Category Archives: Ray Bradbury

Brackett and Bradbury: “Lorelei of the Red Mist”

Planet Stories - Lorelei of the Red MistThis is a unique item.  The only collaboration between two great science fiction authors, Leigh Brackett and Ray Bradbury.  Here’s how it came about:

Both authors were living in the Los Angeles area in the 1940s, and both had been working hard to develop their craft as writers.  Both were regulars in Planet Stories at the time.  They were friends who had both been mentored by Henry Kuttner.  They used to meet once a week to read and critique each other’s work.

no good from a corpseBrackett had sold some detective short stories as well as one novel, No Good From a Corpse.  The novel caught the attention of movie producer Howard Hawks, who decided he wanted Brackett to work on the screenplay for his next project.  She was approximately halfway through a novellette she was writing for Planet Stories that was set on Venus (More about Brackett’s Venus in a bit.) when she got a call from Hawks, or more probably his secretary.  Which is how Brackett launched her screenwriting career by coauthoring with William Faulkner the script for Raymond Chandler’s The Big Sleep starring Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall.  How freakin’ cool is that? Continue reading

In the Deep and Dark December

[cue Simon and Garfunkle]

I’m not a huge Simon and Grafunkle fan, but I couldn’t help but steal the title of this post from “I am a Rock”.  Here are my reading/writing/blogging plans for the last month of the year.

Leigh Brackett

Leigh Brackett

The big thing is that Leigh Brackett’s birthday is next Monday, December 7.  It’s her centennial, and I’ll be focusing a lot on her work this month.  I’m not the only one.  Howard Andrew Jones and Bill Ward will be discussing “The Moon the Vanished”, one of her novellas set on a swampy Venus next Monday on Howard’s blog.  Click here for details and join the discussion.  I’m not going to be discussing that particular story here, but I will take some detailed looks at some others.  I’m probably going to start with “Lorelei of the Red Mist”, which she began and Ray Bradbury finished when Howard Hawks offered her a job writing the screenplay to Raymond Chandler’s The Big Sleep with William Faulkner.  You can get electronic copies of both stories in Swamps of Venus from Baen ($4), or get the Solar System bundle for $20. Continue reading

A Journey Through The October Country

October Country 1The October Country
Ray Bradbury
Illustrations by Joe Mugnaini
mass market paperback 307 p., $7.99
ebook Kindle $7.21 Nook $10.99

I first read this collection in the early ’80s, around 1980 or 1981, I think.  Some of the stories have stayed with me (“The Small Assassin”, “The Scythe”), while some I’d completely forgotten (“Touched with Fire”, “The Cistern”).

Most of the stories were recycled from Dark Carnival, with a few being left out and a few being added.  I’d hoped to have time to read the ones left out and discuss the differences in the two collections, but that will have to wait for a later post.  For those unaware, Dark Carnival, from Arkham House, was Bradbury’s first collection.  Original copies are hard to come by and will cost you a pretty penny.  The author’s definitive edition from a decade or so ago isn’t cheap either.

Fortunately there isn’t that much difference in the contents, and the casual reader can enjoy the stories as they appear in this volume.  There will be spoilers on some of them. Continue reading

A Visit to Cooger and Dark’s Pandemonium Shadow Show

something wicked this way comesSomething Wicked This Way Comes
Ray Bradbury
Avon, 304 pgs.
mass market paperback $7.99
ebook $3.99 Kindle Nook

I first read this book something like 35 years ago, give or take, probably in 5th grade. I reasonably certain it had to have been before spring break of my 6th grade year, because that was the year of the tornado. After we rebuilt the house, I got to have a room of my own. This is relevant because I envisioned the room I shared with my brother as Will’s room as I read the book.  (Assuming my memory isn’t playing tricks on me.)

There’s a risk when you return to a beloved novel from your youth. Will it live up to the memory? Often it doesn’t.

The advantage here is that after so many years, I didn’t remember more than a few scenes from the book, primarily the Dust Witch coming after the boys in the balloon in the middle of the night. Other than a few general things, I didn’t recall much.

