Tag Archives: Ben Blattberg

[GUEST REVIEW] Ben Blattberg on CALIFORNIA BONES by Greg van Eekhout


Ben Blattberg is a freelance writer currently living in Texas. He blogs about movies and story structure at incremental-catastrophe.blogspot.com and makes jokes on Twitter @inCatastrophe.

MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: In a magical LA ruthlessly run by a cannibal magician, a thief with a magical talent gets caught up in a heist.

MY REVIEW:
PROS: Fun world-building with some darkly vivid imagery, and a fast-moving caper plot that pulls readers along.
CONS: Some jarring plot shifts and murky character motivations.
BOTTOM LINE: I wouldn’t want to live in van Eekhout’s grim, magical LA, but it’s a fantastic place to visit; and despite a few hiccups, the book is a fun thrill-ride.

If you’ve ever been to sunny Los Angeles, you know that it’s a dread-laden city of madness, where the palm trees merely bide their time till they wake and push us all into the unforgiving Pacific. Or maybe that’s just me; maybe Los Angeles strikes you more as a city of pretty people cavorting in endless sunshine. Greg van Eekhout channels both versions of LA into his new novel, California Bones, an expansion of his earlier short fiction story “The Osteomancer’s Son“. Looked at one way, California Bones is a light-hearted epic heist story in a magical, alternate California; looked at another way, it’s a dystopian Grand Guignol about a decaying bureaucracy ruthlessly ruled by the biggest cannibal in town. Either way, it’s a fast-moving adventure with some heavy stakes, and only a few bumps along the way.
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[GUEST REVIEW] Ben Blattberg on TRUTH AND FEAR by Peter Higgins

Ben Blattberg is a freelance writer currently living in Texas. He blogs about movies and story structure at incremental-catastrophe.blogspot.com and makes jokes on Twitter @inCatastrophe.

MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: In the sequel to Wolfhound Century (reviewed here), while war approaches the city of Mirgorod, ex-Investigator Lom and Maroussia Shaumian search for the power to change the world, while totalitarian police chief Chazia discovers secret government research into a new weapon.

MY REVIEW:
PROS: More and deeper views into this alternate magical Russian/Soviet history; interesting side stories.
CONS: Central character Lom pales next to secondary characters; abrupt ending cries out for next volume.
BOTTOM LINE: An exciting sequel to a solid series — which will hopefully be wrapped up nicely in the third book.

Pity the fantasy author working on the middle book of a trilogy. Or don’t. But at least recognize the needle-threading necessary for a successful middle book: the author has to move the story forward, but not finish it; has to increase characters’ powers and the danger they face, but still leave some space for the final book; and has to build on the first book’s setting — but, boy, do readers get jaded with even the most inventive worlds. “Sure,” we might say to Peter Higgins, “your first book showed us a unique World War II-era Soviet fantasy world that was engrossing and strange — but what have you done for us recently?” Considering those prerequisites for a successful sequel, it seems like a minor miracle that Truth and Fear is as good as it is. In short, if you liked the first book, you will probably like this one, which continues most of the pleasures and minor faults of the first book.
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[GUEST REVIEW] Ben Blattberg on THE HALF-MADE WORLD by Felix Gilman

Ben Blattberg is a freelance writer currently living in Texas. He blogs about movies and story structure at incremental-catastrophe.blogspot.com and makes jokes on Twitter @inCatastrophe.

MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: In a Western frontier torn between agents of the Gun and of the Line, three people are drawn into a conflict over a secret weapon that may finally end the war.

MY REVIEW:
PROS: Engrossing setting; engaging writing; interesting ideas; exciting action.
CONS: Long and occasionally feels it.
BOTTOM LINE: Fascinating “fantastic western” with strong writing; a book that can spark a debate or provide entertainment.
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[GUEST REVIEW] Ben Blattberg on ONCE UPON A TIME: NEW FAIRY TALES Edited by Paula Guran

Ben Blattberg is a freelance writer currently living in Texas. He blogs about movies and story structure at incremental-catastrophe.blogspot.com and makes jokes on Twitter @inCatastrophe.

MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: An anthology of eighteen fairy tale revisions, reinterpretations, and responses.

MY REVIEW:
PROS: Shows the wide range of fairy tales with variety of excellent stories–from fairy tale adventure all the way to bleak fairy tale-style retelling of real-life tragedy; brief authors’ notes illuminate stories’ meaning, writing.
CONS: Some stories miss the mark; some stories depend on familiarity with the source fairy tale.
BOTTOM LINE: Solid anthology for fairy tale lovers and revisionists.

Fairy tales are rarely what we think they are. That’s the overall message I take from Paula Guran’s interesting, instructive, and thankfully spoiler-free introduction of Once Upon a Time: New Fairy Tales. As Guran notes, fairy tales are conservative lessons about the danger of transgression–unless they’re progressive and liberating tales of transgression. Fairy tales are misogynistic tales of witches and virgins–unless they’re feminist stories of wise women and the discovery of sex. Fairy tales are timeless–unless they’re tied to their particular time. And so on. Perhaps the one thing we can say for certain about fairy tales is that they contain some measure of magic, of wonder, of otherworldliness. And that’s a pretty loose foundation on which to build a genre.
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