Review: Ray Bradbury Stories Volume 1

Ray_Bradbury_stories_vol_1

(Harper Voyager:ISBN 978-0-00-728047-6)

(review first published on the now-demised Specusphere website, April 2009)

There are many paperback books, and with a little bit of patience and dexterity it’s possible to balance almost any paperback, unaided, on its end. Which is to say, upright. There are, however, comparatively few paperbacks which the least adroit of us can stand on end and feel confident that said book will remain in that posture pretty much indefinitely, short of interference by gale-force wind, substantial earthquake, or rampaging elephants (horde of). Ray Bradbury Stories Volume 1 is one such book. And I can extrapolate, by virtue of visual comparison, that the companion volume, … Stories Volume 2 is another.

A diversion, and one which will date me: in 1983, for my twenty-first birthday, I requested and received copies of a couple of short story collections, entitled The Stories of Ray Bradbury Volume 1 and …Volume 2. They were notably thick paperbacks, each of around 700 pages. And they each had around 50 short stories, drawn from the full breadth of Bradbury’s writing career to that point. So a hundred stories or thereabouts. I read them, if I recollect correctly, in about a week, to the extent that I grew drunk on Bradbury.

Not every story was uniformly brilliant, but there were a good many classic pieces of fiction in those 1400 pages. Stories like ‘There Will Come Soft Rains’, which is a marvellous piece of minimalistic encapsulation, and still remains one of my absolute favourite SF stories by anybody. ‘The Fog Horn’, a simple intoxicating piece of wild adventure. ‘The Lake’, utterly haunting. ‘A Sound of Thunder’, still possibly the quintessential temporal-paradox short story. ‘The Crowd’, ‘A Piece of Wood’, ‘The Veldt’, ‘Skeleton’, each in its own way darkly beautiful. ‘The Wonderful Ice-Cream Suit’, which should be required reading for anyone who believes The Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants to be founded on an original premise. I could go on. But, really, I should be reviewing the current collection, surely? Not something I read twenty-six years ago?

Well, yes and no. The thing is, those stories from the 1983 collections are all here, in 2009, in this new and colossal Volume 1. Not just the ones I’ve mentioned above. All of them, every single last one of the hundred or so, science fantasy, horror, adventure, death carnival, coming of age, modern fable, or whatever category you choose to place any of them in. Which goes some way to saying why this new volume is so eminently self-supporting, so structurally sound. It’s packed. Packed with some of the best short stories you’re likely to encounter anywhere, because unlike almost every other spec-fic writer to have come out of the US in the past century, Bradbury seems to have retained an awareness that, really, what he’s best at is the short form. His novels are certainly readable, and are in their own way influential, but in my opinion they don’t have the absolute sparkle that can be found in his best short fiction.

There’s very little wastage in the mammoth collection that forms the first half of Harper Voyager’s new showpiece of Bradbury’s short-fiction genius. It’s likely the particular stories that speak to you, whoever you may be, will be different from those with which I most closely connected a quarter-century ago, but I’m almost certain they won’t leave you unmoved or changed. Revisiting these works has left me decidedly curious to learn what’s in the companion volume.

And if Volume 1 is so hefty it almost requires two people to lift it, well, that’s kind of fitting. Bradbury remains, after all, a giant in the field of short fiction.

A website devoted to the Elder Statesman and his work can be found at http://www.raybradbury.com/

 

(Reviewed by Simon Petrie, 2009)

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