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Anthologies & Collections

Short stories reviewed with a discerning eye.

Ray Bradbury, The Stories of Ray Bradbury
Ray Bradbury, Bradbury Stories

This review originally appeared in somewhat different form on The Green Man Review. Copyright 2003.

Ray Bradbury fans tend to like their Bradbury in large quantities. We just can't get enough. And that's certainly what 1980's The Stories of Ray Bradbury and the new Bradbury Stories are: 900-page volumes of 100 selections each of the master's best tales.

I lack the space (or, honestly, the inclination) to review 200 stories individually, and in any case those unfamiliar with Bradbury's work are unlikely to purchase either of these volumes, as they run upwards of $20.00 USD--even with Amazon's discount. Newcomers would be better off beginning with one of the smaller collections--I personally recommend The October Country.

As no one story appears in both volumes, and as the average person is just not going to purchase both, the main question becomes which one of these marvelous tomes to spend your hard-earned money on? The answer lies in finding out not which one is better, but what kind of fan you are. In this review, I will attempt to differentiate between these two confusingly similar titles--and their respective style of fan.

The earlier book, The Stories of Ray Bradbury, containing those stories for which he is most famous--"The Small Assassin," "The October Game," "The Veldt," "The Crowd," "There Will Come Soft Rains," etc.--is likely to appeal most to the fan of "classic" Bradbury, or to anyone introduced to his work through the television anthology Ray Bradbury Theater. It feels like the more cohesive of the two probably because of this reason; these are stories that the average fan will recognize, and The Stories of Ray Bradbury certainly does an excellent job of representing the first 35 years of his career, when he was known primarily as a science-fiction writer (although that was never patently true). Also included is an inspiring essay on the art of writing, "Drunk and In Charge of a Bicycle" (later published in Zen in the Art of Writing).

Conversely, several of the entries in Bradbury Stories feel like they were written by an altogether different person. In a way, they were. No longer the wide-eyed innocent, this Bradbury has aged and has gained a mature outlook on life, as represented by the hero of Death is a Lonely Business and its sequels.

Always a writer more of character than plot, this older Bradbury is less focused on the mere actions of his characters, preferring now to dwell on their consequences. He tends now more towards inner dialogue than a simple description of events. Therefore Bradbury Stories has a different feel to it, and those expecting the feel of his earlier work, or anyone expecting a science-fiction anthology, will be sorely disappointed.

The stories here are all good, often better, in some ways, than those in The Stories of Ray Bradbury, but since none of the "classics" are here (the books have different publishers so it is likely there were rights issues), this book is more likely to appeal to the fan who has followed Bradbury into the modern day, curious to see what the master has been up to lately. A good example--and a particular favorite--is "The Fruit in the Bottom of the Bowl," where a man commits an unplanned murder and spends the rest of the story trying obsessively to remove all fingerprints from the scene. There are no spaceships, and we don't even see the murder, just the after-effects.

Bradbury Stories has older stories not included in The Stories of Ray Bradbury, as well as selections from The Martian Chronicles (which is not so much a novel as a series of interlinked tales), but consists for the most part of stories written since 1980. The inclusion of the earlier works leads to a marked lack of cohesion due to the expanse of time covered--over fifty years of a writer's evolution. However, since most people are unlikely to be reading it cover to cover, this is not liable to be a problem. Bradbury Stories, in its way, is a good introductory sampler of all the types of tales Bradbury has ever written. A good career capper--so far--from one I hope will continue to be firing up that marvelous brain for years to come.

I now leave it up to you to decide which of these books appeals to you more, The Stories of Ray Bradbury or Bradbury Stories. One thing I can say is that you will not be disappointed by either of them. Bradbury is one of those writers whose output has been of consistently high quality, so just about any of these stories will appeal to some part of your mind. I find myself simply opening them at random and asking myself, "what adventure will I be taking today?"

Roald Dahl, The Best of Roald Dahl

This review originally appeared in somewhat different form on The Green Man Review. Copyright 2003.

Oh, that sweet malevolent irony of life!

Sure, you've read his books for kids. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, James and the Giant Peach, Matilda; these are wonderful representations of the twisted imagination of Roald Dahl. But they feel a little restrained, like there's more in there waiting to get out.

The thing is, until you've read his stories for adults, you've not experienced the full malevolence of Roald Dahl. Some of the stories in The Best of Roald Dahl may be familiar to you from the anthology series Alfred Hitchcock Presents, which hosted adaptations of them, including "Man from the South," "Lamb to the Slaughter," and "Dip in the Pool."

Let's begin with my personal favorite, "Lamb to the Slaughter." I have read this story over a dozen times, and it never fails to please. This Edgar Allan Poe Award-winner, the simple story of Mary Maloney and a frozen leg of lamb, is delightfully wicked. I'll not give away too much of the plot, but this is a perfect introduction to Dahl's style.

"Man from the South" (also collected in A Harvest of Horrors) concerns a writer on vacation. The writer is party to a conversation between another man and a gambler. Upon hearing the man say that his lighter never fails, the gambler challenges him to a bet: if the lighter lights ten times in a row, the man wins the gambler's Cadillac. But if it fails even once, the gambler cuts off the man's pinky finger. This one has a terrific surprise ending. It was adapted for Alfred Hitchcock's show, with the gambler being played by Peter Lorre. Also, Quentin Tarantino directed a segment of Four Rooms called "The Man from Hollywood," which takes the basic idea and turns it into a dark comedy.

