(1962/2006) Ray Bradbury, Gollancz, £6.99, pbk, 262pp, ISBN 0-575-07874-X
(1962/2008) Ray Bradbury, Gollancz, £7.99, pbk, 262pp, ISBN 978-0-575-08306-6
This 2006 edition of the 1962 novel is published as part of the Gollancz Fantasy Masterworks series, and quite rightly too! Ray is a legend and rarely out of print for long (if ever). In the late nineties and early noughties (hate the word, but 'zeroes' sounds worse) Earthlight were publishing such titles as Quicker Than the Eye (1998), The Golden Apples of the Sun (1999) and in 2001 a new novel From the Dust Returned (actually, like many of Ray's 'novels', this is what's come to be known as a 'Fix-up', which is to say the book draws upon several short stories, perhaps re-writing them to some extent, often embedding them in a framework of new material); in 2002 Voyager, as part of their 'Classics' series reprinted Ray's 1951 collection The Illustrated Man, with slightly different contents to my 1963 Corgi edition, necessitating having both on my shelves (three of the tales were released as a film in 1968, starring Rod Steiger, the eponymous film is well worth checking out by SF fans); and now Gollancz too! Not bad for a writer who began working 65 years ago.
I first encountered this book in 1977 (Panther edition with spooky dwarf cover), when I was 14 and the two boy protagonists of the tale were just-about-to-turn-14. I'd been reading Ray a while by then and knew I could trust him, and who could resist a protagonist with a name like Mr.Dark? I'd already read the short story The Black Ferris, so I was familiar with Ray's nostalgic territory, and I'd long since ceased to make any distinction between SF and fantasy - all the writers I most respected wrote both and horror too, and Ray was the master at blurring the boundaries between the forms. Along with Robert Bloch, Fritz Leiber and Richard Matheson, Ray Bradbury completes the group of writers who are most responsible, unwittingly I'm sure!, for my own approach to writing... And, basically, I long ago lost any objectivity when it comes to Ray's work. So I would be less likely to refer you to the Encyclopedia of SF which refers to this novel as, "an episodic, rather heavily symbolic tale of Gothic transformations in a small town" (not unkindly, I'm sure), and steer you more towards the Encyclopedia of Fantasy's comment that the novel "represents RB's most poignant evocation of the hopes and frustration of small town life." But to turn you on to the book, I'd quote the back cover blurb from my copy:-
"Alive! Mr.Dark's lips licked and savoured. He racheted the switch to the last notch. Live, live! Somewhere, dynamos protested, skirled, shrilled, moaned a bestial energy. Dead, dead, thought Will. But live alive! cried machines, cried mouths of crowds of livid beasts on illustrated flesh. So the old man's hair stood up in prickling fumes. Sparks bled from his fingernails. Green shimmerings wove shuttles through dead eyelids. And the old man came alive..."
Wow! Here's what hooked me: Mr.Dark's lips licked and savoured, not 'slavered'... a different flavour altogether; skirled; and who could resist "mouths of crowds of livid beasts"? Not me, obviously, but I appreciate that it tells you little of what the book is about. So, my nearly 30 year old memory of reading the book tells me, it's about these two soon-to-be 14-year-old boys, William Halloway and Jim Nightshade, and their right of passage to young adulthood as they are tempted by the sideshow delights of a carnival that comes to their small town late one October. But the carnival is an engine for stealing souls and Mr.Dark seeks to awaken the potential for Evil in the young friends. That's about it. Quite a bit darker than Ray's Dandelion Wine (1957) which covers much the same territory, as far as teenage awakenings go. But the reason for reading this book is Ray's joyfully twisted imagination and poetic, lyrical, wonderful prose. This is a well deserved addition to the Fantasy Masterworks series and I unhesitatingly recommend it to all.
Other Bradbury books reviewed on this site include: From The Dust Returned, The Illustrated Man and The Machineries of Joy.
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