Fantastical Fictions Features Robert Jackson Bennett

A night with the award-winning author of otherworldly wonderments

Robert Jackson Bennett
Robert Jackson Bennett

Tired of the election grind? Looking for shelter from the tsunami of last-minute political yammering? Join the genre-loving crowd gathered at Malvern BooksFantastical Fictions series – on Tuesday, Nov. 1, 7pm – and rest your weary mind from the relentless apocalyptic carping of our current news cycle.

Escape from so-called reality for an hour or so by diving into the many and varied fantastical worlds of Robert Jackson Bennett’s imagination.

Working primarily in horror and fantasy, Bennett has won the Shirley Jackson Award for Best Novel – twice! – and the Edgar Award. His writing has been compared to Stephen King, Upton Sinclair, and Philip K. Dick. He’s at ease writing across genres and deft at combining the grit and edginess of noir with supernatural elements to explore the darkest corners of our humanity. With complex characters and propulsive plots, his stories dive deep into worlds where the regular rules of reality don’t apply. His characters often move through dark and violent worlds, but they do so with a wry sense of humor that gives these stories a freshness and humanity that grimmer fare too often lacks.

Bennett’s novel American Elsewhere, for instance, doesn’t so much defy description as spawn them. It’s been called “Lovecraft meets Leave it to Beaver,” or maybe it’s “The Wizard of Oz with elder gods,” or perhaps “Alice in Wonderland – if Alice were to be transported instead to the White Sands nuclear test site in New Mexico.” There are monsters, of course, terrifying monsters; but also – um – some of them are helpful. Yes, the monsters here have their own story. Bennett deftly uses familiar tropes from science fiction, fantasy, and noir in an entirely original story. This is what modern mythmaking looks like.

The author’s current fantasy series, comprising City of Stairs, City of Blades, and the forthcoming City of Miracles, again puts well-worn tools of the genre in service to a realm both fantastically foreign yet familiar. The characters are set against a complex world where vying nation states have killed off the local gods and suppress anything that might indicate that miracles still exist. There are themes of conquest, colonialism, and how we interact with the supernatural flow under fast-moving stories of murder and political intrigue. There are monsters here, too – and swords and stout sailing ships – but Bennett isn’t afraid to show a world where new technologies (firearms, photography) are emerging. As the pace of technological development rolls on IRL, encountering a fantasy world that isn’t locked in time is not only fun to read but feels relevant.

Every odd month local book scene movers-and-shakers Chris Brown and Rebecca Schwarz host the Fantastical Fictions series at Malvern Books, bringing together authors and readers who enjoy spending time in places that don’t quite align with reality. This coming month, on November’s first Tuesday, the interdimensional portal shimmers into existence with Robert Jackson Bennett – live, in person – at its humming core.

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