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Ray Bradbury – S is for Space

March 19, 2008

34. S is for Space by Ray Bradbury (1966; individual stories 1945-1962)

Length: 211 pages

Genre: Science-fiction; Short stories

Started: 09 March 2008
Finished: 19 March 2008

Chrysalis – A scientist falls victim to radiation poisoning which leaves him inside a chrysalis, and leaves his colleagues to wonder what he’ll be when he emerges. Very good and suspenseful set-up, but a weak ending – he could have taken it much farther.

Pillar of Fire – In a future where death is sterilized, burned, and ignored, one long-dead man hauls himself up from his coffin, intent on creating more like himself. A lot of the same ideas here as in the story “Usher II” – where a future sanitized of fear is sanitized of imagination, and one man takes it upon himself to fight back (not to mention the conspicuous use of “A Cask of Amontillado”) – but “Usher II” did it with a lot more style.

Zero Hour – A new game being played by the children of a small town is more sinister than it seems. I’ve read this before in one of his other collections, but still wonderfully creepy… probably would be even more so if I had kids.

The Man – A rocket expedition lands on a distant planet, on the day after it was visited by a man who could heal the sick, raise the dead, and brought peace. Another one I’ve read before. It’s an interesting look at the nature of faith, but it comes down a little heavy on the faith side of the religion vs. science debate, which makes its inclusion in a book of science fiction kind of off-putting.

Time in Thy Flight – Kids from the future are conducting anthropological studies on the bizarre customs of the past (i.e. Halloween). Cool idea, but could have easily been expanded into something more than this rough sketch.

The Pedestrian – In the future, not watching your TV and preferring to be outside becomes a crime. I see where he was going with this, but with 50-odd years since it was written, it no longer rings true as a particularly plausible vision of the future.

Hail and Farewell – A middle-aged man stuck in the body of a 12-year-old boy adapts to a life where he can never grow up. Interesting idea (prescient of The Confessions of Max Tivoli) but the execution didn’t do anything for me.

Come into My Cellar – Humanity is being taken over by mushrooms. Bradbury’s good with the creepy invasion scenarios; this one’s got a wonderfully paranoid air to it, heightened by the fact that it’s completely biologically plausible… plenty of parasites change the behavior of their host to further their own spread.

The Million-Year Picnic – A family lands on Mars for a “vacation” at the end of a nuclear war on Earth. Also included in The Martian Chronicles, where it’s much more poignant coming after we’ve read the entire history of the colonization of Mars by people from Earth. Even isolated here, it’s still a moving story.

The Screaming Woman – A young girl hears screaming from a vacant lot, but no one will believe her. Very different from the other stories, more horror and not sci-fi at all. Very creepy.

The Smile – After nuclear war, when people have given up on culture and civilization, a public festival is made of destroying things from the past. Lots of other directions this story could have gone; the one Bradbury chose was too obvious for my tastes.

Dark They Were, and Golden-Eyed – Another thought on how Mars reclaims its Martians. An excellent Mars story, left out of The Martian Chronicles because it didn’t fit the main storyline, but easily on par with the better stories from that book.

The Trolley – The last day of the trolley service before the city shuts it down and institutes a bus service. Sticky-sweet nostalgia for old-timey small-town life; definitely pass-able.

The Flying Machine – A Chinese emperor sees a man flying, and fears the ramifications. Too blunt in its message to have much of an impact.

Icarus Montgolfier Wright – A paean to the adventurers and forefathers of flight. Not really much of a story, per se, but beautiful language.

Overall: Although the stories vary in quality and impact, the writing and language is pure, unwavering Bradbury, and so it’s worth reading for that. In general, though, the better stories in this collection are also the ones that can be found elsewhere. 3.5 out of 5 stars.

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First Line: Rockwell didn’t like the room’s smell.

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