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Brendan Detzner

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The Jagged Glass Ballet
by Brendan Detzner   

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Science Fiction

Publisher:  Bad Grammar Type: 


Copyright:  Jan 1 2003

Bad Grammar

A young man finds himself trapped in an unreal indoor world. He has no memory of himself- only his dreams hint at the existence of a world outside.

Dragon Plastic isn't his real name- he made it, partly from the title of a cheap old paperback lying on his shelf, partly from the dim memory of a phone receiver touching his cheek. Nobody here has a real name. Nobody knows what a real name is, nor do they care.
But Dragon does. Late at night, when the rest of the indoor world is asleep, he sees things that others don't. Some things he sees awake- the boy his age who prowls the hallways and hidden tunnels of their home, and the men in black suits and rifles who pursue him. Other things come to him in dreams, dim images of a world where the sky is blue and round, and where he has a name that he didn't make for himself.
Dragon Plastic isn't sure if he wants to learn more or not. But he may not have any choice.
"Great!" She grabbed Dragon's hand and pulled himinto the hall. Mike smiled in a knowing way and followed the pair. Everybody else followed on Mike's heels, except Crazy, who waited a full minute before catapaulting himself through the door after the rest of the group. Outside the room, and past the hallway that led there, Dragon was introduced to one of the most strangely beautiful sights he would ever see.

Professional Reviews

William Calabrese reviews The Jagged Glass Ballet

Jagged Glass Ballet, by Brendan Detzner, begins when a young man wakes in a strange, bare room. He is lying on a thin mattress on the floor. He is fourteen years old, but has no recollection of his past life. Before he can do much more than get up from the mattress, a furious gunfight breaks out in the hallway outside his room. Within moments, four dead bodies, dressed in black bodysuits, are lying on the floor in front of him. This is the first of many encounters with the "blacksuits", a seemingly endless army of motorcycle-helmeted, laser-sighted gun toting villains who show up at inconvenient times to spray live ammunition in all directions. They show up often. There is more gunfire in Jagged Glass Ballet than in the average Bruce Willis movie.

When the young man finally gets out from under the gun, so to speak, the world he finds himself in is a surreal one, full of puzzles and contradictions. This world is completely contained within a tower- like structure called 'the labyrinth'. The boy falls in with a group of people his own age: Scraps (a girl), Simon (another girl), Mike, Robert Y. Frost, and Crazy (a strange dude who juggles beanbags most of the time -when he isn't trying to find out how many of them he can stuff in his mouth). Not being able to remember his own name, the young man invents a new one -Dragon Plastic. With his new friends, Dragon goes about in the labyrinth, listening to music, dancing. playing tennis and hockey, and generally hanging out. Each inhabitant of the labyrinth must spend a part of each day engaged in some sort of creative work; painting, composing or playing music, doing sculpture, etc. At the end of each day, the results of this labor are exchanged for food. Nobody knows where the paintings, sculptures, etc. go after they are turned in. There are other complications and mysteries as well, among them a cold-blooded fellow named Toothpick, who kills with wooden needles, and a piano-playing recluse/goddess named Oracle, who is in charge of the labyrinth, but apparently is a prisoner of it as well. Much of the latter part of the book involves the efforts of Dragon and Toothpick to free Oracle. It is all very deep and dark and is obviously an allegory of some sort, although I soon found myself losing interest in finding the meaning. There are just too many obstacles to climb over on the way.

The primary obstacle here is some of the things the author does and some of the things he fails to do. To make a fantasy like this work requires considerable skill, attention to detail, and the application of certain well-known techniques that can be used to lull the reader into suspending his natural disbelief mechanisms. The proper use of these techniques help to make the implausible more plausible, or at least neutralized it so that it does not become an obstacle to enjoyment of the story. Unfortunately, the author either is unaware of these techniques or has chosen not to use them.

