Ah, Ray Bradbury, what can we do with you?
Were you the poet laureate of memory or a purveyor of bloated and saccharine emotion? Or were you both and, if so, was that necessarily a bad thing? Many of your early stories burned themselves into our brains with a heat higher than 451 degrees F. But your later stories...how many of them can we name the way we can name stories like "The Veldt," "There Will Come Soft Rains," "The October Game," or "Uncle Einar"?
I think the problem with Bradbury is that he remembered. He remembered what it was like to be a child who looks at the world with wonder. Bradbury has famously said that he remembers being born, the trauma of being pushed out of the womb. This may or may not be true but I'm sure he believed it. He wrote every day. Stories, poems, plays...some of what he wrote was published; other pieces may have been too personal or -- perhaps -- not good enough for publication. Some went into a drawer lest he flood the markets with his work. A portion of the drawer stuff was used to pad out many of his later collections, not necessarily a bad thing.
Bradbury has always been best as a short story writer, where incident can hold reign over plot and where stilted dialogue can be forgiven amongst the sweep and grandeur of his words. Bradbury evokes emotion. He brings us back to childhood, a childhood of both fears and an awed wonder of a mysterious and wonderful world, a childhood where we breathe the mystery and the wonder deeply and accept that breath as our natural due. Bradbury exorcises our modern traumas and brings all of us back to the Greentown, USA of our collective psyche. He may do it in a overwrought manner but he does it and that's the important thing.
Quicker Than the Eye was Bradbury's first new collection in almost a decade following 1988's The Toynbee Convector -- a long time for Bradbury fans to wait. (In the intervening years he produced to essay collections, a mystery novel, a novelized fix-up of some of his Irish stories, and dozens of episode of The Ray Bradbury Theater.) It contains twenty-one stories, twelve of which (according to the copyright page) were previously published. (But don't believe it. The hand is quicker than the eye and the magician holds all the cards. At least one story supposedly original to this collection, "The Electrocution," was published first in a magazine in 1946 and later in a 1980 chapbook with another story. Another story, "The Very Gentle Murders," likely also saw earlier publication.)
Here's the line-up:
- "Unterderseaboat Doktor" (from Playboy, January 1994)
- "Zaharoff/Richter Mark V"
- "Remember Sascha?"
- "Another Fine Mess" (from The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, April 1995)
- "The Electrocution" (supposedly original to this collection but first published in The Californian, August 1946)
- "The Finnegan" (from The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, October 1996)
- "That Woman on the Lawn" (from The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, August 1996)
- "The Very Gentle Murders" (supposedly original to this collection but ISFDb indicates a 1994 publication, source unknown)
- "Quicker Than the Eye" (from Tales of the Impossible, edited by Janet Berliner and David Copperfield, 1995)
- "Dorian in Excelsus" (from The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, September 1995)
- "No News, or What Killed the Dog?" (from American Way, October 1994)
- "The Witch Door" (from Playboy, December 1995)
- "The Ghost in the Machine"
- "At the End of the Ninth Year" (from American Way, January 1995)
- "Once More, Legato" (from Omni, Fall 1995)
- "Free Dirt" (from American Way, October 15, 1996)
- "Last Rites" (from The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, December 1994)
- "The Other Highway"
- "Make Haste To Live, An Afterward"
Here is the wonder that was Bradbury. Stories that can speak to the soul. Stories whose faults are also their strengths. Stories that may unknowingly stay with you, lurking deep inside to strengthen your appreciation of the glorious world around you. I don't think Bradbury ever grew up, so why should you?