If you've been paying attention at the back, you might have noticed that over the past five or six months I've been participating in Patti Nase Abbott's Friday's Forgotten Books initiative, whereby each Friday, Patti rounds up links to posts on obscure or overlooked books from like-minded books blogs – Pretty Sinister Books, say, or Bill Crider's Pop Culture Magazine, or Tipping My Fedora, or indeed Existential Ennui itself. To keep things interesting, every now and then Patti selects a particular author for FFB bloggers to write about, and this week she's picked Ray Bradbury.
When Patti originally suggested Bradbury back in October, I was initially thrilled: after all, he's one of my favourite writers, as evidenced by this post on The Martian Chronicles and this one on The Illustrated Man. But I quickly realised that, despite having read many, many of his short stories – not to mention novels like Fahrenheit 451 and Something Wicked This Way Comes – having already written about The Martian Chronicles and The Illustrated Man, I didn't have any other Bradbury books I could blog about.
Until I remembered these:
The Stories of Ray Bradbury, Volumes 1 and 2. Now, to you, I expect they don't look like much beyond what they seemingly are: ordinary, cheap, uniform cover collections of Bradbury's short stories, published in the UK in paperback – which ties them nicely into my ongoing series of posts on softcovers – by Granada in 1983 (and originally published in hardback in a single volume in the US by Knopf in 1980). I've owned them for years, ever since I originally bought them in, I think, WH Smiths in Beckenham, south London (the town in which I grew up), probably around the time they were published – which would make me thirteen years old (then, not now, obviously).
But here's the thing: they're the only books I've kept from my childhood. Admittedly I didn't own that many books back then; I read a lot, but most of what I read, besides comics, was borrowed from Beckenham Library – see this post on Doctor Who novelisations for more. I did own some books, although what most of them were I can't for the life of me think now, or recall what happened to them – they're all long gone. But these; these battered Ray Bradbury anthologies: they've stayed with me, through various moves, relocations, re-relocations, attendant clear-outs and stints in lofts – which is where I retrieved them from for this post.
To be honest, I'm not sure I'd put too much stock in this; if I'd actually owned some Doctor Who novels or whatever the hell else I was reading back then, I'm sure I would have kept some of them, so the fact that these two volumes of The Stories of Ray Bradbury have remained in my possession is more a mixture of happenstance and serendipity than anything more significant. But part of the reason I've kept them is undoubtedly the stories themselves. All Bradbury life is here, from a selection of Martian Chronicles – including the horrifying gut-punch classics "Mars is Heaven" and "The Earth Men" – to nursery nightmare "The Veldt", time travel twister "A Sound of Thunder", touching fable "All Summer in a Day", and the elegiac "There Will Come Soft Rains", as well as stories whose titles have become perhaps more famous than the actual tales ("Dark They Were, and Golden Eyed"; "I Sing the Body Electric!").
Across the two volumes there are 100 stories in total, with each book running to around 700 pages – which, with the awesome power of my maths skills, I have calculated comes to 1,400 pages in total. Two great big blocks of Ray Bradbury, marking the first time such a huge selection of his stories had been brought together in paperback, all of them chosen by Bradbury himself.
Not such ordinary books after all, then.
Next in these paperback posts: Patricia Highsmith.
Snap! I have both of these and also bout them at a WH Smith circa 1980 (when I was 12). It's a fantastic collection and I have continued to dip in and out of it over the decades. A story that immediatel impressed me was 'Gotcha', abotu a newly married couple - I didnlt know until recently that it would have been one of the newest stories in the book, having been first published in 1978, but it is a superb story - small, and superbly constructed.ReplyDelete
Really enjoyed this post Nick - thanks.
Thanks, Sergio! Glad you enjoyed it. Just saw your FFB Bradbury post – I haven't read that book, or, I don't think, Death is a Lonely Business. Yet more to add to the to-read list...ReplyDelete
Strangely enough, I don't own any Bradbury at present. I was a library rat as a kid, and he was so easily available there (as opposed to many other science fiction authors I had to find at used book stores). I never owned a copy of The October Country (one of my favorite Bradbury collections), but I almost knew it by heart.ReplyDelete
I had my own copy of The Illustrated Man, but that got lost in transit, as so many things do. Oh, I had Something Wicked This Way Comes--and it also went the way of all things. I believe I got both through this program we had at school, where we could order paperback books from this catalogue, and they'd be delivered to us there.