One prerequisite in a story of this type is a protagonist with characteristics, motivations, and frailties that the reader can relate to, thus making concern about the character's fate override the distraction of fantastic story elements and plot quirks. Alas, Dragon Plastic's surname is well chosen. He is a plastic sort of fellow -a two-dimensional figure that we never really get to know or care about. He spends a lot of his time running through ventilation tunnels, shooting and stabbing blacksuits with no more emotion or remorse than he would exhibit while zapping space invaders on a computer screen. Several times, he punches other characters in the face without any warning or any apparent motivation. We wonder how Dragon got this damned vicious in only fourteen years, but are never told. It isn't long before we begin to dislike him very much. The other characters are even flatter than Dragon and no more appealing. Except for a few props, Crazy's beanbags and Toothpick's wooden skewers, none of them have much in the way of identifying characteristics or redeeming qualities and they all pretty much talk in the same monotonous, expletive-laden voice.

If you can't like the hero, it helps if you can hate the villain enough to want to see him get his in the end. The arch villain of this book is never even seen. He is just an off-stage voice that screams at the other characters in CAPITAL LETTERS. It is hard to get really POed at an off-stage voice. It is also hard not to get annoyed at the over-use of capital letters.

Once the reader is into the story and has accepted the fantasy world in which it takes place, language should not be a distraction. That is to say, each word and phrase should blend seamlessly into the whole and not call undue attention to itself. After all, these words are there only because they serve the telling of the story in some way; creating atmosphere, delineating character, developing the plot. The last thing we want is to startle the reader with words and phrases whose meaning is unclear, inappropriate, or downright puzzling. If you make the reader shake his head in bewilderment too often, it won't be long until you lose him entirely. A number of Mr. Detzner's choices in descriptive words and phrases vary from awkward to downright strange. The following are some examples:

The second sentence of the book begins, "He was in a small, cozy little room". Beside the fact that 'small' and 'little' are redundant, the word 'cozy' in no way describes the room, which is in fact stark and cheerless. Immediately, the reader begins to wonder whether he can trust this narrator or not. A couple of paragraphs later, a series of gunshots is described as 'a parade of loud noises'. Further on, a room is 'dimly lit by an army of fluorescent bulbs'. Later, 'A rush of footsteps poured out of the hall.' Later, a seemingly impossible action takes place when: "Dragon smoothly and gently flipped Mike over his shoulder and down onto the ground. The sound of the impact resonated throughout the entire chamber." Then there is this incomprehensible sentence: "Mike whispered in his ear the same way he might start up a chainsaw." There are numerous other phrases and sentences like this in the book. None of them is of much consequence taken by itself, but the combined weight of them make an impression negative enough to cause the puzzled reader to begin to look for something else to read.

Strange phrases are one distraction for the reader, inconsistencies in story logistics is another. There is a ventilator grill in Dragon's room that keeps getting unscrewed, pried off, ripped off, etc. until we are unsure whether it was on or off in the previous scene or perhaps had been destroyed altogether. Forced into finding a hiding place for his gun, Dragon chooses the improbable and time-consuming alternative of whittling a hole in the floor with a pocket knife! Then there are the numerous gunshot wounds that Dragon gathers in his travels. Even when shot in the chest, he keeps running like a manic army ant. Even when told that a magic powder cured the wounds, we don't buy the idea for a moment.

It would help some if the author knew how to build and maintain suspense. It would keep us interested. But all we have in the way of possible suspense builders are flashback/dream scenes that are too numerous and two similar to be effective. There is some action in Jagged Glass Ballet, sporadic and unfocused violence for the most part, but very little suspense. We are not entertained or enlightened. We are just glad it is over.

All of this is unfortunate. Mr. Detzner has imagination and talent and there is a good concept behind Jagged Glass Ballet. It is just that this book is carelessly written, with too little attention to detail along the way. It needs a lot of work to make it into a rewarding reading experience. Perhaps the author should have allowed himself the luxury of two or three more revisions -or the services ofan unbiased reader. That might have helped.

Jagged Glass Ballet is like a shotgun marriage between Franz Kafka and Marvel Comics. The union was not made in heaven.

