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Spotlight on: Ray Bradbury Short Story Collections

Books Reviewed:
Bradbury Stories by Ray Bradbury
The Stories of Ray Bradbury by Ray Bradbury

To arrange to have products considered for review, send an email to craigsbookclub@yahoo.com.

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

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, given their size. 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.

Bradbury Stories has older stories not included in The Stories of Ray Bradbury (one example -- and a particular favorite -- is "The Fruit at 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), 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 fire 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?"

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

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