April 2, 2008

Mini-review: "Now And Forever," by Ray Bradbury

(CCLaP publishes mini-reviews of both books and movies on a regular basis, none lasting more than a few hundred words. Click here for the full list.)

Now And Forever, by Ray Bradbury
Now And Forever (2007)
By Ray Bradbury
William Morrow / ISBN: 978-0-061-13156-1

I've mentioned here several times now, how it is that the literature I in particular grew up on was heavily dominated by so-called "Golden Age" science-fiction (or SF) -- authors like Isaac Asimov, Arthur C Clarke, Robert Heinlein, Frank Herbert, and lots of others who first came into their own in the 1950s and '60s. This was a particularly special time for the SF genre, in fact, with many of its landmarks set to celebrate their 50th anniversaries in the coming years; a time not only when public interest in the genre was at its highest, not only when the US's real space program was at its frenziest, but also when many people considered the most exciting things in the arts to be coming out of the genre as well, with SF authors for example able to tackle such topics as religion, politics and identity in a way that mainstream literature simply could not.

Sadly, we're living in an age of history when most of the remaining golden-age SF authors are dying (in fact, Clarke himself sadly passed away a few weeks before this review was written); fortunately, though, not only is golden-age author Ray Bradbury still alive, but is one of the few writers from that period still publishing new work, certainly nothing that will be considered the best of his career but still highly readable and entertaining in many cases. 2007, for example, saw the issue of two "new" novellas, entitled "Somewhere a Band Is Playing" and "Leviathan '99," which are technically not actually "new" but are for sure getting their first original publishings in these forms in this particular manuscript. Because "Leviathan," actually, has been published in several different ways besides this novella one over the decades, including a screenplay and a novel and yet another screenplay (all of them inspired by Bradbury's adaptation of Moby Dick for director John Huston in the 1950s); according to his introduction, though, Bradbury has never been completely happy with any of the forms, which is why in the twilight of his life he decided to revisit the original novella they all came from, and finally get the story version into publishable shape. And then the other, "Somewhere a Band Is Playing," has never technically been published before at all, but is nonetheless a story that Bradbury has been working on for half a century (again, according to the introduction), something that he wanted to have reflect his magical childhood memories of briefly living in the pre-industrialized American Southwest, and that he simply thought was finally time to finish and publish after fifty years of tinkering (yeah, and you thought you were a procrastinating writer).

As you can tell, then, you need to be prepared for two very old-fashioned stories when you pick up Now And Forever, even with this being a new book of unpublished material; and as always with Bradbury, you also need to brace yourself for a precious, overly-written personal style, one that turns a lot of people off from the very start. Because that's the thing that's made Bradbury have such a weird relationship with the SF genre over the decades -- that in his best work, books like The Martian Chronicles and Fahrenheit 451, he uses science-fiction to rein in his prose and ideas, to sharply focus them in a cold, modern environment so that they're at their most effective, while in a lot of his other work he has a tendency to wander into merely supernatural territory, and to couch the plots in schmaltz-laden nostalgic looks at overly delicate childhoods that never could've actually existed. (Confused? Think of Garrison Keillor writing a horror story. Or better yet, don't.) If you fall on the 'bleh' side of such audience splitters as Dandelion Wine and Something Wicked This Way Comes, you're bound not to like Now And Forever too much either; but like I said, I'm giving the book a few extra points today as well for merely existing. A man in Bradbury's position has every right to rest back on his laurels at this point in his life, and to simply bask in the glow of all the people who wish to rightly worship him; the fact that he's still working on and publishing new stories, still subjecting himself to the same potential random damning criticism as any other 27-year-old first-time-novelist schmuck, I think is something to be even more admired than his existing ouevre, the sign of a true artist who is truly passionate about his life and work.

Out of 10: 8.2

Filed by Jason Pettus at 9:03 AM, April 2, 2008. Filed under: Literature | Literature:Fiction | Reviews |