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