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
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
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!