Tuesday, January 8, 2013

M Bennardo - The Famous Fabre Fly Caper

Finally, I want to (highly!) recommend The Famous Fabre Fly Caper. From Bennardo’s Blog:

It’s the tale of two decent tree frogs, pushed too far and backed into a corner, forced to stage a daring daylight fly-heist to survive in their increasingly dangerous pond.

First of all, I love the title. It perfectly encapsulates the whimsy and lightheartedness of the tale.

Secondly, the narrative is magic. It is no slight when I say it recalled fond memories of some of my favorite childhood reading. It has that same unspoiled imaginative spirit and deceptive simplicity, characters in set in high relief. Charm.

On Bennardo’s blog, he mentions that he likes to use his love of history as a backdrop for his stories, as in Desert of Trees. Here, I can certainly see how having that setting made the story more vibrant. The Fabre in the title is one real life naturalist Jean-Henri Fabre who studied insects and other creatures. And it's his insects the frogs want to pinch. Two quotes from Fabre’s book, The Life of the Fly, bookend this story in a way that I thought was quite clever. The attention to detail adds richness to the world—how frogs live and herons eat, the motivations of a cat, or the sights and sounds around a pond from the point-of-view of the little creatures living there.

The two protagonists, Claud the brains and Denis the sidekick, are so earnest you really want them to succeed, yet you know their plan is foolhardy at best—after all, they’re only tree frogs. Complications arise, but Bennardo keeps the pace light and the tension high. The animal denizens of the pond and the house, which is the scene of the heist, provide plenty of thrills and laughs and unpredictability along the way. Even old Fabre makes an appearance to great comedic effect.

Really, there’s not much more I can say besides you just have to read it. This story was brilliant fun, if you like a good tall tale, and it is, so far, my favorite of M Bennardo's.

Keep an eye on this author, and hit the links:

Photo credit: "catch 22 nately" by schammond available under CC BY 2.0

Thursday, January 3, 2013

M Bennardo: Part 2

Why am I telling you about author M Bennardo, and what started me on his trail? I guess I should direct you this previous post of mine, wherein I explain what I do when my writing stalls. The short of it is I read, some for research and some to fill the quiet hours. For fiction, I read and research (and write) mostly within a certain genre, and when you read and research (and write) mostly within a certain genre, chances are you’ll metaphorically cross paths with certain authors repeatedly.  Bennardo is one of those authors, and I’m telling you about him because I think he’s one of the good ones.

Bennardo has a blog on his site, and as a writer it is oftentimes nice to read the musings of other writers travelling the same road with success and quiet determination. On this blog, I gandered a list of his most recently published works (this is where I received my second surprise to learn he penned that flash I didn’t quite warm to.)

I decided to try Desert of Trees on NewMyths, which he described, thusly:

This is a tale of an Athabascan woman stranded in the Alaskan taiga in early spring with no gun, no map, no compass, and almost no food. She teams up with an unlikely companion to survive the worst of the journey as she makes her way back to civilization.

Which I skimmed over and headed straight to read. I’m an oddball like that, but in this case I was in for a pleasant surprise. It's a survival story much like Starvation, human will versus the elements versus human limitations. The first line grabbed me and the supporting two or three paragraphs after clarified just how dire the protagonist’s situation was. I wanted to find out what happened to Nansan’s husband and what would ultimately happen to her.

Bennardo only pulls you in deeper from there, for it’s not only Nansan’s life at stake but also her baby’s. Her range of emotions—hope, despair, fear, and unthinking courage—resonated well, in my opinion, due to Bennardo’s straightforward yet evocative descriptions.

It’s the straightforwardness, I think, that gets me most about M Bennardo’s stories, the candid depictions, and the unaffected storytelling that allows the plot and characters to stand on their own with what seems like little authorial wrangling. As concentrated as I am on writing, it sometimes becomes glaring in others’ stories—here a clever turn of phrase to spice things up, there an idea elevated for the sake of profundity—but I noticed none of that reading this story. The writer vanished and the story lived and breathed.

