PC005: The Ant King: A California Fairy Tale

By Benjamin Rosenbaum
Read by Stephen Eley.
Introduction by Rachel Swirsky.
First appeared in Fantasy & Science Fiction (Prime Books).
Also by the Author: The Ant King: and Other Stories (Paperback)

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.

Rated PG. Contains surrealism, involuntary cohabitation, strong language and characters with unconventional genders. Also, an extremely large number of geek culture easter eggs.

Please visit this story’s thread in our forums. 

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48 Responses so far »

  1. 1

    Void Munashii said,

    April 29, 2008 @ 3:58 pm

    *In best British military voice*

    “Alright, stop this! This story is silly, very silly!”

    I loved this story, easily my favourite Podcastle so far. A wonderful mixture of reality and utter nonsense.

  2. 2

    The Blow Leprechaun said,

    April 29, 2008 @ 5:04 pm

    I wasn’t sure what was really going on half the time, but I enjoyed the ride.

  3. 3

    yicheng said,

    April 29, 2008 @ 6:31 pm

    Loved it. Very Californian. I laughed out loud enough times to draw curious looks from my office-mates.

  4. 4

    belldavid6@gmail.com said,

    April 29, 2008 @ 10:58 pm

    Finally, a story I can relate to!

    Best work yet, keep it coming.

  5. 5

    al saiz said,

    April 30, 2008 @ 12:28 am

    Absolute crap.

  6. 6

    Anemone Flynn said,

    April 30, 2008 @ 2:52 pm

    I really liked this one! Keep up the good work, Rachel & Co.


  7. 7

    robiggs said,

    May 1, 2008 @ 12:22 am

    This story doesn’t do much for me. There was no real beauty in the story, or raw emotion. The story as whole was a typical Californian pipe dream.

  8. 8

    Not a journal. said,

    May 1, 2008 @ 6:05 am

    […] PC005: The Ant King: A California Fairy Tale […]

  9. 9

    Tom said,

    May 1, 2008 @ 8:13 am

    I liked it. It reminds me of my days in college where all of us geeks would gather around and choose a video game to reenact on the campus lawn. wow that makes me sound old… actually that was only about 3 years ago. ha.
    The story really hit home when there was mention of Dr. Pepper cans strewn about the work area and there were people subsisting on Doritos. If only there was mention of Ramen noodles it would have been just like my college years. Great story. I look forward to the next.

  10. 10

    scatterbrain said,

    May 1, 2008 @ 5:12 pm


    It’s like Rosenbaum re-wrote Terry Gillian’s Brazil and manage to magic realize California as well.

  11. 11

    V said,

    May 1, 2008 @ 5:16 pm

    vampire’s comments were….odd. I suppose that goes with the general surreality. Somehow I expect this story is based on a very weird dream. With a soupcon of things like, oh, Lucy Daughter of the Devil.

    I don’t know what I think of it. It isn’t boring. It doesn’t have a lot of depth either.

    So I guess it’s the fictional equivalent of Cartoon Network.

  12. 12

    Gary H said,

    May 2, 2008 @ 1:04 am

    Having been born in California and lived my entire life here, I really disliked this story. The jokes were tired and the characters flat. Maybe I quickly got spoiled with the first few fabulous episodes of Podcastle; maybe this story tried to hard to be funny and whimsical, but failed on both accounts. I really hope people don’t think that this represents CA. It’s about a very short, media hyped time period isolated to a small geographic area. Besides, you can’t have a California fairy tell without some hippies and acid trips.

  13. 13

    Gary H said,

    May 2, 2008 @ 1:05 am

    sorry, got submit happy. “Tale” not “tell” in the last sentence.

  14. 14

    David said,

    May 2, 2008 @ 5:21 am

    This was one wierd story. The only thing that really redeemed this was that it was funny. The funniest part was the quest that the guy went on. Since I play Runescape, I realize how ridiculous this story was. The only part I really thought was somewhat realistic was the description of Vampire. Since I’m a Computer Science major, I think it is funny.

  15. 15

    thorsten said,

    May 2, 2008 @ 9:21 am

    haha, I absolutely loved it. For me it was californian as it gets, a good balance against last weeks foray into chinese horoscope related running… and as always great read by Stephen… The B5 comment was nice ;))

  16. 16

    DaveNJ said,

    May 2, 2008 @ 9:50 am

    As a fan of writers like Gabriel Garcia Márquez and Julio Cortázar this story really just blew me away. The elements of magical realism, the way the world it took place in felt so familiar and yet so fantastic, the characters, the description, everything worked in perfect harmony. This isn’t just the best Podcastle story I’ve ever heard, it’s also one of the best stories period, and I’ve listened to every Pseudopod and Escape Pod. Flat out amazing story, and a real joy to listen to.