I’m pleased to say that the novel held up quite well. It was better than I remembered. Continue reading

Happy Birthday, Ray Bradbury

Ray Bradbury olderRay Bradbury was born on this date in 1920.  He was one of the greatest writers in his, or arguably any, generation.

Bradbury was one of the first science fiction and fantasy authors I ever read.  We lived in Wichita Falls when I was in the 5th grade.  The children’s section was in the basement of the main branch of the library downtown.  It was a wonderful place.

Off to one side they had a spinner rack of paperbacks, much like you could find in a drug store.  On the rack were James Blish’s Star Trek books, a couple of collections of Twilight Zone tie-ins, Planet of the Apes by Pierre Boulle, and I don’t remember what else.

Except for the Ray Bradbury volumes.  Those I remember quite clearly.  Most of these were the Bantam editions from the late 70s that had a drawing of Ray’s face in the middle of the cover and a mural behind him.  The Illustrated Man was there.  And Something Wicked This Way ComesS is for Space.  And The Martian Chronicles.  I would read Fahrenheit 451, Dandelion Wine, Long After Midnight, The October Country, and all the other books later, but the titles I listed first have remained in my memory for decades.

I started reading off that rack regularly in the 5th grade, and when a guest came to our reading class and read “The Screaming Woman” to us from that very edition of S is for Space, I was hooked.

We lost Ray a couple of years ago, and I wrote then of the impact he had on my life.  Ray Bradbury is one of the few authors in my library with an entire shelf reserved for his works.

Now if you’ll, excuse me, I’m going to read a few selections.  Maybe something from The October Country, followed by a tale from The Illustrated Man

Happy Birthday, Henry Kuttner

Henry Kuttner and C. L. Moore

Henry Kuttner was born this day, April 7, in 1915.  He passed away far too young in 1958.

Kuttner got his start in Weird Tales, his first story being “The Graveyard Rats”, a grisly little piece.  Other stories for WT followed, and soon he was branching out into science fiction and the shudder pulps.  Legend has it that he started using pseudonyms after writing stories that appeared in the first two issues of Marvel Science Stories, stories that almost got the magazine shut down for pornography.  Supposedly no editor would buy stories with Kuttner’s byline for a while.  Mike Resnick reports in his introduction to Girls for the Slime God (in which the above mentioned stories are reprinted) that in a late 1940s poll of sf readers, two of Kuttner’s pen names came in higher than his real name.  Those pen names were Lawrence O’Donnell and Lewis Padgett.  Not surprising since his best regarded stories are under those names.

Kuttner’s best work was done in collaboration with his wife C. L. Moore.  The story is that Kuttner wrote her a fan letter, not realizing that “C. L.” stood for “Catherine Lucille.”

Kuttner wrote in a wide variety of genres, including sword and sorcery.  His tales of Elak of Atlantis (reviewed here, here, here, and here) as well as his two stories of Prince Raynor (reviewed here and here) helped fill the gap left by Robert E. Howard’s death.

It was in science fiction that he made his reputation.  Stories such “Mimsy Were the Borogoves”, “The Proud Robot”,  “The Twonky”, “When the Bough Breaks”, the Baldly stories (collected in Mutant), the Hogben stories, and countless others have remained popular and readable to this day, showing only a few signs of not aging well.  His story “What You Need” was filmed as an original series Twilight Zone episode.  Kuttner wrote a lot of what at the time was considered novel length work in the pulps, much of it still unreprinted.  A few years ago I managed to get most of the pulps containing these stories, and over the next year or two I hope to make time to read and report on them.  It’s also been long enough since I read some of them, that I need to refresh my memory.

There’s a lot of great Kuttner material that either hasn’t been reprinted or has been reprinted in such obscure places that it doesn’t matter.  For example, “We Kill People” from Astounding‘s March 1946 issue is every bit as good as the stories that are the most well-known.

Kuttner’s work was marked by a dry, cynical sense of humor and a pessimistic outlook on life, and the stories often ended on a note of horror.  As the 1940s turned to the 1950s, the Kuttner quit writing so much for the pulps.  Part of this was burn-out, part of this was Kuttner was finally getting his college degree and then a master’s.  He authored several mystery novels during this period.  He passed away from a heart attack.