Mark Brendan reviews The Jagged Glass Ballet

Jagged Glass Ballet is the tale of the unusually named Dragon Plastic, a fourteen-year-old boy who wakes up one day in unfamiliar and rather Spartan surroundings. He is suffering from amnesia and thus begins something of a quest for identity and the truth. The world in which he awakens is a surreal and dangerous one, a dreamlike post-industrial landscape populated by other teenagers. In this world the unfathomable rules are enforced by cadres of ‘blacksuits’, special ops/secret police types who turn up periodically to kick-off spectacular violence. Dragon Plastic falls in with a group of the street kids from this world, who show him the ropes, for example food is obtained by trading art that they make in their spare time. All the kids have equally strange names since they too have no recollection as to how they came to be here. They name themselves, based on things they find in their environment when they first become aware of it. For instance Dragon Plastic names himself after looking at paperbacks on a nearby shelf.

Dragon Plastic becomes involved with an outsider called Toothpick (he kills people with small, wooden dowels) who is constantly at war with the blacksuits, and seems to hold all the answers to what’s going on in this place. He also gives Dragon Plastic drugs, which cause him to experience flashbacks of his former life in, as it were, the real world. Between them, they are attempting to escape the world they’re in. Toothpick also has personal contact with a strange, chained goddess type creature called Oracle that administers the teenagers’ world and also wants to get out.

Weighing in at just under 30,000 words “Jagged Glass Ballet” is a novella rather than a novel, and for reasons I’ll come to later, could definitely bear some expansion. In terms of feel, I’ll use a cinematic context to describe it rather than a literary one, because like a lot of fiction now “Jagged Glass Ballet” is definitely more cinematic. So, I’ll say that it reminds me a lot of ‘Jacob’s Ladder’ and ‘The Matrix’. When you strip off the abstract background the plot presents itself as a fairly straightforward escape and redemption tale. Dragon Plastic has to get out because he doesn’t belong in the place he’s ended up. There’s another place where he feels he belongs, and he periodically gets glimpses of it, so he heads for it. As for all of that surreal background stuff, the author seems to be making a specific point with it, about control and that sort of thing, but I’m not sure exactly what it is. It could be an analogy for adolescence, a rite of passage thing, or another idea that crossed my mind was that it was an analogy for Hollywood (the young people representing scriptwriters, set-designers, etc provide the art in return for survival basics, whilst some unseen force makes a massive profit). Anyway, that’s just speculation, and it’s pretty much up to the reader to put their own spin on what it all means.

On character development, the characters are all pretty much thumbnails. Everything you need to know about each one is laid down in their initial description and the first few things that they say. And this is where the book could do with a lot more expansion. The narrative stays doggedly with Dragon Plastic throughout, excepting a few brief flirtations with other characters' points of view. By exploring what is going on in other characters’ lives whilst Dragon Plastic is elsewhere we could get more insight into their lives, and perhaps the author could offer more hints into what exactly is going on with the background.

The main problem with “Jagged Glass Ballet”, however, lies in its technical merit. This is a book that just isn’t ready yet. It probably needs at least one or two more rewrites before it’s polished. The plot chugs along at a fairly nice pace and I was interested enough in what happens next to keep turning the pages, but there are a lot of typos, and a lot of clunky, badly written phrases that need cleaned up. I suspect that this is a first draft and the author is better than this, because these problems are much more apparent at the beginning than at the end of the work. Detzner still needs to develop his art a bit more before he becomes truly accomplished, but in the development of style from front to back of Jagged Glass Ballet there is tangible improvement. Give it a couple of years and he’ll probably produce something that is of a very high standard.

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Reader Reviews for "The Jagged Glass Ballet"

Reviewed by Lyda Morehouse 11/27/2001
It's a cliched skiffy start. A young man wakes up in a sparsely adorned room with no memory of who he is or how he got there. What follows next in Brendan Detzner's _The Jagged Glass Ballet_, however, diverges wildly from the usual.

For one, our hero is not alone. Armed gunment appear, chasing a boy who disappears behind a grate into a rabbit warren of ductwork. Our hero pretends to be asleep, and the gunmen pass him by. In the morning, he wakes up to discover a world full of young, creative minds. They encourage him to pick a name for himself, and he chooses Dragon Plastic.

