William Morrow & Company ($24.95)
by Ryder Miller
Once touted as "the worlds greatest living science fiction writer," Ray Bradbury remains one of the best writers of short genre fiction, having successfully written short stories in the fantasy, science fiction, horror, and detective traditions. Bradbury got past the boundaries of genre writing when he was anthologized along with writers accepted by the literary establishment, and eventually became a staple of high-school English classes. He won an O. Henry award, and publicly criticized McCarthy in The Nation in the 1950s, all of which helped him to escape the boundaries of science fiction. Yet though he inspired the ire of some science fiction writers by being "too" successful, he never became too mainstream to alienate the cult aficionados. It's this Bradbury, author of such classics as The Martian Chronicles and Fahrenheit 451 (which he claims to have written in nine days) that has been the tough act the later Bradbury has had to follow—or maybe as older readers we are harder to charm. Nevertheless, Bradbury's latest short fiction collection, One More for the Road, shows that he is still a master of the short form, still able to charm and inspire wonder with his stories.
One More for the Road contains twenty five stories in a variety of modes, and like much of Bradbury's recent work—the author is presently in his eighties—it evokes mortal concerns. In "Autumn Afternoon" an old women gets worried about a young girl who always writes everything down, and an old man haunts the golf course in "Fore!" and the neighborhood in "Time Intervening." The book also consistently explores Bradbury's preoccupation with it, that thing that crops up between people so we can better defend ourselves from each other. But the tales are, as to be expected, wondrous. Bradbury invokes the fantastical in "Beasts" and "Diane de Forét," and adds new dimensions to time travel stories in "Quid Pro Quo" and "The F. Scott/Tolstoy/Ahab Accumulator" (in which a character goes back in time to meet some famous authors). Many of the best stories involve what transpires between men and women, with Bradbury sometimes expressing discontent. But also present is Bradbury's enthusiasm for life and the wonders of childhood.
Bradbury's work is often characterized by emotional outbursts and richly developed metaphors, reflecting his interest in infusing his prose with the poetic impulse. In the afterword to One More for the Road he reveals that "ninety-nine percent of my stories were pure image, impacted by movies, the Sunday funnies, poetry, essays, and the detonations of Oz, Tarzan, Jules Verne, Pharaoh Tutankhamen, and their attendant illustrations." One More for the Road does this as brilliantly as ever, exploring not only the consequences of the fantastical and macabre, but also the wonders and emotions of life. Though his stories are not always meant for children, Bradbury has the ability—still—to reach the child in all of us.
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Rain Taxi Online Edition, Fall 2003 | © Rain Taxi, Inc. 2003