters remember all the family secrets. there are family secrets, and then there are Family Secrets. How will Mona react when she learns her own?

In the Garden of Iden, by Kage Baker. I love Kage Baker, it’s as simple as that. This novel is the first of her Company Series. Don’t worry, it doesn’t end on a cliffhanger, you won’t feel sucked into reading another long series. Mendoza is an operative with a company that collects historical artifacts, and they’ve turned her into an immortal cyborg, of sorts. She spies on people, but can’t tell anyone who or what she is. Really sucks, when she falls in love with someone on her first mission. This book is as heartbreaking as it is funny. By the way, I’ve got a review of some Kage Baker Company short stories that’ll be posting in a few days.

Read the rest of this entry »

Thanks to the wonderful folks at Orbit Books, I have an extra copy of Robert Jackson Bennett’s supernatural thriller (and mind blowing masterpiece)  AMERICAN ELSEWHERE.

I absolutely loved AMERICAN ELSEWHERE, you can read my review here, and you can read an excerpt from the book over here at Orbit.

Rules for the give away:

1. to enter, comment on this post.  when you sign in to comment, make sure you leave me your e-mail address, or a twitter, or some other way to get a hold of you.

2. give away is open to all residents of planet Earth. Orbit was kind enough to send me 2 copies of this book, the least I can do is pay for some shipping someone else can enjoy this amazing novel.

3. give away closes at midnight, eastern time, on Tuesday February 19th, and the winner will be announced and contacted shortly afterwards.

4. be warned.  this book will completely blow your mind.  I am not responsible if you get absolutely no sleep while you are reading this book, are late to work, or generally ignore your family while reading.

Bennet_AmericanElsewhere_TP

Bennet_AmericanElsewhere_TPAmerican Elsewhere, by Robert Jackson Bennett

published Feburary 2013

where I got it: received review copy from Orbit Books

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.



In the early days, I was a huge fan of M. Night Shyamalan.  The Sixth Sense was groundbreaking, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve watched Signs, and even The Village has redeeming qualities. (and because I greatly enjoy those films, we’re not even going to talk about Shyamalan’s flops, of which there are many) What do those films have in common? A style that immediately pulls you in, perfectly timed and suspenseful disconnects between what people say and what’s really going on, compelling characters, isolated environs that feel timeless, cliffhanger scenes, and a climax that (although sometimes very silly) that reminds you he’s been giving you hints all this time, you just weren’t looking for them.  I do have a soft spot for misdirection.

Now imagine if the endings of Signs and The Village weren’t completely silly. Imagine if those endings were sublimely perfect, if they were everything you wanted the end of a thriller to be. You’re starting to get close to the feeling of American Elsewhere.

You know those books that completely bowl you over? The ones where you know you’ll be buying every book the author ever writes?  The ones where every time you finish a chapter you slowly whisper holy shit to yourself? The ones that make you ask “Hey author! Where have you been my whole life??”  American Elsewhere is that book.

American Elsewhere is so many flavors of phenomenal that I don’t even know where to start. Compelling characters that I cared about immediately? check.  A multi-faceted mystery that kept me guessing until the final reveal? check check.  A story structured and paced in such a way to give intimate scenes and action sequences equal billing for importance? that too.  Even if you’re not into thrillers or supernatural mysteries,  you will still love this book. (One caveat: if you’re offended by strong language this may  not be the book for you. Mona uses the f-bomb even more than I do.)

Read the rest of this entry »

bennett_company-man-hcThe Company Man, by Robert Jackson Bennett

published in 2011

where I got it: received ARC from the publisher

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

 

In an alternate early 1900s, in an amazing metropolis in the Pacific Northwest, a new industrial revolution has begun. In Evesden, The McNaughton Corporation holds patents for the most amazing technologies, everything from airships to subterannean trolleyways, to telecommunications. The Corporation holds their secrets dear, and at times has held the world hostage, and that same world flocks to Evesden and the McNaughton Corporation with dreams of a better life and a career with the company that is reinventing the world.

Found in an Indian prison and given a life of luxury in Evesden is McNaughton’s most valuable employee, a Mr Cyril Hayes.  Hayes works from the shadows, making the corporations problems disappear. He spies, he blackmails, he knows better than to ask questions of his superiors, and they know better than to try to keep him out of the opium dens or to let on that they know he shares information with the cops.

Hayes’ newest assignment comes with an assistant, the young and sheltered Samantha Fairbanks. She’s his secretary, but she’s also supposed to keep him under control and out of trouble. Their mission is to interview employees suspected of Union organization. No arrests, no threats,  no mention of Unions, just talk about how everything has been going lately.  Hayes sits in on the interviews, but he isn’t really listening. At least, not with his ears. There’s a reason Hays lives alone in a giant warehouse, there’s a reason he’s anti-social, there’s a reason he escapes into hazes of opium and alcohol.  The longer Hayes spends with someone, the more the person’s thoughts invade his mind. It becomes easier and easier for Hayes to talk like that person, act and walk like that person, become that person’s new best friend, their confidant, their confessor.  Hayes can count on one hand the number of people who know about his ability.

the way people react to Hayes when they find out what he can do gave certain scenes almost and X-Men type feeling for me.  Hayes closest friend Inspector Garvey is completely accepting of the fact that Hayes can “read minds”, while Hayes’ supervisor refuses to be close quarters with him for more than a few minutes. Others respond with anger, disgust and fear. There’s a point where in the eyes of the company Hayes ceases to be an employee, and becomes a thing, a tool, a weapon, a closely guarded and dangerous secret. The saddest thing, is that he knows it.

Read the rest of this entry »


Follow me on Twitter!

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 1,571 other followers

subscribe in a reader

Vintage SF

Categories

FTC Stuff

some of the books reviewed here were free ARCs supplied by publishers/authors/other groups. Some of the books here I got from the library. the rest I *gasp!* actually paid for. I'll do my best to let you know what's what.