What do you imagine when you hear the name...Bradbury? You might see rockets to Mars. Or bizarre circuses where otherworldly acts whirl in the center ring. Perhaps you travel to a dystopian future, where books are set ablaze...or to an out-of-the-way sideshow, where animated illustrations crawl across human skin. Or maybe, suddenly, you're returned to a simpler time in small-town America, where summer perfumes the air and life is almost perfect...almost. Ray Bradbury - peerless storyteller, poet of the impossible, and one of America's most beloved authors - is a literary giant whose remarkable career spanned seven decades. Now 26 of today's most diverse and celebrated authors offer new short works in honor of the master; stories of heart, intelligence, and dark wonder from a remarkable range of creative artists.
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Unfortunately, Bradbury passed away right around the time Shadow Show came out, but for those of us still mourning his passing, this is an excellent way for us to remember him, hopefully shouting, “LIVE FOREVER!” all the way through.
This collection kicks off with an introduction from the late, great Ray Bradbury himself, exclaiming his surprise and delight at the stories written by the authors in this collection, claiming them as his literary children, and he - their Papa.
All the stuff we love about Bradbury is on display here: carnivals and tattoos, coming of age and loss of innocence, the turning points of youthful friendships, rocket ships, monsters, and the importance of storytelling.
The first story is Neil Gaiman’s “The Man Who Forgot Ray Bradbury,” read by the author, and due to Bradbury’s passing, it’s particularly poignant. It’s the story of an older man struggling with a Bradbury-sized hole in his memories. It might be the most meta stories in this collection, but Gaiman’s reading is unsurprisingly inspired, and I would not be at all surprised if this particular story was nominated for loads of awards in 2013.
Joe Hill’s “By the Silver Water of Lake Champlain” is probably my favorite story in the collection, if not my favorite story of the entire year. It’s an homage to a classic Bradbury tale, but it’s so much more than that – a coming of age story where imagination and reality collide when an imaginative girl and a boy who discover something unbelievable on the shoreline. Hill’s story manages to be that wonderful Bradburian trick – a haunting, heartbreaking, coming of age tale that manages to be both whimsical and melancholy at the same time. I mentioned that I wouldn’t be surprised if Gaiman’s story was nominated for awards. I sincerely hope this story is. (I will most likely nominate both myself.)
Bradbury didn’t write female protagonists very often, so one of the pleasant surprises here is how quite a few of the authors dipped into Bradbury’s tradition of childhood stories and memories, but gave us memorable female characters. Alice Hoffman’s “Conjure” is one of these – a story about two best friends who come across an odd man living in a field (perhaps otherworldly), who piques both girls’ interest. Hoffman does an excellent job of dangling one fantastic element in front of us, but like a magician, whose revealing trick leaves you breathless with delight and surprise (in this case, something of a dark one). This is my first experience with Hoffman’s writing, and I’ll definitely be seeking out more of her work.
I’ve never heard Kate Mulgrew read before, but her narrations for both the Hill and Hoffman stories absolutely floored me. They were both excellent stories already, but Mulgrew’s readings are like a force of nature – she tells them absolutely perfectly, and raised them to a newer level.
George Takei read two stories as well – Margaret Atwood’s “Headlife,” which is maybe reminscient of “Marionettes, Inc.” and “Punishment without a Crime.” It’s a good story about a man wanting to escape his life, and fulfill all his secret desires, but Takei’s performance makes it ridiculously fun. Ditto Charle Yu’s short, but fun, “Earth (A Gift Shop)” – a story which might’ve been fun depending on the mood you read it in. But with Takei’s reading, it’s laugh out loud. How is it that Takei’s generally only read abridged versions of Star Trek novels? Get this guy a captain’s chair and a dozen more audiobooks STAT!
Dan Chaon’s “Little America” follows a boy and his kidnapper driving through a dystopian nation, and the tension in this sparse, disturbing tale continues to ratchet up from the very first minute. I don’t think I’ve read anything by Chaon before, but I’m already on the lookout for more. I thought I knew who these characters were and where this story was at the beginning, but the destination they ended at instead was much more surprising and satisfying.
Kelly Link’s “Two Houses” questions the nature and necessity of stories, and particularly ghost stories, following a crew of astronauts travelling between planets. Like most of Link’s stories, there are many layers beneath the surface, and it’s a story that I could listen to over and over again.
Sam Weller’s “The Girl in the Funeral Parlor,” Jacqueline Mitchard identifies her story “Two of a Kind,”and Dave Eggers “Who Knocks?” are all also pretty top-notch.
There are also several Hollywood Tales, a genre and city Bradbury enjoyed playing in. Mort Castle’s “Light” is the third story he’s written (to date) that focuses on Marilyn Monroe, giving us a disturbing take on her life and death, but most importantly, how she became the sensation she is. Jay Bonansinga’s “Heavy” is a slightly more lighthearted tale of mortality and friendship.
A short afterword is provided with each story by the author, to give some insight into their tale, as well as their connection to Ray Bradbury. It’s incredible to hear how Bradbury took some of these authors under his wing prior to them ever selling a story – like Dan Chaon. As a young adult, Bradbury gave Chaon a tour of his office, and spent an afternoon talking with him about writing. Afterward, he critiqued quite a few of Chaon’s stories (including the story presented here). And it was charming to see writers like Harlan Ellison reminiscence (Ellison’s story is, amusingly, twice as long as his story). Others wax on about how Bradbury influenced them.
This is hands down one of the best collections I can remember experiencing, and a wonderful tribute to Bradbury. Perhaps, thanks to his literary children,” Live Forever” isn’t such an impossible feat for Bradbury after all.
CHILDREN OF THE BEDTIME MACHINE There are at least nine stories that to me, where excellent. That is a high number for any anthology. The afterwards of each story, talked about how each author was influenced by RB. These really encouraged me to get all of his books. The Illustrated Man, The Martian Chronicles and Fahrenheit 451 are books often mentioned and some of my favorites. Also mentioned are many of his short stories, of which his talent was exceptional.
HEADLIFE I did not know all the authors, but most are known by all, such as: Neil Gaiman, Margaret Atwood, David Morrell, Joe Hill, Robert McCammon, Audrey Niffenegger, Charles Yu, Dave Eggers, Kelly Link and Harlan Ellison. Even in a tribute, Ellison remains his grumpy self.
THE GIRL IN THE FUNERAL PARLOR All the stories are read by top notch narrators. Even if you don't like a certain story, it is read by someone who makes it sound better than it is. George Takei and Kate Mulgrew are just two of the great and wonderful.
BY THE SILVER WATER OF LAKE CHAMPLAIN I especially liked, the Introduction by Weller and Castle, The Man who forgot Ray Bradbury by Gaiman, Headlife by Margret Atwood (the best and scary weird), The Girl in The Funeral Parlor by Sam Weller, The Silver Water of Lake Champlain by Joe Hill (main characters are children), Little America by Dan Chaon (apocalyptic evolutionary story), The Phone Call by John McNally (Twilight Zone like), The Children Of The Bedtime Machine by Robert McCammon (captures the mood), The Tattoo by Bonnie Joe Campbell (Most Ray Bradbury like), and Hayleigh's Dad by Julia Keller (predictable, but in a good scary way).