September 3, 2013

Starting Ray Bradbury

The next author from my START HERE project is Ray Bradbury. I followed the reading pathway created by Cassandra Neace, consisting of two new-to-me books and one reread:

THE MARTIAN CHRONICLES is made up of short stories (most originally published separately) connected by short vignettes. Together these form a novel-ish work with Mars as the main character and the evolving relationship of humans to the planet as the central story arc. I find the idea of colonizing Mars intriguing, and though Bradbury's take on it isn't a realistic one, I was fascinated by the issues and possibilities explored in this collection.

The Mars of THE MARTIAN CHRONICLES is already occupied before humans arrive. Circumstances allow the book to include several first contact stories that play out in very different ways, all engrossing. I enjoyed how often I had no idea what was going to happen next. While a few of the stories in the collection didn't appeal to me (these happen to mostly appear toward the end), the rest were gripping and often beautiful. I definitely recommend this book to any science fiction fan who hasn't read it.

THE ILLUSTRATED MAN is a strong collection of short fiction with various subjects and settings. There's a brief framing device involving a tattooed (illustrated) man, but it's far less interesting than the stories themselves. The collection includes some additional Martian Chronicles and other tales of space travel. Several stories are focused on families. Many are disturbing.

I liked almost all of the stories a great deal. Two stood out for me: "The Long Rain" is about a group of men lost on Venus, where it never stops raining. I could feel the visceral horror of the constant deluge. "Zero Hour" is an unsettling story about the way adults ignore children at play.

→ In FAHRENHEIT 451, society has transformed to a point where houses are fireproof and ideas are dangerous. The job of firemen is now to burn forbidden books. The story revolves around one fireman who starts having doubts about the nature of his work. When I read THE MARTIAN CHRONICLES and THE ILLUSTRATED MAN, I was interested to spot stories in both collections that involve the banning and burning of imaginative books, anticipating the later novel.

I originally read FAHRENHEIT 451 as a kid, and as far as I can remember, I liked it then. Reading the novel again, I was somewhat bored and didn't find it nearly as compelling as the short story collections. The characters aren't that fully developed, and the focus is more on the philosophical nature of the ideas than on the construction of a convincing situation. It wasn't until near the end that I started to feel at all invested in the outcome of the events.

In reflecting on my reaction to FAHRENHEIT 451, I realized that none of the Bradbury I read is especially strong in the character department. In all of these books, the scenarios and the plots are what stand out, as well as his wonderful way with language. This combination of strengths and weaknesses work better in the short stories, since I'm willing to tolerate a lack of characterization if I'm only spending a few pages with a character rather than an entire novel.

It is also worth noting that these three books are among Bradbury's earliest published work. He went on writing for another half century. Aside from some scattered stories, I think the only other Bradbury I've read is DANDELION WINE, a non-science fictional work based on Bradbury's childhood in small-town Illinois. I would like to read more.

Good Stuff Out There:

→ Wallace Yovetich writes at Book Riot In Praise of Reading Slowly: "It means more to me than just the story between the covers because it holds the story of that entire year of my life. When I see it now on my shelf I am taken back in time -- I remember the relationship that started that fall as I started the book, that faltered as many times as I put the book down, and that was picking up speed again as I picked up speed in the reading."


Henri Picciotto said...

One October, 30-some years ago, I read _The Halloween Tree_ to my fifth graders. I don't remember much about it, other than the fact both kids and teacher enjoyed it. He connects the various Halloween costumes to various traditions. I think it's quite different from his sf.

Lisa Eckstein said...

I'd never heard of that one. Sounds interesting!

Sally said...

Oh, yeah, I think I read it (maybe around that age, or when Henri did it with his class?). I forgot that was by him. I remember really liking it, though I don't remember much more about it.
Didn't he also write a story about people living on Venus, where the sun only comes out once every 7 years or something, and one little girl somehow (after some sort of bad, possibly bullying interaction with other kids) ends up locked in a closet when it happens so she misses it?

Lisa Eckstein said...

Yes, "All Summer in a Day" is the heartbreaking Venus story. I read it as a kid and it's stayed with me ever since.

Post a Comment