I first encountered Kuttner on a hot, humid afternoon the summer before I entered high school.  I was taking a break and pulled out the SFBC edition of The Best of Henry Kuttner, which had arrived in the mail a few days earlier.  Although I don’t recall why I purchased it, I suspect it was because Ray Bradbury, who was something of a protege of Kuttner’s for a while, wrote the introduction.  The first story was “Mimsy Were the Borogoves”.  My mind was blown.  My life would never be the same.

Of all the science fiction and fantasy authors I’ve ever read, Kuttner is still my favorite.  I thank God frequently that Stephen Haffner has reprinted so much of his early work.  (I just wish he’d done it before I spent all that money tracking down those pulps.)

Kuttner (along with his wife C. L. Moore) is one of the few authors who has his/her own shelf in my library.  (The others are Ray Bradbury, Leigh Brackett and her husband Edmond Hamilton, and Robert E. Howard, who books take up two shelves.  Charles Beaumont would have his own shelf if he had written more books before he died.)

Much of Kuttner’s early work is clunky, but if you read his stories in chronological order, you can see him maturing.  He was a writer who wasn’t afraid to stretch himself, to take chances and do something different.  Just read “Happy Ending” as an example.  The story is told in reverse, Ending, Middle, Beginning, and it works.

If you’ve not read Kuttner, you should.  A large of number Big Names (Mariam Zimmer Bradley, Ray Bradbury, Richard Matheson, Robert Silverberg, Mike Resnick) list him among their influences. Find out why.

Happy Birthday, Hank.

In Defense of Marvin Kaye: A Review of Weird Tales # 360

Weird Tales # 360
print $7.95, various ebook formats $2.99 available here
edited by Marvin Kaye

There was a great deal of bitchin’ and moanin’ wailing and gnashing of teeth last year when it was announced that Marvin Kaye was buying Weird Tales and replacing editor Ann Vandermeer with himself.  The way some people carried on, you would have thought Sauron had managed to get his claws on the One Ring. 

When Kaye announced, and later retracted, his plans to publish an excerpt of the science fiction novel Save the Pearls, a book many considered to be racist, I expected to see reports of mobs marching on Kaye’s location with torches and pitchforks.  Haivng read a number of Kaye’s anthologies for the SFBC, and portions of others, I have great respect for him as an editor, but I have to say this was not one of his better choices.  Nor was his essay defending that choice well conceived.  I didn’t bother to give this particular novel much attention; the descriptions of it, even if they were only half accurate, made it clear to me the novel was not a good thing to serialize in the magazine.

Outrage was so great that Mary Robinette Kowal subsidized Shimmer magazine so that publication would be able to pay pro rates.  Editor-in-Chief Beth Wodzinski stated on the magazine’s blog that she wanted to continue in the vein Ann Vandermeer.

Why am I going into this bit of recent history?  Because the situation as I see it is this:  Expectations on Kaye to succeed are extremely high, so high that it can be argued he’ll never be able to meet those expectations.  Furthermore, there are those who are waiting with sharpened knives for him to stumble, or if you prefer, stumble again after the Save the Pearls debacle. 

Well, now the first issue edited by Kaye is out, and it has the theme of The Elder Gods.  Kaye is taking the magazine back to its roots.  This was part of what caused the controversy when he replaced Vandermeer as edtior.  Many saw this as a step backwards.  It’s become fashionable in some circles to bash Lovecraft for a variety of reasons, and a number of those reasons showed up in the vitriol that followed the announcement.

So, let’s look at the stories, and then I’ll attempt to answer the question of whether or not Kaye succeeding in getting his incarnation of The Unique Magazine off the ground. 

“The Eyrie” is the first item past the ToC.  In his introductory essay Kaye assures readers he is open to all types of genre fiction, from the type that made the magazine’s reputation to new and innovative types of storytelling.  He lists a number of established authors who have expressed interest in appearing in the magazine, and if he gets stories from all of them, he will succeed in taking the publication to new heights.

