A Review of Bradbury Speaks

by Stephanie Dickison

 

BRADBURY SPEAKS:  Too Soon From the Cave, Too Far From the Stars – Essays on the Past, Future, and Everything in Between

Ray Bradbury

Harper Perennial

 

By Stephanie Dickison

 

I am just going to say it – Ray Bradbury is vivacious.  I’m sure he has been called a lot of things in his time, but I doubt this is one of them.

 

I can’t help myself.  Usually writers moan about the difficulties of the craft.  They complain about having to create upon a deadline, not upon inspiration.  They talk about the harshness of the writing life – the isolation, the constant stress of having to come up with a good idea, a good sentence, a good anything.  Working through blocks, blank pages, and 103 degree flus.  And yet, Bradbury loves to write.  He talks about the joys and while he does have his tough moments, he decided long ago the secret to writing:

 

“I’ve written essays only when they wake me at dawn and asked to be finished by noon.” (ix)

 

Now of course we don’t have that luxury, but it is comforting to read that someone is still propelled out of bed by stories that must be told. 

 

But, as I said, Bradbury has not been privy to publishing perfection.  He has had the usual experiences of rejection.

 

“The novel finished, had rough going.  It was rejected by Doubleday, who had published six of my books.”  (9)

 

It is always refreshing and reassuring to read of accomplished authors trials and tribulations – not because we wish them ill will but that it shows that even the greats go through the process and that helps spur us on in the dark moments that are filled with a string of no’s and seeming impossibility.

 

The 37 essays presented here are a mélange of writings from as early as 1962 and as late as 2004.  Bradbury also reveals his humanity by not remembering when a lot of these papers were written and chose to just leave them as “undated,” which just goes to extend the Bradbury charm.

 

The essays are bright, light and effervescent, and led the reader on a wonderful romp through the backstages of Hollywood lots, with names from past – Rod Steiger and his wife Claire Booth - and present, like Harry Belafonte.  And having both the benefit and disadvantage of writing not only books, but then adapting them for the screen, Bradbury is brimming with tales of film mishaps and writing adventure - like his tangle with trying to adapt Moby Dick.  It is like a juicy soap, ripe with characters we know and can’t get enough of.

 

“Let’s face it, adapting any other writer to the screen, or into any other form, is all but impossible.  Unless by sheer genetic accident, you are born with the chromosomes, the brain spheres, the fingerprints of –

 

Faulkner, Hemingway, Balzac, or name your own writer.” (17)

 

But through the adversity, Bradbury illustrates coming out the other side:

 

“I sat down at the typewriter and in the next five to six to seven hours rewrote the last third of the screenplay, plus portions of the middle.  I did not eat until long after the lunch hour, when I had a sandwich sent up and which I devoured while typing.  I was fearful of answering the telephone, dreading the loss of focus if I did so.  I have never typed so long, so hard, so fast in all the years before that day and all the years since.” (19)

 

He writes phrases that stop you mid-sentence, like “long umbilical memory,” and his language is fraught with intelligence and moves at its own tempo – when he describes having seen Walt Disney’s “Skeleton Dance,” he writes,

 

“It was a five-minute lightning bolt that knocked the soul out of my eight-year-old body and vacuumed it back in, bright, clean, refurbished, hyperventilated, new.” (71)

 

Born August 22, 1920 and raised in Waukegan, Illinois, he talks of writing sci-fi when “in the thirties, forties, and fifties, it was rare for a science-fiction or fantasy book to appear.  Readers had to want months or years subsisting on H.G. Wells and Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World.

 

But our visionary is not afraid to rant about technology.  He goes off about computers and does not apologize for views.  He says proudly, “Turn off everything.  Patrol your house to pull the plugs on the TV, the radio, the fax, the email transmitting computer and its ingrown internet.  Go sit on your porch with a glass of vodka lemonade, a pad and pencil, and only think.” (147)

 

And don’t even talk about taking your laptop to bed, because he could only reply with this:

 

“Pour salt on the laptop batteries and watch them sizzle like snails.  Get a life.” (149)

 

He also offers up alternative endings to Rocky, Adaptation, and Lawrence of Arabia in “All’s Well That Ends Well… Or, Unhappily Ever After.” (2003)

 

Harrumph.

 

But this is one of the many reasons it is refreshing to read Bradbury.  It is one-hundred percent Bradbury, the good, the bad and the ugly.  He is a Baptist who loved Melville, H.G. Wells and Jules Verne.  He is completely old school while writing about the new world order.  And his way of looking at things is illuminating:

 

“We tossed conversational confetti in the air and ran under to see how much each of us caught.” (182)

 

The book is not without its slow points.  Divided into sections about writing, science fiction, people, life, Paris, and Los Angeles, there are some that will no doubt enthrall you more than others.  And because these essays range in years, topics sometimes get covered a couple (or three) times.  Bu the time you get to “More, Much More By Corwin” that Bradbury wrote in 1999, you will already be familiar with the Doubleday editor that urges his to go back to the YMCA to type out an outline for The Martian Chronicles.  In most books this would be extremely aggravating, but somehow he makes it seem like it’s just Uncle Ray telling that story again, like our loved ones do, and we love them despite the repetitions.

 

But despite the ebbs and flows, Bradbury envelops you and gathers you in his arms, telling you the magic and mystery of language.  In “Beyond Giverny” (1994), he writes:

 

“I write this to open your eyes.  Or, if they are already open, to lift them to where the motionless stars write moving histories on the air.  Or, if you have stared too long at the sky, to lower your gaze and find not just Monet’s tourist-flecked gardens but the entire Earth beyond: Giverny in excelsis.” (67)

 

People think of Ray Bradbury as a great writer from the past.  That is correct, but to be more precise, he is a great writer of our future.  Thank goodness for Ray Bradbury.

 


© Stephanie Dickison 2006

Sobriquet Magazine #29 (October 2006)

 


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