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Ray Bradbury – Quicker Than the Eye

August 25, 2010

99. Quicker than the Eye by Ray Bradbury (1996)

Length: 262 pages

Genre: Short stories; of varying genres but mostly horror/fantasy/contemporary. Not really any sci-fi at all, however.

Started: 15 August 2010
Finished: 18 August 2010

Where did it come from? The library booksale
Why do I have it? Bradbury’s been one of my favorite authors since I was twelve or so.
How long has it been on my TBR pile? Since 19 October 2006.

Overall Review and Recommendation: To be clear about things, I am a Bradbury nut. I grew up reading and re-reading The Martian Chronicles over and over, had already read “The Veldt” and “The Sound of Thunder” (several times each) by the time we were assigned them in high school English classes, etc. So as I was reading the first few stories in Quicker than the Eye, Bradbury’s first collection in over a decade, I was really bummed out. I wasn’t liking any of them… had Bradbury lost his touch? Or had I grown out of my fandom? Then I got to “Hopscotch” and calmed down; that was the Bradbury I remembered, and the type of story I was looking for.

This collection’s not a socks-knocking winner; there are plenty of pieces here that either didn’t work for me at all, or didn’t work as well as I wanted them to. Still, the pieces that do work are worth the rest. Bradbury’s at his best when he’s telling mildly melancholic ghost stories, of which there are several, but some of his contemporary pieces work well too, and his foray into humor was highly enjoyable. Overall, while this collection doesn’t show Bradbury at his best, there are still enough highlights that it’d be worthwhile for someone whose already read The Martian Chronicles, The Illustrated Man, and some of his other better collections. 3.5 out of 5 stars.

Individual Summaries and Reviews: “Unterderseaboat Doktor” is a story of a man whose psychiatrist is crazier than he is… although he may have very good reasons for being so. It was severely bizarre, more so than I normally think of Bradbury being, and was hard to follow and impossible to get into. It wouldn’t have been my choice to kick off the collection, that’s for sure.

“Zaharoff/Richter Mark V” was a piece describing the secret plan of architects and city planners to build metropolises where they are sure to be destroyed by acts of nature. Not really well thought-out enough to convince me that there actually is a secret evil conspiracy, which is what I want from my secret evil conspiracy stories.

“Remember Sascha?” is a story of a couple who begin to talk to their unborn child… and the child who begins to talk back. It seemed like the story was going for a slightly menacing, creepy tone, and then the ending totally failed to deliver on that promise.

“Another Fine Mess” is a ghost story involving a duo of very famous Hollywood ghosts who just want to be appreciated and loved. This one also didn’t do much for me; the emotions felt way too overwrought to be recognizable.

“The Electrocution” is a story of a sideshow act that becomes the stage for the working out of marital tensions. Bradbury can write carnival atmosphere like nobody’s business, but I didn’t really care about the central conflict of the story.

“Hopscotch” is a tale of two young people and one perfect summer day. This is where the collection turned around for me; this one is easily my favorite. The writing is gorgeous and lyrical and evocative, and the emotions were real and immediately recognizable, although I don’t know if I’m recognizing them from my own childhood summers, or from the way that Bradbury made me daydream that my childhood summers should be.

They picked a handful of grapes from a wild barbed-wire vine. Holding them up to the sun, you could see the clear grape thoughts suspended in the dark amber fluid, the little hot seeds of contemplation stored from many afternoons of plant philosophy. The grapes tasted of fresh, clear water and something that they had saved from the morning dews and the evening rains. They were the warmed-over flesh of April ready now, in August, to pass on their simple gain to any passing stranger. And the lesson was this; sit in the sun, head down, within a prickly vine, in flickery light or open light, and the world will come to you. The sky will come in its time, bringing rain, and the earth will rise through you, from beneath, and make you rich and make you full. (p. 60)

“The Finnegan” is a historical quasi-detective story regarding the disappearance of several young children… and a doctor who thinks he know the monster that’s to blame, and how to stop it. I liked this one too; Bradbury does a good job with the historical dialogue and tone, and it’s effectively creepy throughout.

“That Woman on the Lawn” is a tale of past and future colliding in a chance encounter, very very reminiscent of “Night Meeting” from The Martian Chronicles but closer to home. I guess it’s a ghost story, but it’s much more of the sad and wistful definition of “haunting” than the more typical horror definition.