"Royal Jelly" is about a beekeeper who tries to give extra nutrition to his newborn baby by feeding it royal jelly, the special food bees give to the one destined to be queen of the hive. This was written long before taking royal jelly capsules came into fashion during the "health food" craze, but it's still quite a stunner.

"Mrs. Bixby and the Colonel's Coat" is a wonderful portrait of the possible consequences of adultery, "Dip in the Pool" concerns the failings of cheating at gambling, and "Parson's Pleasure" examines what can happen to someone who tries to swindle another. Dahl's stories have a conscience to be sure, and however cruel the punishment, it always fits the crime.

The final story, and the most recent, is "The Bookseller." Published in 1987, it was added to the original 1978 edition for this printing. It is quite the most "adult" of the stories, as it concerns two wicked people extorting money from new widows by billing them for various pornography purchases that their husbands never actually made. The widows of course pay the bills simply to avoid publicity. But one day, the swindlers' plan goes awry. You see, one of the husbands was actually....

But you'll have to read it for yourself, won't you?

There are several more tales included to delight your dark side, almost thirty total. The Best of Roald Dahl is a nearly perfect collection. It extends from the earliest years of Dahl's writing to the most recent, picking and choosing from the best, and presenting us with a loving portrait of a much-adored writer who had beautifully fiendish way of looking at life.

Charles de Lint, Waifs and Strays

During my time working for Green Man Review (where some of the reviews on this page first appeared), one name has constantly been tossed about as the guy to read: Charles de Lint. Apparently, when it came to fantasy, this was the guy to top. I don't generally like fantasy (I don't think Terry Pratchett counts), so I avoided him, especially since I noticed his novels are generally in the 500+ page arena -- not generally the size for experimentation.

Then I saw Waifs and Strays at the library. A collection of short stories, I thought, a perfect chance to try this guy out. Plus, the title is the same as an O. Henry collection, and with that kind of pedigree, I couldn't resist.

The title comes not only from the penultimate story but also from the theme of the main characters being teens or children. My favorite is one written expressly for the collection, "Sisters," a sequel of sorts to "There's No Such Thing" (originally published in Vampires). It's about two sisters, Apples and Cassie; Apples is a vampire, and she has to decide whether or not to "turn" Cassie (i.e., to lose her, or to make her to be like herself).

On the other hand, my least favorite was the centerpiece, a Bordertown piece called "Stick" (from Borderland) about a half-elf girl and her troubles with the Bloods (pure elfs): fifty pages long and dead boring. In general, I didn't like the longer pieces but really enjoyed "Somewhere in My Mind There Is a Painting Box" (from The Green Man), the closer.

Altogether, Waifs and Strays is a solid collection spanning several years of de Lint's writing. It is also fascinating to watch his style and ability grow over the years. Fans of de Lint or other "mythic fiction," as it has come to be known, will definitely want to check it out.

O. Henry, The Gift of the Magi and Other Short Stories

For my money, this Dover edition is the perfect introduction to the works of O. Henry. It contains several of his best stories in an order that is not jarring, considering they come from different collections.

I am a writer of short stories, and there is no better practitioner of the art than O. Henry. Perhaps in today's world, with the New Yorker style being touted as *the* way to write short stories, O. Henry is scoffed at. But, if you look close, Henry's stories have one thing those don't--an ending.

In fact, O. Henry stories are famous for their endings. Often called "twist" endings, they show the inherent unpredictability of life.

What is often missed, however, is Henry's knack for characterization, his evocative use of setting and description, and his readability. I put O. Henry up there with other short story writers like Flannery O'Connor, Jorge Luis Borges, and John Updike.

So, start with the Dover edition--or with this online collection, Waifs and Strays-- and if you find that you, too, love the work of O. Henry then graduate to a more comprehensive collection. And if not, hey, you're not out much money, right?

Denis Johnson, Jesus' Son

I can't say I understood them all--and I certainly couldn't identify with the lifestyle of the main character (extreme recreational heroin use)--but I was riveted to his meandering, plotless adventures.

It gives insight into a world completely foreign to me, yet at the same time somehow manages to make it semi-appealing, much as Irvine Welsh's Trainspotting (an altogether different work) did--if only because they seem to be having so much fun.

The centerpiece is "Emergency," an over-the-top (almost farcical) piece about working in the ER. And the title comes from the Velvet Underground song, "Heroin."

  • Bloch and Bradbury by Robert Bloch and Ray Bradbury -- In the column, "The Book of Tales," I covered this rare compilation of really good stories by these two masters. Worth seeking out.
  • The Dark Descent edited by David G. Hartwell -- The horror collection featuring stories covering the breadth of history represented by the horror genre.
  • A Harvest of Horrors edited by Eric Protter -- A terrific collection of dark tales by several of the greats: Lovecraft, Bloch, Dahl, Bierce, just to name a few.
  • ...more to come...