The protagonist’s “unlikely companion” showed up at the right time, for me. I can dig a survival story, but I can only read so much hopeless suffering. I half-expected yet another magical guide who had all the answers and could solve everything if only the foolish human wasn’t so foolish—in other words, the human story would take a backseat to the glory of the Speculative Idea. 

That didn’t happen. The friction of wills between the two personalities, the give and take and trust and suspicion added another layer of intrigue and uncertainty. Speaking of personalities, Bennardo’s portrayal of the companion, I thought, was refreshingly understated and showed a lot of control, as these things can sometimes tend jar and outsize the story. 

Overall, I thought the tale hit just the right tone and pace, a balanced and enjoyable piece that further encouraged me to seek out another of M Bennardo’s stories. 

That other story turned out to be Imagine Cows on Mars on Redstone Science Fiction. It's another kind of survival story (a recurring theme of his?), with illegal emigrants from Earth settling ahead of time on a still-terraforming Mars. I don’t like to rag on stories I’m not enthusiastic about, so I’ll just say this one, for me, recalled the sparseness of the flash. It was an okay story but not as memorable, in terms of characters or plot. 

So, there I was. I’d tried a couple of M Bennardo’s stories and it was half and half. I wasn’t completely sold, wasn’t yet recommending him to friends. That changed with The Famous Fabre Fly Caper...

Until next time, hit the links:

Photo credit: "catch 22 nately" by schammond available under CC BY 2.0

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

M Bennardo: Part 1

This is how I mostly discover new short fiction authors: I skip recommendations and glowing reviews and just read. I lose track of who I read and where, wonder why a name sounds so familiar, and through sheer luck I rediscover them all over again. I may be an oddball in my stumblings, but when I stumble upon storytelling that grabs me, an author who does it right more times than not, I make a note of it.

And this blog is just sitting, so why not make a note of it here and share with others an author I think they will enjoy as I have?

So, who is M Bennardo? I suppose it would be proper to start with a bio of the author, but I’m not going to. I’m going to introduce you M Bennardo over a couple of posts the way I was, through his stories, with hits and misses but mostly, in my humble opinion, hits.

The first M Bennardo story I read was a flash fiction piece at Daily Science Fiction called You’re Heads, She Says. You’re Tails. Honestly, I didn’t like it. It felt spare and cold—even for a flash about a mad scientist. For me, it left something to be desired, that warm spark of an impression.

As I am wont to do, I promptly forgot the author’s name.

Literary SF is fine, if that’s what you like, but I like it in small, infrequent doses. So, when M Bennardo kept popping up in Lois Tilton’s reviews at Locus Magazine—at one point along with a recommended rating—I just assumed ‘literary sf’, as most recommended stories there seem to be, and then I moved on.

At some point, I learned Bennardo is also the editor of Machine of Death. Imagine my surprise. I’ve got MOD on my PC, I recommended it to a friend, and this guy was the one behind it all. Here, I went off to find the author’s site.

But, what’s the Machine of Death, you ask and why should that change my mind? It’s an anthology featuring a machine which predicts how you die. I enjoy picking a story from the collection at random to read how that unifying theme spins off into profound concepts, how it reveals different facets of human behavior.

Bennardo’s contributing story there is Starvation, a nail-biting tale about the physical and psychological pitfalls of two men stranded on an island. Sounds like a familiar premise? Consider that one man knows he will die by homicide and the other knows he will die by starvation. Neither knows when or where or how it will ultimately happen, but desperation makes both predictions chillingly possible on the island.

And via M Bennardo’s site, I found more great tales like it. Check out the links below, read some of his stories, and share your opinions in the comments or wherever you care to.

Next time, more Bennardo and evolving thoughts on why I like his writing…

Photo credit: "catch 22 nately" by schammond available under CC BY 2.0