Fiction Reviews

Ray Bradbury Stories vols 1 & 2

(1980/2008 and 2003/2008) Ray Bradbury, HarperVoyager, 16.99 each, trd pbk, xx + 956 pp and xvi + 846pp ,
ISBN 978-0-007-28047-6 and ISBN 978-0-007-28058-2 respectively for vols 1 & 2

It is strange for someone who is undoubtedly an SF grandmaster that they have only ever written one SF novel, but so it is with Ray Bradbury. Of course - for those who may be wondering - that novel was Fahrenheit 451 (1953). However if you are now shouting at the screen 'what about The Martian Chronicles (1950) you need to remember that that book is in fact a collection of short stories, albeit a themed collection and with some of the stories referencing others. This then is the rub, Ray is really a short story SF writer and so if you want to find out about the man's writing then it is arguably here you should go. And why should you want to find out about the man's writing? Well there may be a clue in Ray Bradbury receiving both a Clarke Award and a Pulitzer in 2007. As such you will want to thank HarperVoyager for producing two volumes of a couple of hundred of his short stories in a little over 1,800 pages.

Unfortunately 200 stories are just too many for me to provide short teasers and so you will have to settle for me briefly describing the sort of stories in these two volumes. Within the speculative fiction spectrum, Ray tends to write SF as well as SF with a fantasy edge and some fantasy that itself has a dark dimension to it. Consequently the stories herein cover the spectrum of traditional rocket ship SF through to more new wave offerings that reflect an aspect of the human condition albeit through the prism of exotic or weird circumstances. The writing spans the late 1940s through to the early 1990s and so while some of the stories inevitably read a little dated, they still entertain as it is the prism of sense-of-wonder, as well as his easy-going style of writing, more than being contemporary that draws the reader along.

All this by itself should entice you to seek out these volumes but for me their length is another reason: they are all genuinely short. Most are around ten pages in length and while a few are shorter (say down to four pages) few are close to twenty pages long. As such these collections are ideal for commuters wanting a read on their way to and from work, or as a bed time unwind.

Of course it may well be that you are well aware of Ray and his genre contributions and may already have some of his collections on your shelves. If so the value in these volumes lies in your picking up on a number of stories you probably are missing. In short, these volumes are a genre collector's resource. This in turn brings us on to what you are actually getting.

Before 2008, volume 1 originally appeared back in 1980 in N. America by Alfred A. Knopf in the US and Random House in Toronto. In addition to the stories it features an entertaining nine page introduction by Ray himself. Volume 2 first appeared in the US by William Morrow which, as is Voyager, is also an imprint of HarperCollins, and it also features a four page introduction by the author. Usefully, for collectors, volume 2 also contains a decent copyright appendix so that you can see when each story was written and where it first appeared. Sadly such coherent copyright and source presentation is lacking in the first volume and it would have been good if Voyager had gone the extra mile to have included it especially as the book is being marketed on the back of his recent Pulitzer recognition and is a significant celebration of the man's work. OK, so this would have bumped up the price of one of the volumes by about a quid (or both by around 50p) but it would have been worth it not only for buffs but as a true archival appreciation of the man and would not have significantly dented sales.

At the end of the day Voyager have given us a small treasure-trove of wonder from yester-year. So go on, treat yourself.

Jonathan Cowie

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