There follows some reviews of Lovecraft themed anthologies and a poem by Jill Bauman.

After that, comes Brian Lumley‘s novella “The Long Last Night”.  This was a slow building, disturbing story.  While the general ending was pretty obvious to me, the details were original and disturbing.  Next, another poem, “In Shadowy Innsmouth” by Darrell Schweitzer.  We return to fiction with “Momma Durt” from Michael Shea, about the goings-on at an allegedly abandoned mine shaft that is being used to illegally dump toxic waste.  Michael Reyes introduces us to the drug induced “Darkness at Table Rock Road”, and Darrell Schwietzer returns with a fiction piece, “The Runners Beyond the Wall”, in which a young man finds himself with a very deadly guardian after being orphaned.  “The Country of Fear” by Russell Brickey is another poem.  Matthew Jackson’s “Drain” is an effective lesson in why you should clean your drain frequently, teaching us that no good deed goes unpunished.  “The Thing in the Cellar” by William Blake-Smith is a tongue-in-cheek tale about a teenager who’s read a little too much Lovecraft.  It’s a delightful change from the dark and grim tales preceding it and easily my favorite in the issue.

The Weird Tales website lists “Found in a Bus Shelter at 3:00 a.m., Under a Mostly Empty Sky” by Stephen Garcia.  I’m not sure if this is an error or not.  This piece isn’t included in the electronic version of the magazine, at least not the epub format.

After this are four unthemed stories:  “To be a Star” by Parke Godwin, “The Empty City” by Jessica Amanda Salmanson, “The Abbey at the Edge of the Earth” by Collin B. Greenwood, and “Alien Abduction” by M. E. Brine.  Except for the Greenwood piece, I found all of these to be slight, hackneyed even, and not very interesting.  Certainly not up to the quality of the Lovecraft inspired selections.

After this was another Lovecraft piece, an essay by Kenneth Hite entitled “Lost in Lovecraft”.

Finally, there is a Ray Bradbury tribute with its own cover.  To an extent, I wish this had been saved for the next issue, simply because I wanted more and the tribute was added just before the magazine went to press.  While not one of the authors who first comes to mind when one thinks of WT, Bradbury had some important work appear here over the years.  The tribute is fitting, and the second cover is a nice touch.  I just wish it had been included in the electronic edition.

The Bradbury pieces are the original version of “The Exiles” (there’s a Lovecraft connection), Bradbury’s ending of the film version of Rosemary’s Baby, a poem, a remembrance by Marvin Kaye, and a review of Shadow Show:  Stories in Celebration of Ray Bradbury edited by James Aquilone.

So how does the first issue of WT Kaye has edited hold up?  While the unthemed stories are mostly disappointing, overall this is a good issue.  The Elder Gods section has some strong work, including what will probably come to be regarded as a major novella by Brian Lumley.  There’s quite a bit of variety and diversity in these stories.  And like I said, it was good to have a Bradbury tribute.

I think Kaye has a good format for success.  Each issue will contain themed and unthemed stories.  Next issue’s theme will be fairy tales.  If he can find some stronger stories for the unthemed section, and I have no doubt he can, then this incarnation of Weird Tales will be a success.  It won’t please some, even most, of its detractors, but that’s to be expected.  The direction Kaye is taking is too different from Ann Vandermeer’s. 

I only read one or two issues of Vandermeer’s WT, and what I read didn’t really knock my socks off.  In fact, none of the stories have stuck with me.  I recall not caring much for what I did read, so I for one welcome the changes Marvin Kaye has brought to the magazine.   While I’m sorry her departure from the magazine was painful to her, as well has her many fans and friends, I’m glad Kaye is keeping a strong focus on the magazine’s past while being open to new voices. 