They wanted us kids to read, and writers like Bradbury were seen as youth-friendly but still 'respectable', I suppose--and Bradbury truly is a young person's writer, in the maelstrom of emotions he invokes, positive and negative. All the joys and horrors of existence, side by side. You feel that duality so keenly when you're young. You feel it more ruefully when you're--not so young.
Hey Nick--I don't suppose you ever read "The Blue Man"? Not a Bradbury, and not written at that level--but quite a creepy suspense novel for 'young adults'. I got that through school as well. Reread it much later, and it didn't affect me nearly so intensely, but I still liked it.
I'm afraid the same would be true for Bradbury. Maybe that's why I avoid him these days. But I'll get back to him someday.
Wow, these volumes look encyclopedic! I picked the Everyman's Library edition of THE STORIES OF RAY BRADBURY, but it's nowhere near 1400 pages long.ReplyDelete
I used to have these, but lost them many years ago. I still have some Bradbury collections, my pride and joy being a hardback of THE OCTOBER COUNTRY with the original Mugnaini illustrations. It's still one of my favourite of his books (the other being THE SILVER LOCUSTS). Bradbury always seemed at his best when the streak of darkness in his nature was allowed full reign. Stuff like THE CROWD, THE EMISSARY and THE JAR, along with a number of others, gave me some very uncomfortable nights as a kid, and even the non-horror stories stuck in my mind for years afterwards. JACK IN THE BOX still unnerves me, not least because it feels almost as if the author didn't quite understand what it was about.ReplyDelete
The Emissary--now that one stuck with me. What exactly has Dog brought back? What's going to happen next? Why does Martin insist on calling his dog "Dog"? But while you're reading it, you don't question any of it--Bradbury renders the emotions so powerfully, so correctly, that they overpower all objections.ReplyDelete
I had forgotten Jack in the Box--not sure why you think Bradbury didn't understand what he was doing there. Very carefully constructed story, that functions on several levels. You might see things in it that he didn't, certainly.
Chris: Nope, never read The Blue Man. I did read quite a bit of science fiction when I was a kid, even trying some Heinlein at one point, which I recall finding rather dry. But other than that, I can't recall much of what I read, the odd short story aside: one which did lodge in my brain was "Bobo's Star" by Glenn Chandler, which has a downbeat twist ending worthy of Bradbury.ReplyDelete
George: I *think* the Everyman's is the same book as these two vols: 100 stories selected by Ray Bradbury, right? Everyman's has been published by Knopf since the early 2000s – looks like they basically reissued their original 1980 Stores of Ray Bradbury in the Everyman's line. So you have the same stories I do, but in fewer pages!
s: The Silver Locusts is my favourite Bradbury book. If you follow the link to my review of The Martian Chronicles in the second paragraph of this post, you'll find that's actually a little tribute to the first edition of The Silver Locusts.
The Blue Man isn't science fiction, exactly. Kin Platt wrote a lot of books for teenagers, more or less in the mystery/suspense vein, and this is one of those. There's kind of a science fiction/horror feel to it, but it doesn't properly belong to either genre. Apparently the youthful protagonist returned in three more novels, but I haven't read any of those.ReplyDelete
I could think of a lot of critiques to make of Heinlein, but 'dry' never came to mind. Not my favorite in that field, but nobody was ever more influential. Bradbury was ten times the stylist, and his characters have far more life. But Heinlein basically laid out a blueprint for everybody who came after him. He showed what was possible in terms of building whole universes out of scratch. He also was a bit of a crank on the subjects of sex, politics, religion, etc. A smart crank, but a crank nonetheless. I enjoy him in small doses.
Bradbury, unlike Kurt Vonnegut (who I think is wildly overrated), never ran away from science fiction, even though maybe a third of his total output falls properly into that realm. On many U.S. editions of his books, he was called "The World's Greatest Science Fiction Writer", but he was more like the best writer who happened to write science fiction sometimes. Of course, science fiction was not known for its sparkling prose, then or now. Bradbury stuck out simply for the power of his language--his ideas were often startling, but even in The Martian Chronicles, you can see he's not speculating what life on Mars would really be like. He's interested in people, more than ideas. And people are the same, no matter what planet they're on.
