The Ant King: and Other Stories

The Ant King: and Other Stories

by Benjamin Rosenbaum

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A debut spanning the weirdest corners of literature and science fiction, exploring family, loyalty, and memory.  See more details below


A debut spanning the weirdest corners of literature and science fiction, exploring family, loyalty, and memory.

Editorial Reviews

Edward Champion
Benjamin Rosenbaum is a fierce talent whose knack for genre mash-ups is represented well, if spottily, in this debut short story collection.
—The Washington Post
Publishers Weekly

"Plausible-fabulist" Rosenbaum's debut collection of 17 short stories is inconsistent, but it includes some speculative gems. The thought-provoking "Start the Clock" takes place in a near future where a virus has stopped the human aging process, forcing millions of people to live forever as preadolescents. The title story is an absurdist masterwork about a man in search of a woman who has been turned into yellow gumballs, abducted and hidden away in a lair guarded by a giant roach. Most notable is World Fantasy Award-finalist "A Siege of Cranes," which blends elements of horror, epic fantasy and religious mythology in the tale of a desperate man seeking a nightmarish enemy that has destroyed his village and killed his wife and child. Featuring outlandish and striking imagery throughout-a woman in love with an elephant, an orange that ruled the world-this collection is a surrealistic wonderland. (Aug.)

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Kirkus Reviews
A storyteller concocts flights of fancy that move science fiction and fantasy just a bit further "out there."These fanciful stories were originally published in venues ranging from McSweeney's toArgosy, as well as some sci-fi and fantasy magazines. The title story opens with a bang, as an ambitious capitalist's longtime girlfriend explodes into a fountain of yellow gumballs. Starring a junk food-addicted subterranean overlord, a turncoat systems administrator named Vampire and a reluctant hero named Stan, the story is loaded with reverential geekery and laugh-out-loud snipes at corporate culture. Rosenbaum proves he's capable of sustained fantasy with "Biographical Notes," a steampunkish alternate history of aerial piracy, and "A Siege of Cranes," a fantasy about a battle between a human insurgent and the White Witch that carries decidedly modern undercurrents. The only true misstep is "Other Cities," an inventive but ultimately pointless travelogue of imagined metropolises. It's in the briefest of stories that Rosenbaum wields the greatest level of literary verve. The ten paragraphs of "The Orange" recount the rise to power of an orange entrusted to rule the world. A similarly succinct vignette, "The Blow," upturns the conventions of hard-boiled noir with the story of a detective laid low by a crippling blow. Perhaps none of the tales is odder than "Orphans," in which girl-meets-elephant, girl-loses-elephant. An imaginative debut collection.

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Product Details

Small Beer Press
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
5.40(w) x 8.40(h) x 0.60(d)

Read an Excerpt

The Ant King: A California Fairy Tale

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.

After several months of hard work on himself with the group, Stan was ready to open a shop and sell the thousands of yellow gumballs. He did this because he believed in capitalism, he loved capitalism. He loved the dynamic surge and crash of Amazon's stock price, he loved the great concrete malls spreading across America like blood staining through a handkerchief, he loved how everything could be tracked and mirrored in numbers. When he closed the store each night he would count the gumballs sold, and he would determine his gross revenue, his operating expenses, his operating margin; he would adjust his balance sheet and learn his debt-to-equity ratio; and after this exercise each night, Stan felt he understood himself and was at peace, and he could go home to his apartment and drink tea and sleep, without shooting himself or thinking about Sheila.

On the night before the IPO of, Sheila came to Stan in a dream. She was standing in a kiddie pool; Stan and his brothers and sisters were running around splashing and screaming; she had managed to insert herself into a Super 8 home movie of Stan's family, shot in thelate seventies. She looked terribly sad.

"Sheila, where are you?" Stan said. "Why did you leave me, why did you become gumballs?"

"The Ant King has me," Sheila said. "You must rescue me."

* * * *

Stan woke up, he shaved, he put on his Armani suit, and drove his Lexus to his appointment with his venture capitalists and investment bankers. But the dream would not leave him. "Ant King?" he asked himself. "What's this about a goddamn Ant King?"

On the highway, near the swamp, he pulled his Lexus over to the shoulder. 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.

Stan took off his shiny black shoes and argyle socks, cuffed his Armani suit pants above the knees, and waded through the squidgy mud and tall reeds of the swamp. He saw a heron rise, flutter, and soar into the midmorning sky. Ant King, Ant King, he thought.

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