If any twentieth-century American writer deserves a revival, it's Ray Bradbury, king of the dime novels and refiner --- if not the inventor --- of mainstream science fiction. Unlike contemporaries H.P. Lovecraft and Philip K. Dick and disciples like William Gibson and Stephen King (who has greedily borrowed Bradbury's otherworldly horror + local color equation), Bradbury isn't very widely read by people beyond their teenage years. His novels THE MARTIAN CHRONICLES and FAHRENHEIT 451 are mainstays of junior and senior high school reading lists across the country, and therefore have acquired the stigma of youth-oriented fiction (which seems ironic now that so many adults are giddy like schoolchildren over Harry Potter). As if out of spite for being force-fed his work so early, many people seem to ignore Bradbury as they grow older, consigning him to the world of adolescence.
All of which is unfortunate, for Bradbury stands as a singular chronicler of the second half of the twentieth century, peeking into our dark corners to see what scares us. BRADBURY STORIES: 100 of His Most Celebrated Tales presents these demons anew, collecting pieces from every stage of his long career, from his dime novel beginnings to his work in Hollywood to his recent resurgence with original books like LET'S ALL KILL CONSTANCE and ONE MORE FOR THE ROAD. For those who haven't read Bradbury since high school, this collection serves as a fitting introduction to the surprisingly wide range of styles and subjects he has addressed; for longtime fans it is a reminder of the author's ability to evoke "the monsters and angels of my imagination" through dreamy prose and unforgettable imagery.
As well as any other American writer of the last century --- and certainly better than any other "genre" writer --- Bradbury creates a particular mood and setting in his stories that is best described as eerily autumnal. In THE OCTOBER COUNTRY, arguably his best collection, he describes this setting as "that country where it is always turning late in the year, that country whose people are always autumn people, thinking autumn thoughts." In the cycle of seasons, fall is the season of death --- falling leaves, browning grass, chilling winds, early darkness --- before rebirth, and in Bradbury's stories death always lingers nearby, tracking and chasing characters and greeting them in unsuspected places.
Whether or not they conjure the supernatural, the stories in this large collection show that this narrative texture, this October country setting, transcends that one collection and informs almost everything Bradbury wrote.
Furthermore, the October country Bradbury evokes is a flip-side America, one where the American dream has been subsumed by collective nightmares. If nothing else, BRADBURY STORIES demonstrates the writer's talent for heatedly and unpretentiously addressing social and political ills through his imaginative stories.
"And the Rock Cried Out," for example, follows two wealthy travelers in Africa who discover they're the last white people on earth. Their punishment for the West's constant imperialism is the loss of all worldly possessions and a life devoted to menial labor.
In "The Garbage Collector," a man learns that if a bomb hits the city, he will have to collect the dead in his truck. The title character must decide whether to quit his job and assuage his conscience or keep working to support his family. To Bradbury's credit, it's difficult to tell which crime is more outrageous --- the civic government viewing its citizenry as refuse or making its employees compromise their morals for family.
Any collection of this size is necessarily defined by what it omits as much as by what it includes. BRADBURY STORIES contains so many wonders, but where are "The Scythe," "The Crowd," and "Homecoming" from THE OCTOBER COUNTRY? What happened to "The Picasso Summer" and (a personal favorite) "Some Live Like Lazarus"?
Such glaring oversights are certainly not the fault of Bradbury, unless you count prolificacy and quality among the most grievous of literary sins. Nor are they the fault of the editors and compilers, who doubtlessly had to make many painful cuts. Instead, they serve as a cry for another volume, perhaps entitled 100 MORE BRADBURY STORIES. It is maybe only a slight exaggeration to say that he could fill 100 such volumes with highly inventive and deeply felt tales.
--- Reviewed by Stephen M. Deusner from Bookreporter.com