For the rest of hte book, Dragon explores "the world" which consists of teenage artisans of all flavors: poets, musicians, scupltors, writers, and more, who trade the things they produce for food (an apparently more materials) which magically appears at the appointed hour. Though Dragon could be content with his new friends, the boy who fled the black suits visits Dragon nightly. From him, Dragon begins to learn about the literal and figurative underbelly of his world--which, he begins to suspect, is not part of this world at all.

What was fun about this book for me was not hte mystery of who or where Dragon was, but the other people who made up this strange teenage fantasy land. I was especially fond of the character "Crazy" and the rest of Dragon's set. The times in which Dragon was wandering around his world and exploring all the different nests of poets and muscians, I felt Detzner's vision was strongest.

It was clear to me fairly early on, that Dragon's world was a clearinghouse or brain trust of talent. I was a little creeped out, however, that nearly everyone in the world was stuck in fourteen year-old bodies. I wasn't sure what Detzner was saying about talent. Does it only belong to the young? And if so, why not young adults? Why teenagers, who are so often torn up by hormones? Granted, it became clear through the story that people's bodies were very ethereal, but the fact that they were teenagers was brought up more than once.

This became especially uncomfortable for me as a reader when it seemed as though Dragon and his girlfriend, Scraps, might end up in bed together. Luckily, they didn't. Even so, I think I would have bought into the world better if the characters had been even just a few years older, say, eighteen or nineteen. Especially since there was a kind of liberal arts college dorm on steroids (and acid) feel about the relationships and ambiance of the world.

If I forgot how old everyone was supposed to be, however, I enjoyed the story. The ending strayed a bit too close to another science fiction chiche for my comfort, hoever, but the visuals of the world and its artists were worth the ride for me.
Reviewed by Dan Weiss 11/3/2001
Brendan Detzner's The Jagged Glass Ballet is a novella that depends upon mystery and a sense of disorientation for its effectiveness. The mystery that the reader wants to solve is the same as the mystery of the central character, who takes on the monker Dragon Plastic (since he cannot remember his name). As long as Detzner can provide compelling action, a sense of unease, and a building of events toward some unknown, the book is successful.
The story is vaguely reminiscent of Kafka and some Dick books like Ubik. A young teenage boy (about fourteen) wakes up in a strange room. Immediately, tehre is action, with some storm trooper types pursuing a boy in a ski mask. He instructs Dragon to pretend to be asleep. Four of the troopers are killed and a commanding voice issues forth from their helmets, venting with intriguing rage.
Dragon meets other kids about his age who befriend him, fill him in on the routine, and provide him with scraps of information. But neither he nor the reader are much further along in learning about this new world he has been thrust into. The ski-masked character turns out to be an outcast-- considered a freak. He alone seems to have a somewhat deeper understanding of this place (apparently everyone, like Dragon, suddenly awoke and found themselves in this odd world. Though there is an uneasy alliance between Dragon and Toothpick (as the other fellow is called), they continually and inexplicably attack each other. There is a slight romance in the story, but in keeping with the rest of the book, it is shifting and frustrating.
Detazner proves that self-published authors can be the equal or better than many if not most conventionally published ones. He writes well and overall succeeds in maintaining a mood of dreamlike suspense. But like most of us, he is no Kafka or Dick and is not able to sustain the quality.
As long as the mystery is maintained and the actions taken seem to have consequences, the book is compelling. As soon as storm troopers can be killed with the ease of a cowboy killing Indians and magical drugs are provided that can heal wounds and do other wonders, some of the steam seeps out of the story. The book deflates quickly at the end when Detzner's explanations and resolutions are not up to the rest of the book.
The Jagged Glass Ballet is a novella presented with a sound marketing plan. Author and publisher Detzner has issued his novel in a low-budget, semi-professional fashion in order that he can print up a small number of copies and charge only a minimal price to readers. The book is printed on eight and a half by eleven unnumbered pages. The cover is grey cardstock, with a tape binding. There is some minimal black and white artwork on the cover.
There are some typos interspersed in the story and some questionable gramma, but that is offset by the artistry of much of the writing. Even though the ending is disappointing, this book is worth double the modest three dollars Brendan Detzner is asking for The Jagged Glass Ballet. Sure, this book has weaknesses. But in my experience, conventionally published books usually have as many weaknesses and rarely have as unique and interesting writing and storytelling.

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