In an introduction to this collected edition of one hundred of his favorite stories, Ray Bradbury describes himself as like the man in the Irish police report—drunk and in charge of a bicycle. In his case, however, he says, he has been drunk with life and constantly moving through it with a mixture of terror and exhilaration. He discusses his work as the result of a childhood stuffed with images from science fiction, circuses, sideshows, and motion pictures, and how the people he has met and the places he has seen since childhood became additional raw material for turning into the finished products of his art. The Middle West, California, Mexico, and Ireland all appear in these stories, sometimes transmuted into the locales of fantasy.
The Stories of Ray Bradbury, at almost nine hundred pages, is far from a collection of all his work in the form, but the selection printed here from the beginning of his writing in the mid-1940’s to the late 1960’s includes many of his best-known and enjoyed tales and allows an appreciation not only of the career of a single writer but also enables the reader to draw some conclusions about the writing of fiction in the decades shortly after World War II.
A little research into the original places of publication of these stories shows how much harder it is to succeed at the writing of short stories today than it was thirty-five years ago. Then the newsstands were filled with a variety of vehicles from pulps to slicks, all of which printed fiction and most of which have disappeared. Bradbury built his reputation in now-vanished magazines such as Weird Tales, Dime Mystery, Collier’s, Planet Stories, American Mercury, Charm, and others, all now gone. Even today’s Saturday Evening Post went out of publication for a while, and its reappearance brought back only a pale copy of the magazine that used to be the summit of the fiction writer’s hopes. Yet, these magazines were the market place for short fiction in the United States; when they departed, there were that many fewer places for a writer to learn the craft, and that much less incentive for a writer to work at less than novel length.
The collection also shows a curious fact about Bradbury’s reputation: it explains why his name is most likely to be thought of when someone who does not like science fiction thinks of the genre: Bradbury’s work was frequently displayed in the mass-circulation magazines such as Saturday Evening Post, McCall’s, Collier’s, and Playboy, but he published relatively little in the specialized science-fiction outlets. Bradbury’s writing, sometimes criticized for sentimentality, filled the need of another market, too: much of it was first published in magazines such as Mademoiselle, Charm, and Seventeen.
A purist might object to the selection of stories on the grounds that some, but not all of, for example, The Martian Chronicles are here. The connecting thread of narrative in The Martian Chronicles, however, is so thin that little is lost by reprinting only some of its stories. Many of Bradbury’s best short stories are included, and, as the collection shows, his strengths are best displayed in this form. From what may be his strongest collection, The Illustrated Man, are reprinted the stories “No Particular Night or Morning,” “The Veldt,” and “The Long Rain.” From the above-mentioned The Martian Chronicles come “There Will Come Soft Rains” and “Mars Is Heaven,” and, as stories representative of Bradbury’s work, it is hard to fault this choice. “There Will Come Soft Rains” is the often-anthologized tour de force about an automated house that has survived a nuclear war. It is a story without human characters in which the robot mechanisms of the house show a maniacal perseverance in their tasks, although the reason for their existence is gone. “Mars Is Heaven” makes science fiction out of the transplantation of turn-of-the-century Illinois to Mars, where the familiar faces and buildings greet an American expedition to that planet. The sentiment for a vanished America is there, science fiction is there, and a characteristic macabre touch enters at the end, as the purpose of the town becomes clear to the captain of the expedition.
Bradbury has frequently expressed his admiration for Edgar Allan Poe, and there are few better continuers of the tradition of atmospheric horror than Bradbury. In his hands, however, the tale of terror takes on a different look, because whereas Poe often worked to make the familiar seem strange, Bradbury often does exactly the reverse, humanizing and domesticating the monstrous. The story “Homecoming” is perhaps the best example of this process. It is...