(This is an amalgamation of two “reviews” originally posted 6/20/2006 at wotmania.com, which closed down at the end of August in 2009. [Most of the members can now be found at RAFO.] It has been edited here and there, for grammar and cohesion. But still, they are blunt and short and somewhat uneloquent. Blame Youth!)
In some ways I find it hard to talk about why I like Bradbury. He’s a bit too elusive to pin down, and in any case my loyalties are the strong, blind obedience type. Let’s just say that he’s one of my favourite writers and move on from there.
Something Wicked This Way Comes
Something Wicked This Way Comes is… well, I suppose you could call it (poetic) horror. Will Holloway and Jim Nightshade are neighbours and best friends, almost fourteen years old. Born one day apart (Will a minute before midnight of Halloween, Jim a minute after) the two boys are, at first glance, superficial opposites. (I’ve a lot to say about the characterisation of these two boys: deliberately or not, Bradbury’s done a brilliant job on them.)
The carnival is in town – but <drum roll> – this isn’t your fun sort of carnival. Will and Jim – and Will’s father Charles – face down the Illustrated Man and his minions, and there is no way you will understand how something that sounds so cheesy can actually be haunting unless you have read Bradbury.
Bradbury is a stylist, He sacrifices hard detail for style – which is a mean way of saying that his prose flows smoothly, elegantly, and that his prose is some of the most poetic you can get without actually opening a book of verse. Something Wicked… is very representative of this proetry, and if you like, lessee. If you like Tolkien for his style then there there’s a chance you’ll like Bradbury. (Very different styles, mind you. But the words I’d use would be the same.)
Characterisations tend to be strong for the three central characters, stereotypical but strong but associated good guys. The baddies are – well, the baddies are the baddies. I particularly like the way the two boys are drawn, and the contradictory representations of the both of them. (A lot is made out for how Jim is the “deeper”, more “complex” character… but the plot itself has ample evidence that Will might hold that position, without having to make resort to things that go bump in the night.) The Holloways, father and son, are very sensitively drawn.
Hmm, what else? The plot is a bit rambling, but that’s vintage Bradbury for you – I rarely even notice things like pacing etc. It never feels slow, or too rushed. If you’re the sort who demands hard detail (Why did so-and-so happen? When did it happen? Where and who started it? How did it happens, what were the technicalities?) then you might be disappointed. Bradbury’s text is rooted very firmly in its own present, and doesn’t go backwards or forwards – something that might be related to one of the themes of the novel, or might simply be a Bradbury thing. (Both, I’d say.)
What else? Ah. Bradbury’s musings on women are schizophrenic, cute, quaint, and sixties. Don’t miss ‘em.
So, anyway. I totally recommend Something wicked… It’s small town, it’s cutesy, it’s chilly and haunted and wonderful.
The Illustrated Man is a collection of stories – some of which were written for magazines in the late 40s and early 50s, some of which were written specifically for this collection. The stories are mostly science fiction, mostly good.
It’s a bit hard to pin down the central theme in a collection of short stories, but I’d say that Bradbury is speaking most strongly of the nature of storytelling – and how dependant it is on the point of view of the storyteller. Of cages, and who is caged and why – and by whom. Of the innocence inherent in any PoV, in that it cannot ‘know’ the other.
I love and adore The Illustrated Man every time I read it immediately after The Martian Chronicles, but not as much if I read it immediately after Something Wicked This Way Comes. Several of the Mars-stories in The Illustrated Man show up in tMC, for one thing. One of the stories, “The Other Foot” (the African Americans have all left Earth and live on Mars, and a white man is coming to visit.), only works for me when I see it placed in context. The hows and wheres and whys are very inadequately explored when you see it standing alone, as in The Illustrated Man, while in tMC there’s a back-story and a future. Other stories that don’t work too well would be “Kaleidoscope” and “Marionettes, Inc.”, and “The Concrete Mixer”, all of which read to me like Middle Aged Men Whining.
Most of the rest of the stories work. There is so much sadness in “The Exiles” and in “The City” – both of which are about the results of different sorts of careless destruction. “The Rocket Man” is outright sad. “The Last Night of the World” is simple: beautiful, poignant. “No Particular Night or Morning”, “The Highway” and “The Veldt” all give me chills, all for different reasons.
And, of course, there is the Illustrated Man himself. Especially if you read this after you’ve read SWTWC, the frame story of the tramp who sees visions in the tattoos on the illustrated man is almost more interesting than the actual collection. (And who didn’t see the ending coming?)
Anyway. I’d recommend Bradbury to you if you’re in the market for short stories, for elegant prose, for some slightly old fashioned small townery. He’s one of the best there was, or is.