Lions, Space Ships, and Lonely Dinosaurs: the Strange and Wonderful World of Ray Bradbury’s Short Fiction

For Christmas, one of the things I wanted most was Barnes and Nobles’s leather-bound collection of three books by Ray Bradbury. Well, I got it and I am a very happy camper. 🙂

The collection includes one novel, The Martian Chronicles, and two short story anthologies, The Illustrated Man and The Golden Apples of the Sun. Before Christmas Eve, I had never read any of Bradbury’s short stories (except for one I found on Project Gutenberg that the fledgling author had written at the age of nineteen). I had told my sister previously that, since Bradbury enjoyed writing short stories more than writing novels, his short stories might be even better than his novels (or at least, I might like them better). It appears that I was right.

The first story I read was “The Fog Horn,” from The Golden Apples of the Sun. It was beautiful and well-done, but it didn’t grab me the way it might have if the story hadn’t be spoiled for me by reading Bradbury’s essay “Drunk and in Charge of a Bicycle” (yes, that’s its actual title). Next, I started on The Illustrated Man, determined to read it all the way through instead of only reading a story here and there. I’ve only read the prologue and the first three stories so far, but nevertheless, they are brilliant. Quickly, here are some of my thoughts on those three stories.

1: “The Veldt”

This story is a masterpiece. It’s about a family–husband, wife, son, and daughter–that owns a “nursery” whose walls translate the children’s wishes into scenery. It’s rather like the holodeck in Star Trek: the children can turn the room into anything they wish, simply with their thoughts. In essence, the story is about what happens when virtual reality replaces what’s true. And like all good science fiction, this story is remarkable in how accurately it predicted the current state of affairs . . . sixty-four years ago. At the risk of spouting spoilers, the ending was almost chilling in how it showed the level of depravity that people can achieve when the real is no longer real to them. I’ll have to read this story a second time to fully grasp it, but what I know of it now I love.

2: “Kaleidoscope”

I feel as though I’m missing something in this story. The entire story takes place in the time that it takes seven astronauts whose spaceship exploded to crash into their respective planets or moons and die. It’s basically a long meditation on the futility of life and the finality of death, one that deserves a more thoughtful reading than I was able to give it. But nevertheless, it’s a great story, very “out there” and different.

3: “The Other Foot”

In this story, Ray Bradbury did something that only Ray Bradbury is brazen enough to do: he explored racism from the opposite angle, wondering what would happen if a group of black people had the opportunity to oppress “the White Man.” I knew that any modern day author would have his head handed to him for publishing a story like this, but the point Bradbury makes is true and important: prejudice and arrogance are not matters of color, but matters of human nature. Once again, he remains perfectly on target with the times, despite the fact that he speaking to us from decades past.

As my fellow blogger Kainzow pointed out, it might be a little awkward to write a review of a short story anthology, so instead, I may write these short reviews of each of the stories as I come to them. Sounds good?

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