Year of First Publication: 1955
Year of Publication for This Edition: 1996
Number of Pages: 306
Publisher: Del Rey
Sub-Genres: Fantasy, Horror, Short Fiction
Subjects: Carnivals, Vampires, Murder, a little of everything, really. 🙂
Ray Bradbury’s 1996 forward to The October Country is titled “May I Die Before My Voices.” The words of a mad man to be sure, but in this case, it’s a good kind of madness, the kind that cares too little for things like propriety and acceptance to keep from saying what it knows to be true. This is the kind of madness you will find in anything Bradbury writes, most of all in The October Country.
Last February, I reviewed another short story collection by Bradbury entitled The Illustrated Man. I was expecting The October Country to be similar to this earlier collection, so I was surprised to find in it yet another side of Bradbury’s writing that I had never seen before. While The Illustrated Man leans more toward science fiction, this collection contains no trace whatsoever of Mars, outer space, or those other familiar Bradbury motifs. Rather, The October Country is entirely devoted to the horror and fantasy fiction that he wrote early in his career.
As Bradbury explains in the forward, many of these stories were written for “pulp magazines,” cheap science fiction or horror-themed monthlies not exactly known for their high standards of literature. But despite the fact that Bradbury was writing for a less-than-notable publication, the stories in this book are no less notable than more famous works like “The Veldt” and “The Fog Horn.” For example, his story “The Jar,” though not for everyone, is brilliant in terms of its ability to suggest complex ideas to the reader without ever mentioning them outright. In addition, Bradbury’s stories have an atmosphere and a verve all their own, one that draws the reader into the story’s world. It’s almost cruel how good he is: not only can he play off of a reader’s worst fears to pull him into the story’s action, but he also has an uncanny knack for changing the mood of a scene almost instantaneously. One story in particular (I won’t say which for fear of spoiling it) starts out calm and idyllic, but then—within the span of a sentence—turns dark and eerie. I already had high hopes for this collection when I first picked it up, and Ray more than met my expectations.
Among my favorite stories in this collection were “The Emissary, “Touched with Fire,” and “The Wonderful Death of Dudley Stone.” Really, there was only one story (out of nineteen) that really disappointed me. This was “The Man Upstairs.” Personally, I found it much too predictable and too generic. The story centers around a vampire and the young human boy who shares a boarding house with him. I expected Bradbury to do something wild and unexpected with the classic vampire spiel, but instead, the story fell rather flat. Other than this, these stories fully lived up to their author’s reputation for writing powerful fantasy.
Ray Bradbury, as I’m sure you know by now, is one of my most favorite authors and every book I read from him makes me love him and his work even more. So was the case of The October Country. This book further confirms what I already knew: that Bradbury is a brilliant author, the likes of whom we may never see again.