    Keep up the amazing work.

  17. 17

    Cami said,

    May 2, 2008 @ 11:01 am

    Ordinarily I don’t go for stories where the protagonist can’t seem to win one, but this was an exception. Perhaps the reason for this is I spent the whole time trying to figure out the significance of yellow gumballs.

  18. 18

    Rick said,

    May 2, 2008 @ 9:16 pm

    Very California, plastic, empty, and utterly meaningless. This was dreadful.

  19. 19

    Sci-Fi Podcast Roundup #4 | Solar Flare: Science Fiction News said,

    May 2, 2008 @ 10:31 pm

    […] PodCastle #5 – The Ant King: A California Fairy Tale by Benjamin Rosenbaum, ready by Stephen Eley. […]

  20. 20

    Hawthorne said,

    May 3, 2008 @ 1:35 pm

    It was 2 in the morning early on friday when i first listened to the story, and was not all the way awake, and i concluded that my lack of sleep had twisted the story making it bizarre and senseless, so i re-listened to it and what do you know i was wrong.

    This story made no sense and i was very disappointed in it. the only parts i laughed at were the Adventure references (YAY FOR TWISTY LITTLE PASSAGES ALL ALIKE!) although i would like to also point out an error, the yellow bird is very important and DOES NOT just give you extra points!, you need it to scare the dragon grr.

    But anyway, this story amused me, but was still empty and feel this story was an insult to the strange, bizarre, and senseless community.

  21. 21

    Josh said,

    May 4, 2008 @ 1:07 am

    I’m from California – the Bay Area, in fact, but the East Bay, not Silicon Valley – and I have to say, this story had nothing to do with the California I’m from. Yes, California was ground zero of the silliness that was he dotcom bubble, but even at the height of that craze, the vast, vast majority of Californians had nothing to do with the stuff satirized in the story.

    Yes, California is home to bland suburbs and office parks. But it’s also full of urban and rural spaces, and natural beauty that can take your breath away even after many years. It’s home to conspicuous consumption and venture capital, but to poverty as well. It’s home to incredible diversity, to great institutions of learning, to museums, to great book stores, to beautiful parks and forests, to great art and music.

    This story is a fairly artless send-up of one very small part of California, and by calling itself “A California Fairy Tale,” it ends up presenting the state in a silly and shallow light that only reinforces the worst stereotypes about the state. “Plastic, empty, and utterly meaningless,” as a previous commentator put it. But that stereotype bears very little resemblance to the state I know and love.

  22. 22

    Cami (Not in CA) said,

    May 5, 2008 @ 2:31 pm

    I, for one, am convinced that the entire state of California is “plastic, empty, and utterly meaningless.”

  23. 23

    Katie said,

    May 5, 2008 @ 3:04 pm

    I first read this story in print and loved to hear it in audio. I think this is the most innovative fairy tale I know of, with so much cleverness and wit and funny funny. I especially found the IPO stuff hilarious, and the inanity of the dot boom era so well captured inside of this. I was surprised to see some people didn’t like it.
    Just a guess, but maybe the people who don’t like it have never been exposed to certain types of people in California that make you go, no way, dude.

  24. 24

    Jennifer said,

    May 5, 2008 @ 5:24 pm

    I’m from the East Bay as well (hey, is that you from 3WA, Josh?), and…yeah, not so much my experience either. But, whatever, it’s fiction.

    I suspect I’d have more of a grasp on this story if I saw it in text. BTW, “benrosenbaum.com” is a godaddy link, the author’s website is benjamin, and I don’t think the text of this story is on it as far as I could tell (unless they meant in the “buy the book” sort of way).

  25. 25

    GK said,

    May 5, 2008 @ 11:53 pm

    I didn’t recognize the title, but the gumballs brought it all back to me – I’d read (or listened to) this story somewhat recently (within the last year). The only problem is that I have almost NO time to read, and I don’t know how I would’ve come across this story in the first place. I did a search through my feeds, but I can’t find that it’s been mentioned in any of them. Does anybody remember this story being mentioned in a blog somewhere before? It’s really bugging me that I can’t remember where I’d encountered this story before!

