Thursday, July 19, 2012

BRADBURY BOOKS




When legendary writer Ray Bradbury passed away earlier this summer, I decided it was finally time to read some of his books. I read for the first time both DANDELION WINE and FAHRENHEIT 451. I enjoyed both of them, although it took me awhile to really warm up to WINE. But there was a narrative moment, about mid-point in the book, that totally won me over and I actually shed a tear when I read the final chapter of the book. It's an ode to summers past and I highly recommend it.

I'd seen Francois Truffaut's film version of FAHRENHEIT 451 starring Oskar Werner and Julie Christie and enjoyed it but I'd never read Bradbury's classic science fiction novel about future firemen who start fires by burning books. The book, as always, was quite different from the film and is the superior work. It's a quick read but don't skim it. There's lots of food for thought and even though it was written in the 1950s the novel has much to say about today's media obsessed society. Highest recommendation.

I was in the eighth grade when the film version of THE ILLUSTRATED MAN was released. I remember seeing it at the State Theater with my buddy John Rideout. The film starred Rod Steiger in the title role and the screenplay adapted three of the short stories which comprise the book. Steiger was one of the biggest ham actors in the history of films and he always delivered scene-chewing, histrionic performances that, while fun to watch, were rarely ever great. The film turned out to be a dud, widely reviled by both film and science fiction fans as a failure and a botched attempt to bring the works of Ray Bradbury to the screen.

At that point in my life, I knew who Ray Bradbury was, even though I'd never read any of his books. I was aware of the fact that THE BEAST FROM 20,000 FATHOMS, the first giant monster movie I ever saw, was based on one of his short stories and I had read at least one Bradbury short story in an anthology of short stories that we read in English class. How cool was that? A real live science fiction author had a story in our school text book!

The school library at O.Henry Junior High had copies of THE ILLUSTRATED MAN, R IS FOR ROCKET and S IS FOR SPACE, anthologies all, that I was determined to read. I checked all of them out over time but I confess that I never accomplished the task of finishing any of those books. I started them with the best of intentions but for reasons unknown, never finished reading any of them.

I finally completed one of those goals by reading THE ILLUSTRATED MAN. I finished it the other day and I really enjoyed it. There is an Illustrated Man at the beginning and end of the book and the illustrations (tattoos) that are painted on the entirety of his body come to life and reveal the stories that make up the book. Bradbury drops this linking device fairly early on and the book becomes a straightforward anthology.

The stories are all good with my favorite of the bunch being THE EXILES in which famous dead authors and their creations are alive on the planet Mars but face eradication from the creeping forces of modern man and civilization. Brilliantly conceived and realized, I thought it was the best story in the book but there's not a stinker to be found.

Bradbury does ring the chimes of Mars and rockets a bit too much and I found myself checking the cover a few times to make sure I wasn't reading a copy of THE MARTIAN CHRONICLES or R IS FOR ROCKET by mistake. Those two devices figure heavily in many of the stories but there's enough variety and great storytelling on display to make up for this minor quibble. It's taken me more than forty years to do it, but I've finally read THE ILLUSTRATED MAN and I give it a big thumbs up.  

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