Bradbury's best writing is in the short story form. The structure of Quicker Than the Eye puts "Unterderseaboat Doktor" first, "The Other Highway" last, and "Quicker Than the Eye" nearly in the middle of the book. Typically, the plots are more psychological drama than adventure/sex and violence action. The focus is usually upon the inner experience of single characters, such as the protagonist of the title story, "Quicker Than the Eye," who must deal with seeing himself made a fool of on stage by an attractive woman magician. Other tales provide fables with a message or a moral, or with a surprising conceit such as the bicycle inventor in "The Ghost in the Machine" who, with the permission of the curator, tests his contraption on the smooth marble floors of a great nineteenth-century British museum. As mentioned above in "Themes," humor and wit are present in every story.
The settings are both urban and rural, usually revolving around middle-class homes, sidewalks, and neighborhoods. The seasons, the weather, and the flora of nature are described or present in figurative reference in every story. Bradbury's practice, furthermore, is to bind virtually all of his settings and plots with descriptions of nature. It produces a poetic prose more extreme than any until the extraordinary cyberpunk virtually-realistic narrative of William Gibson.
In addition to his references to nature, Bradbury's figurative language is remarkable: An actor is...
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Ideas for Group Discussions
Critics agree that the Bradburyian voice is unique. He uses it to construct ideas of western civilization moored to middle- American settings, ideas of history and memory, and ideas of the emerging self, especially a moral self. The stories in Quicker Than the Eye pursue this agenda with nostalgia, anger, humor, compassion, and whimsy, in a prose that as a result is often not far from being poetry.
1. Are there common elements among the six or seven married couples that are described in as many stories of this collection? What do they suggest about Bradbury's idea of the nature of marriage? Is there enough in the descriptions to make a conclusive interpretation? Or are the stories in which marriages are described much more importantly focused on other matters?
2. Nearly half of the stories take pains to tell about the weather and the flora of the story's setting. How do these elements work in the stories? It might also be regarded as surprising that animals are not often present. Why not?
3. The stories are not only often told by a first-person narrator; this narrator is equally often an autobiographical Bradbury alter-ego. Why would an author intrude so obviously in his fictions? Is it an effective device?
4. Bradbury's major reputation is as a science fiction writer, though of a quite unique strain. In these stories, however, no setting is farther in the future than a few years (from 1996). Why? In addition,...
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Marriage, the family, cultural and political historical heroes, advanced age, and the middle-American experience are the principal matters of social concern in the stories of Quicker Than the Eye. In nine of the stories marriage or the relationship of a couple is a major element. Four of the couples are genuinely in love, either in a traditionally romantic sense ("Hopscotch" and "At the End of the Ninth Year"), or bound by a hatred so serious that it has the passion of love ("The Very Gentle Murders"). In four stories the couple is the axis of a family, usually with a boy and girl as children. In these families, however, there is almost never a representation of sensitive understanding between a parent and a child. The families are, rather, sociologically defined moral constructs. They are the place where childhood and the beginning of self occur. In this agenda, childhood remembered as definitive of the adult-to-come is the theme of "The Woman on the Lawn" and "Exchange." The tide story "Quicker Than the Eye" presents the overarching social and thematic issue of the collection. In it, Bradbury the author watches a perfect double of himself being embarrassed by a woman stage magician, Miss Quick. Unable to note precisely the line between himself and the not-self double, Bradbury observes that in order to know who he is he must know when to look to see himself. But he is never quick enough, never alive (as in "quick") enough.
References to major...
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Bradbury has always been explicit about the authors who have influenced him. Except for G. K. Chesterton and Bernard Shaw, whom Bradbury has repeatedly named and celebrated as the authors with whom he most wishes to be associated, Quicker Than the Eye names virtually every one of the authors he admires. In Quicker Than the Eye four or five stories mention most of these writers. "Unterderseaboat" has an obvious and great debt to Jules Verne's Twenty-Thousand Leagues Under the Sea. "Another Fine Mess" has a "virtual" debt to the reified comedic personalities of Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy. "The Finnegan" remembers Dr. Watson and Sherlock Holmes of the detective stories by Arthur Conan Doyle. "Quicker Than the Eye" insinuates the pickpocket motif of Charles Dickens's Oliver Twist (1838); "Dorian in Excelsus" is a marvelous rewriting of Oscar Wilde's The Picture of Dorian Gray. In fact, there is a great likeness of style to the impressionistic narrative of Joseph Conrad. "Dorian" has interesting similarities to Heart of Darkness in content as well as style. The self-absorbed sensibilities of Bradbury's small-town foil characters recall Babbit (1922; see separate entry) by Sinclair Lewis, and the midwestern settings are like those of Sherwood Anderson's Winesburg, Ohio (1919; see separate entry).
There are also refractions of the myths from Greece, Rome, Egypt, the Norway, and China, plus "Beauty and the...
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Individually or as a collection, almost all of the stories of Quicker Than the Eye are associated with Bradbury's major earlier works, The Martian Chronicles, The Illustrated Man (1951), Fahrenheit 451 (1953; see separate entry), Dandelion Wine (1957), and Something Wicked This Way Comes (1962; see separate entry). His most remarkable work by far, The Martian Chronicles, as well as The Illustrated Man were short story collections. It is significant that at a mature time in his career he chose to publish some early, unpublished stories. More directly related titles include the appealingly sentimental "Remember Sascha?" which reverses the theme of Bradbury's "The Small Assassin" (1947). The older story tells of the effect of a mother's fear and rejection on her baby whose behavior is later violently antisocial. "Remember Sascha?" also presents Douglas Spaulding and wife Maggie as a couple—Douglas Spaulding being the name of the protagonist in Dandelion Wine (1957), a novel of the arrival of adolescence. The carnival setting of the bizarre love in "The Electrocution" repeats that of Something Wicked This Way Comes (1962; see separate entry), the carnival being a favorite fictional place for Bradbury, and also mentioned pointedly in "The Finnegan." The fascination of the youthful narrator of "Hopscotch" as he watches the beautiful young Vinia is like Bradbury's poem "The Boys Across the Street are Driving...
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Quicker Than the Eye is dedicated to Donn Albright, curator of the Bradbury archive located in Indiana, and author of a master bibliography of Bradbury's works. Interviewed for this article, Albright reported that none of the twenty-one stories in this collection have been adapted for other media, although the Ray Bradbury Theatre running on the USA cable channel used many other Bradbury pieces. Albright further reports that the eight pieces, including "Bug," not prepublished in periodicals between 1994 and 1996, were in some cases written very early in Bradbury's career.
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