I’m sure there will be plenty of people who will disagree with my assessment of this issue, and Kaye’s editorship in general, who will lament that he isn’t pursuing the same direction Vandermeer did.  That’s fine.  As I mentioned at the top of this post, Shimmer is going to attempt to fill that niche.  I think that’s a good thing, and I wish Beth Wodzinski all success.  I intend to take a look at that publication at some point.  In the meantime, I’m looking forward to the next issue of Weird Tales

A Visit to Orangefield on Hallow’s Eve

Hallow’s Eve
Al Sarrantonio
mass market paperback, Leisure, 2004
Kindle edition $3.99

Al Sarrantonio’s work had been favorably compared to that of Ray Bradbury.  I suspect part (but not all) of the reason is that like Bradbury, much of Sarrantonio’s work deals with October in general and Halloween in particular.

And a great deal of that work is set in the fictional town of Orangefield, self-proclaimed Pumpkin Capital of the World.  Hallow’s Eve is the second volume of a trilogy.  The first volume, Orangefield, was published as limited edition by a small press, and as far as I know, never had a mass market edition. 

You don’t need to have read that volume to enjoy this one, however.  I didn’t have any trouble keeping up with the story, although I knew enough about the events in that novel and previous short stories to recognize some of the references. 

Frankly, there wasn’t that much to keep track of.  The plot is pretty simple, and some of the subplots obviously carry over from what came before.  Corrie Phaeder has returned home to Orangefield after a dozen years away.  As a boy, his dreams invaded his waking world, and things would change without warning.  When he left, his mother had recently been murdered, and he had been the prime suspect, at least in the eyes of police detective Grant.  Before everything is over, Grant, along with a neighbor girl, will become Phaeder’s ally in a battle against Samhain, the Lord of Death.

This isn’t the best horror novel I’ve ever read.  The events that brought Phaeder back to Orangefield are lightly sketched, so that his homecoming feels somewhat contrived.  I didn’t find much about it that was scary, although the scene towards the end where the pumpkin men attack Grant in a deserted farmhouse while he’s trying to protect Phaeder and the girl was great. 

What does work is the atmosphere.  Sarrantonio does an excellent job of setting the mood, and Orangefield sounds like a nice place to live if it weren’t for the Lord of Death constantly stirring things up.  The book was by turns creepy, pastoral, and mildly suspenseful, but never really scary.

This is the only novel of Sarrantonio’s I’ve read, and based on this reading, I would say his strength lies more at short lengths than with the novel.  There’s a final volume in this series, Halloweenland, in which a carnival arrives in Orangefield.  Frankly, that trope appeals more to me than the walking scarecrow and the pumpkin men from Hallow’s Eve, although I do enjoy a good ambulatory scarecrow.  I might read it before Halloween, but given the way the last few weeks have gone, I’ll probably save it for next year.

Hallow’s Eve isn’t a bad book, but it wasn’t as good as I was expecting it to be.  Still, it was a pleasant way to pass a few hours and is quite appropriate to the season.

A Couple of Halloween Themed Anthologies

Halloween
Paula Guran, ed.
Prime Books
trade paper, 480 p., $14.95
ebook, $6.99 Kindle, Nook

This one came out last year, and I’ve only read a few of the stories in it.  Nor do I plan to read all of them, at least not this year.  I’ll take my time with this one and spread it out over several years.  In other words, this is more of an FYI post than a full-on review.  However, I’ve been impressed enough by the contents so far to feel I should bring this one to your attention.

First of all, this is a reprint anthology, and there is one difference between the print and electronic editions.  That’s the inclusion of Ray Bradbury’s “The Halloween Game”, which isn’t in the electronic edition.  Now if you recall, I have a very high regard for Bradbury, but I wish he hadn’t been so stubborn about electronic rights. “The Halloween Game” is a story that deserves to be in this book.

Even without Bradbury’s contribution, the table of contents is impressive.  The stories I’ve read include “Night Out” by Tina Rath and “On a Dark October” by Joe Lansdale.  Both are worth the read.  I”ll dip into this one again, at least to reread “Hornets” by Al Sarrantonio, which takes place in his fictional town of Orangefield.  I’ve just started reading one of the Orangefield novels, and it makes reference to the events in “Hornets”.

