bennett

‘Like looking into glass’: not a review of City of Stairs by Robert Jackson Bennett

cityofstairsI’ve been rereading City of Stairs by Robert Jackson Bennett for the past couple of days. Yes, rereading. The book is freshly out, but I had read the ARC back in April and wanted to read it again. I have terrible memory for books. I remember if I liked them or not, but plot details evaporate from my brain in mere days. It’s rather inconvenient, professionally speaking, because customers tend to not be amused by sales pitches like ‘You should read this book. It’s about things.’

I also wanted to read it again because I was going to write a proper reviewI even made notes and used post-it notes. But now that I’m actually sitting here in front of the screen, I don’t think I need to add to already enormous buzz that surrounds this book. There are many reviews out there (see, for example, this blog post on Bennett’s shiny new website, and while you are there, check out maps and images of Bulikov). You can read or skim them at your leisure, but one thing you will probably take away from this activity is that City of Stairs is amazing and worth your time.

I liked this book so much because it hit all the right notes for me. Deities in fiction, check (dead ones? even better). An Eastern European-esque culture, check (I could probably write another naming essay like I did for Wolfhound Century by Peter Higgins). City as a character and great world-building, check. Mysterious artifacts, check. All of this is excellent. Pick it up.

Really, the only problem with this book is the hooded dude cover.

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All the books: August and early September releases

End of August and beginning of September is an amazing time. September in general is heavy on great new releases, and this year it’s almost overwhelming with the number of books I have either read and liked or look forward to reading. Here’s an incomplete list of amazing stuff for your perusal:

1) David Mitchell, The Bone Clocks (out 9/2). I read it way back in April, and now I need to reread it because I swallowed it in two sittings, filed it under ‘really liked, but had issue X (specifically, what I called ‘the scouring of the Shire’ ending’), and then promptly forgot all the fine details. A couple of my friends who read it a bit later tried to engage me in conversation about it, and I realized I could not form coherent thoughts. On reread pile it goes. Oh, and if you are anywhere DC on September 17th, Politics & Prose is having an event with Mitchell, details and tickets here (shameless employment place self-promotion). I’ll be there, attempting not to look like an idiot or drool on the author.

mirrorempire2) Kameron Hurley, The Mirror Empire. This is out on 8/26. I did not get a chance to read the ARC, but I’m quite excited to read the final product. This promises a complex world, gender politics, and a multi-layered story. It’s already been reviewed by a bunch of intelligent and articulate people, if you want to take a look: Alex Ristea at Ristea’s Reads, Justin Landon at Staffer’s Book Review, Nathan at Fantasy Review Barn, or Neth at Neth Space. I feel that I should leave this one for when I feel I have enough mental capacity for it, but it seems like an essential book if you are a genre reader.

3) Robert Jackson Bennett, City of Stairs (out 9/9). I had so much fun with this one. Bennett is among one of my favorite writers. I am yet to read anything by him I did not enjoy (incidentally, David Mitchell is in the same category).

4) Jeff Vandermeer, Acceptance (out 9/2), the conclusion to the Southern Reach trilogy. This will firmly solidify your fear of natural world and prevent you from leaving the house or visiting any nature preserves, possibly forever. And once more with the shameless self-promotion: Jeff Vandermeer will be at P&P on September 27th at 6 pm. Of course I’ll be there. If I can leave the house.

hieroglyphThere are many more shiny new books, like Lauren Beukes’s Broken Monsters, or this collection of stories called Hieroglyph (I am still on a short story kick, so this is very exciting). Really, I need to stop here and go read now.

Happy fall. Have all the books.

‘It’s always early summer in Wink’: American Elsewhere by Robert Jackson Bennett

AmericanElsewhereIt’s always comforting to compare a new thing to something already familiar. This is why, about 20 pages into American Elsewhere, I thought ‘This is like Eureka, but terrifying. It’s like they hired Stephen King to write scripts for them.’ A coworker told me she thought of it as the novelization of Welcome to Night Vale.

We like to think that we are looking for originality in fiction. But I think what we actually look for is original familiarity, or familiar originality. We want something that is not entirely unknown, but unknown enough to jolt us. Thankfully, there are centuries and centuries of stories, and making connections is not difficult. I think saying that a work reminds you of some other work is not a criticism, especially if it reminds you of something that genuinely stayed with you. And I can say that this novel reminds me of Eureka, but it is NOT Eureka. It’s also NOT Bradbury (though there are tones of Bradbury in there), or Danielewski (there are odd houses, never-ending hallways), or King. It is Robert Jackson Bennett, and he is very, very good.

The story, in short: an ex-cop Mona finds out that she inherited a house that belonged to her mother. The house is located in Wink, New Mexico, a town so remote that it doesn’t seem to be on any maps. But that’s not the only weird thing about it. Or rather, it’s not even the weirdest thing about this town…

I am a sucker for ‘nice little town where spooky things are happening’ theme. Same with ‘uncomprehending stranger in a strange town’ theme. Both of those allow for some nicely done exposition and create a situation where a creepy town seems that much creepier precisely because its residents treat odd things as either normal or as things that have to be put up with because that’s the status quo. They know there are weird things going on, and try their best to steer the newcomer away from them (‘You know not to go out at night, right?’). It’s perfection tainted on the inside.

It is a fairly big book, and yet I finished it in just a couple of sittings, thanks to Bennett’s skill as a writer and specifically as a horror writer. I started it before bed one night. That was a foolish mistake, because three hours later I was still awake, stuck in the vicious ‘one more chapter’ loop. I was also kind of reluctant to go to sleep because it meant turning off the lights. American Elsewhere terrified me (and I mean that as a compliment). The last time I was this terrified was when I read Shining Girls by Lauren Beukes. 

In sum, American Elsewhere in unsettling, excellently paced, well-plotted, and full of great characters. I imagine it only improves on rereading.

Plus, there is an abandoned government science laboratory in it.