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"Write out of love, write out of instinct, write out of reason. But always for money."
Louis Untermeyer

Quicker Than The Eye

By Ray Bradbury
Avon Books, 261pp,1996

I am ashamed to say that this is my first Ray Bradbury book. Not sure why I've waited so long to read one of the living legends of the speculative fiction genre. I have no excuse.

After reading this collection of short stories, I feel even worse that I haven't read Bradbury sooner.

It is a truly charming and magical body of work. The stories are short, quick to read, imaginative, and written in an easy, flowing, charming style that reminds me somewhat of Bill Buckley. Bradbury's writing is also tight - there are no wasted words or verbose sentences. I hate wordy writing.

But on to the stories themselves. There are too many to discuss individually, so I'll cover my favorites.

Zaharoff/Richter Mark V - You think earthquakes are caused by shifts and movements under the ground? After reading this story, you'll think twice. It's also a wonderful little conspiracy tale.

Remember Sascha? - I didn't expect to read an abortion-related story, but here it was. Bradbury makes his point (pro-life, in my opinion) without being pedantic, in-your-face, or shrill. He doesn't let his point get in the way of the story. That's very hard to do.

Another Fine Mess - Ghost story fans will enjoy it and Laurel and Hardy fans will love it.

The Finnegan - Quirky, fun, and memorable. He takes a time-worn device - a giant spider that eats people - and makes it original and fresh.

That Woman on the Lawn - Spooky and poignant.

The Very Gentle Murders - Laugh out loud funny and morbid. Even better, Bradbury never explains the why of this story. He knows he doesn't have to.

Dorian in Excelsus - Alluring tale of temptation and eternal youth - but with a price. Always a price.

The Witch Door - One of the pure horror stories in the book. A nice twist on the Salem witch trials and a near future nightmare scenario.

Free Dirt - Another horror story. What do you think would happen if you got free topsoil - dirt - from a cemetery? Read this and find out.

There's more, but that gives you the idea. Perhaps best of all is the Afterward at the end, in which Bradbury discusses some of the stories but also explains why he writes stories. It's worth quoting at length:

How does he do that? may well be asked. I really can't say. I don't write these stories, they write me. Which causes me to live with a boundless enthusiasm for writing and life that some misinterpret as optimism.

Nonsense. I am merely a practitioner of optimal behavior, which means behave yourself, listen to your Muses, get your work done, and enjoy the sense that you just might live forever.

I don't have to wait for inspiration. It jolts me every morning. Just before dawn, when I would prefer to sleep in, the damned stuff speaks between my ears with my Theater of Morning voices. Yes, yes, I know, that sounds awfully artsy, and no, no, I am not preaching some sort of Psychic Summons. The voices exist because I stashed them there every day for a lifetime by reading, writing, and living. They accumulated and began to speak soon after high school.

In other words, I do not greet each day with a glad cry but am forced out of bed by these whispering nags, drag myself to the typewriter, and am soon awake and alive as the notion/fancy/concept quits my ears, runs down my elbows and out my fingers. Two hours later, a new story is done that, all night, hid asleep behind my medulla oblongata.

That, don't you agree, is not optimism. It's behavior. Optimal.

Someday, I hope to suffer from these voices that force me to my computer. Maybe I'd get there more often!

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