Isaac Asimov was his polar opposite--fantastic ideas, carefully developed, but the characters are never developed much, and the writing--well. You put up with it for the ideas.
Philip K. Dick's ideas were so strange and compelling, you almost didn't need characters, but you got them anyway. He'd probably get my vote for the greatest writer in that genre. Him or Stanislaw Lem. But James Tiptree Jr. (aka Alice Sheldon) when she fully hit her stride, could put either of them to shame.
Olaf Stapledon (a countryman of yours) came before all of them, and you REALLY should check him out. Start with "Sirius" or "Odd John". "Last and First Men" takes up a fair bit of time.
Actually, if you're looking for somebody kind of like Bradbury, maybe Clifford D. Simak--his "City" is rather reminiscent of "The Martian Chronicles" in some ways, but I personally like it better.
Not a subject you should get me started on. ;)
Chris: Pretty much agree with you about Bradbury and the rest (I haven't read Tiptree and Lem, although I did read Stapleton's FIRST AND LAST MEN quite a long time ago). Bradbury was a superb writer, but there was always a tendency for critics to assume that he was an SF author because he wrote some stories set in the future or with rocket ships in them. He could be termed a 'fantasy' author, in that he enjoyed following his imagination wherever it went, and didn't feel the need to justify or explain it. One of the stories from the sublime THE OCTOBER COUNTRY is THERE WAS AN OLD WOMAN, which feels more like a folk tale than anything else. This is one of the reasons that his stuff is so effective. His ideas don't make scientific sense, but they follow a dreamlike logic that we can all understand (By the way, there was a TV series of Bradbury tales a few years back. Some of them were a bit dull, but there was a version of this story with Mary Morris as the woman and Ronald Lacey as Death which was worthy of the original).ReplyDelete
Arthur C Clarke is one of those Sci-Fi greats who ebbs and flows as far as my appreciation of them goes. RENDEZVOUS WITH RAMA is still one of the great 'straight' SF novels as far as I'm concerned, but stuff like IMPERIAL EARTH or 3001:FINAL ODYSSEY make the telephone directory look like a masterpiece of gripping prose.
I'm very fond of the less well known (by the general public) writers of SF like Fredric Brown or Eric Frank Russell. Whilst the big guns are likely to remain available for a while after their deaths, some of the worthwhile but less feted ones look quite likely to vanish for good from the shelves.
Nick: Has a full collection of Bradbury's short stories ever been released? Whilst these two books have a splendid collection, I remember being annoyed at the tales that were missed out. Although I've noticed that some of his novels have been re-released, the short story collections seem much harder to find nowadays.
I read quite a lot of Clarke, including Rendezvous with Rama, but somehow he hasn't stuck with me. The book of his I was most affected by was Childhood's End, and I've come to think of it as a great book espousing an evil idea. The earth and its creatures don't exist to foster us until we go to the stars--we should exist for them. We will never find anything out there as amazing as what we have here.ReplyDelete
Clarke lived in his head too much. He also was not, as you say, much of a writer. He had his moments of inspiration, but too much science, not enough fiction.
He's one of the few science fiction authors who may have actually made an important contribution to science. Some people credit him with the concept of communications satellites. But most likely we'd have had those anyway, and he was just one of the first people to imagine them.
If we're going to get into lesser lights (however worthy in their own right), we'll be at it forever. It's a genre with a whole lot of bench depth. You have somebody like Andre Norton, whose staggeringly prolific literary output makes Donald Westlake look like a dabbler, but who produced no single outstanding classic--just one amazingly detailed exquisite universe after another. You have Algis Budrys, who produced relatively little, but whose best novels feature a truly fascinating science fiction idea paired with vitally human characters, full of doubts and fears and tragic flaws. You have Zelazny's modern mythologizings, and Octavia Butler's explorations into forms of enslavement, exploitation, and (sometimes) fruitful co-existence between fundamentally different species.
And you have Ursula K. LeGuin, who still graces us with her living presence.
It's not for every reader, or every writer, but it's one of the wonders of our age.