October Dreams
Richard Chizmar and Robert Morrish, ed.
Roc
trade paper, 656 p., oop, various prices second hand

This one came out ten years ago (I think there was an earlier limited edition), and it’s been almost that long since I read it.  It contains a mix of memoir, reprint, and what at the time was new.  I don’t remember all of the stories well enough to try to do a full review, but this is one anthology I intend to revisit, something that doesn’t happen with much of what I read.  I probably won’t get to it this year since the library is still in a state of disarray since the move, but I recommend this book if you come across a copy or want to order it online.   It’s got some great stories in it.  Like Halloween, this is another anthology that’s perfect for dipping into on a evening when there’s a nip in the air and you’re not sure if the sound you hear is a branch scraping against the window in the wind or something else.

A Requiem for Ray

When I learned of Ray Bradbury’s death this morning, a piece of my childhood died as well.  A fairly large piece, as a matter of fact, and there aren’t too many pieces left.  I posted an announcement of his passing, but at the time that was all I could do, so with your indulgence, I’d like to say a few words of a more personal nature.  We’re already beginning to see the deluge of tributes from those whose lives he touched, which is as it should be.  Many people more eloquent than I will be writing those, so I want to thank you for taking the time to read mine.

When I first began to make the transition to adult books, or what I probably thought of as “Grown up books” at the time, Bradbury was one of the first I read.  We were living in Wichita Falls, Texas at the time, and I would have been in about the fifth or sixth grade.  Somewhere in there; with the passing of years the chronological details have faded a bit.  I don’t recall which happened first, if I discovered him on my own or if I was pushed in his direction.  One day in reading class, we had a guest come and read “The Screaming Woman” from S is for Space.  I was blown away. 

Science fiction was front and center on my radar, having read comics for a few years and with Star Wars released for the first time the previous summer.  In the children’s section of the main branch of the public library, down in the basement, there was a rack of paperbacks.  If you’re of a certain age, you know the kind I’m talking about.  The wire spinner in so many drug stores of the time.  This one contained popular fiction that had been deemed suitable for the more advanced of us among young readers.  Planet of the Apes was on that rack, along with most of James Blish’s Star Trek novelizations.  As were a number of titles by Ray Bradbury, including The Martian Chronicles, with a terrific cover showing the author’s face.  Behind him, the picture of Mars you see in the accompanying illustration, with a face looking out at you. 

If I hadn’t been reading Bradbury before our guest came to class and read to us, I certainly was afterwards.  Over the next decade, as his work was reprinted and new works came out, I bought and read them all.  The October CountrySomething Wicked This Way ComesThe Illustrated ManLong After MidnightA Memory of Murder.  And all the rest, first in paperback, then as I could afford them, hardcovers.  I’ve bought as many of the collectible editions of recent years as I could, too, such as Match to Flame, Dark Carnival, and  the complete edition of The Martian Chronicles.

I can still remember where I was when I read some of them.  Long After Midnight at my grandparents’ house.  The Golden Apples of the Sun in my room after we moved to Paris, Texas. 

And the stories, they still fire my imagination.  “Mars is Heaven.”  “The Veldt.”  “The Scythe.”  “Marionettes, Inc.”  “Rocket Man.”  “The Crowd.”  “The Small Assassin.” 

I learned about wonder.  And fear.  And the romance of living in a boarding house.  And the Day of the Dead.  Somehow, after reflecting today on Bradbury’s impact in my life, I suspect that it runs deeper than I realized. 

I never met the man, although I do have his signature.  When the complete edition of The Martian Chronicles was delayed, before Subterranean Press eventually took it over and published it, those who preordered it through a different publisher received a set of three prints from the book, each set unique, signed by Bradbury and Edward Miller.  Mine is number 22 of 200.  If my house were burning, and I knew family and dogs were safely out, this is the thing I would make sure I took with me. 

I’ve also got the two omnibuses, The Stories of Ray Bradbury and Stories, each containing 100 stories.  That’s each containing 100 different stories.  And there are more not in these volumes.  I’ll be dipping into them later this evening.

So in closing, I want to say “Thank you, Ray.”  For all the thrills, chills, and wonder you’ve given me and will continue to give me through your works.  I’ve learned a great deal about writing from you.  And a great deal about life as well.