  26. 26

    Wiz said,

    May 6, 2008 @ 10:12 am

    Sorry, I think this is PodCastle’s first miss. I forced myself to listen all the way though to the end, but it was a battle not to hit the “Skip to Next” button.

  27. 27

    Luc said,

    May 6, 2008 @ 2:26 pm

    Sorry, this story was terrible. Tries to be way too clever for its own good.

  28. 28

    Lane said,

    May 9, 2008 @ 4:18 pm

    Not entirely sure how I feel about the story, but mostly because I’m not sure how I feel about fairy tales. Unlike some people, I definitely think it qualifies as a “California” fairy tale. Sure the story doesn’t actually represent what California is like; it represents an unrealistic, ideological and stereotypical view of California full of software tycoonsand corporate headquarters, just like traditional fairy tales take place in an unrealistic, idealized version of medieval society full of princesses and castles.

  29. 29

    Julio said,

    May 9, 2008 @ 6:34 pm

    I guess the stories has some moments but I didn’t think it holds out together. I’m a great fan of interactive fiction so the cave part with go north stuff was really funny.

  30. 30

    Blaine Boy said,

    May 9, 2008 @ 9:12 pm

    Hey guys I love the work you’re doing here, but it doesn’t seem as… inviting as some of the other podcasts. I know I’m expecting a lot here from a podcast that’s still just getting started, but I would appreciate if maybe you acted like you’re talking to only one of us. It seems like you’re talking to a whole group. I mean when I hear Stephen talk to us on podcast he addresses a community but it seems like he’s talking to me as an individual. I just don’t seem to get that from you guys.

    Don’t get me wrong, I still love to get these stories and you guys are doing a great job, but yeah…

    Comments on the story are…not so good. It seemed weird, I got confused on some of the details, and that just doesn’t seem like California to me. Like robiggs said, it’s a pipe dream. It makes California look like a horrible drugged up sort of place. I always think of my California as some place happy and warm, with every possible environment you could ask for (even some you would never ask for.) Anyways it was outlandish and you guys could do better.

  31. 31

    Alissa said,

    May 13, 2008 @ 1:44 pm

    I liked this story. The magical realism worked for me, blending lots of different elements of California together. Of course it’s centered on one time period in our history, and may not represent some people’s experiences of California, but how could it? I’m from Southern California and got to experience the dot com bubble from afar, and this was kinda how I saw it – crazy and all rather mystical. But I don’t think the point is to represent California, I think it’s about the characters – I mean could you believe something like this happening in, I don’t know, Utah? California works as a setting, especially Northern California, because it already has this aura. Yeah, it’s a sterotype, but we do that for all the places we don’t live in.

    As for the characters, I think that they’re an interesting representation of the society as a whole. Yeah, they’re shallow, plastic, and fake, but that seems to be a pretty common representation of people in lots of cultural products today. I’m not sure I like the characters as they are, but I think they are clearly drawn and have complex motivations for what they do.

    I think it’s rather a fun story and I’m glad it got posted.

  32. 32

    Spork said,

    May 14, 2008 @ 5:46 am

    Confusing, perplexing, befuddling, irritating, nerve-wracking, childish, stupid, pretentious.

    Notice how I cleverly avoided using the word “good?”

  33. 33

    Audita Sum said,

    May 14, 2008 @ 4:48 pm

    I thought it was very good, pretty funny, and extremely confusing. I like a story that doesn’t take itself too seriously, but I’ll probably want to read this in text format, because I had absolutely no idea what was going on.

  34. 34

    The Fix | From the Podosphere: April 2008 said,

    May 15, 2008 @ 10:33 am

    […] Rosenbaum’s “The Ant King: A California Fairy Tale” (read by Stephen Eley) is a surreal tale of corporate finance, computer gaming, and insect […]

  35. 35

    Curtis said,

    May 22, 2008 @ 2:35 pm

    This story was outstanding… The shear imagination of it all… Althought I did find myself lost at how Sheila ‘split open’ and turned into Gum balls, that were then sold??? So am I eating a Gum ball or am I eating Sheila?
    As always, superb reading by Stephen!

  36. 36

    Mitch said,

    May 29, 2008 @ 9:50 pm

    This one had so many product placements that I felt like I was listening to one giant commercial.

    Started out with promise, then turned into a lame “video game in real life” story. I totally agree with the statement that the story (and California) are “plastic, empty, and utterly meaningless.”

    Excellent reading, a shame about the story though….

  37. 37

    Dave said,

    May 30, 2008 @ 9:21 pm

    I loved this story. Couldn’t stop laughing.

    The shear absurdity of the dot com satire was great.

  38. 38

    Mr. Tweedy said,

    June 13, 2008 @ 4:20 pm

    Yes! Ben Rosenbaum is the king! (The Ant King, a metaphorical king, of writing.)

    Brilliantly wacky nonsense. It pulled off the rather amazing feat of being consistently random. A story where nothing makes sense and nothing happens for any particular reason, and yet an engaging and unified narrative is maintained. I have no idea if I really get it or if there is anything to get, but it was an extremely fun ride.

  39. 39

    Sandi said,

    June 21, 2008 @ 3:25 pm

    This Californian (3rd generation) loved this story. It was all I could do to not laugh out loud. (There were other people around.) Yes, it was light and fluffy and full of stereotypes, but it was so much fun. Steve’s reading was terrific.

    I’m new to podcasts and decided to check out PodCastle because I was going through the EscapePod stories too fast. I was really worried that all the stories would be about sorcerers and dragons and such. It was refreshing to listen to fantasy that wasn’t stuck in the middle ages.

  40. 40

    Bookman 12pt said,

    June 25, 2008 @ 11:29 pm

    This should be a show for Adult Swim. I had a hard time swallowing it as literature.

  41. 41

    Benjamin Rosenbaum said,

    July 1, 2008 @ 10:59 am

    Hi, just stumbled on this comment thread. Thanks to all commenters, both positive and negative!

    @Jennifer @24: the story can be found online at http://www.benjaminrosenbaum.com/stories/the.ant.king.html

    @GK @25: it was originally in the Aug 2001 F&SF, and later was Creative Commonsed and linked to from BoingBoing, so you most likely found it in one of those two contexts.

    Those commenters who said that the story represents a very atypical, overheated, anomalous part of California which the dot com boom wreaked on parts of the Bay Area (which were full of transients) in the 90s, and that there is another whole California out there invisible to these characters, are exactly right.

  42. 42

    The Ant King « Writing Every Day said,

    September 4, 2008 @ 10:39 pm

    […] Posted on September 4, 2008 by Pam Phillips I seem to be a Benjamin Rosenbaum fan. I enjoyed listening to the silly, dotcom picaresque of “The Ant King: A California Fairy Tale” from the […]

  43. 43

    Hyperion said,

    September 26, 2008 @ 4:18 am

    I have now listened to every podcast (through 26) on here; these are by far the funniest comments. I love the people getting offended on California’s behalf, not grasping the difference between a definite and an indefinite article.

    (They might not grasp the meaning of that last sentence either, so just to be clear: A California tale means it is a story that takes place in California. THE California tale would imply it spoke for everyone, or was at least preeminient. Since when are we required to tell stories without a point of view?)

    I found the story quite funny, and laughed out loud several times. I’m surprised no one seemed to grasp Monique’s significance….maybe that’s too meta for them.

    Special props for Steve’s reading, as well. he really got into the voices. His “Corpse” made me laugh every time he spoke. Good times.

  44. 44

    valjean24601 said,

    October 21, 2008 @ 8:24 pm

    Good stuff.

  45. 45

    chaneittatick said,

    October 27, 2008 @ 5:26 am

    I read some of the posts and I think it is a great site. Do you feel a vested interest in my worthless practitioner I have a fresh joke for you) Samantha: Doctor, my son thinks that he is a TV channel changer. What are the odds that you can save him? Doctor: Remote!!

  46. 46

    19,410 and still going strong! « Wingcolor said,

    November 7, 2008 @ 3:39 pm

    […] “Ant King”, which was featured in another podcast, PodCastle (go now, and just read the excerpt they provide. No really, I’ll wait. Then download the episode, because the rest of the story […]

  47. 47

    Corpse's other aunt said,

    November 24, 2008 @ 3:32 pm

    Totally hysterical… lived and worked in California in the 90s and had to agree that it made perfect sense to me. I believed it all. Every word.

  48. 48

    Review: The Ant King: and Other Stories by Benjamin Rosenbaum « MentatJack said,

    February 24, 2009 @ 1:28 pm

    […] The House Beyond Your Sky, The Death Trap of Dr. Nefario (not in this collection) and of course The Ant King: A California Fairy Tale (podcastle). You can also check out my non-traditional review of True Names which he wrote with […]

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