“The Very Gentle Murders” is the story of an elderly couple that are taking the “’til death do us part” line of their vows into their own hands. It’s the only humor piece in the collection, and it’s one of the standouts.

“Quicker Than the Eye” is the story of a man who sees someone who looks identical to him being made a patsy of at a magic show. Not one of the better stories, in my opinion; I never really understood why he cared so much.

“Dorian in Excelsus” is the idea started by “A Portrait of Dorian Grey” taken to extremes. This one fell squarely under the category of horror that I call “slimy gross-out horror,” which is one that I neither care for, nor find particularly scary.

“No News, or What Killed The Dog?” is the story of a family mourning the passing of one of their animal members. Again, Bradbury did a good job capturing the emotions, but otherwise, this story wasn’t a particular stand-out for me.

“The Witch Door” is part historical ghost story and part post-apocalyptic future story about the mysterious happenings that come along with living in an old house. It was a good idea, and the ghost story part of things was executed well, but I wish the post-apocalyptic part of things had either been developed a little more thoroughly or dropped altogether; as it was it felt somewhat incomplete.

“The Ghost in the Machine” is another historical piece about a traveling scholar who goes to visit the village madman, who may be mad, but may also have invented a machine that could change the world. I really liked this one. It took me a long time to figure out what the machine was, but that worked in the story’s favor; when the pieces finally clicked into place, I smiled throughout the rest of the story.

“At the End of the Ninth Year” involves the idea that once every nine years, the human body has completely turned over every cell, every molecule of which it is made, and a married couple who take that notion to its logical conclusion. This one was pretty predictable, but still sweet.

“Bug” is the story of a man who encounters a high school classmate who used to be a great dance champion but has long since given up the sport. Also predictable; less sweet.

“Once More, Legato” tells of a struggling composer who begins hearing music in nature… real, symphonic music. I liked this one, but I found the fact that Bradbury inserted a second character, seemingly just to be able to have some of his trademark dialogue, a little out of place.

“Exchange” involves a man who has returned to his hometown, and found that everything and everyone he expected to see has changed… except the library. Another of the winners from this collection; I think everyone reading this collection will probably relate to this story.

“Free Dirt” involves an old graveyard, and, as the title suggests, its dirt. Another story that was aiming for creepy, and maintained that atmosphere throughout, only to be saddled with an ending that didn’t live up to its potential.

“Last Rites” is a time travel story and a love note to authors who died thinking they were unread and unloved. A good idea, only a little hampered by the fact that the favorite authors of the characters (and presumably by extension, of Bradbury’s) are not the ones I would have chosen.

“The Other Highway” is the story of a family that is drawn to take the scenic route, and must come to choose between the past and the future. This felt like vintage Bradbury in tone, atmosphere, and setting but wasn’t quite all the way there in plot. I enjoyed it well enough, but it just needed a tiny little twist to make it great.

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10 Comments leave one →
  1. August 25, 2010 9:51 am

    I associate Bradbury with sci-fi. I have come to appreciate short stories more than I used to but I think I’ll skip this collection since it didn’t knock your socks off.

    • August 30, 2010 11:52 am

      bermudaonion – I associate him primarily with sci-fi as well, but this collection didn’t really have much if any.

  2. August 25, 2010 8:19 pm

    I’m not familiar with this one. Over the years I’ve lost or given away many of Bradbury’s books and I’ve been making a list of the one’s I need to add back to my collection. I hope the library has this, several of these stories sound good.

  3. August 26, 2010 9:23 pm

    I’m always wary of short story collections, but I do tend to make exceptions for collections by the same author- although I don’t think I will in this case.

    Ah, Ray Bradbury. Need to read more by him.

    • August 30, 2010 11:53 am

      Omni – Martian Chronicles is far and away my favorite, although a lot of his other collections are really good as well.

  4. August 28, 2010 12:06 am

    The only Bradbury I’ve read is Fahrenheit 451, but I’ve been meaning to read some more. Maybe I’ll pick and choose from a few of these stories, of maybe I’ll pick up a copy of The Martian Chronicles. Either way, thanks for the review!

    • August 30, 2010 11:54 am

      Jessica – I’d say Martian Chronicles or The Illustrated Man are the two best short story collections.

  5. August 30, 2010 12:51 pm

    I’ve only read his books The Halloween Tree and Something Wicked This Way Comes but I adored both of those so I’ve been meaning to read something else by him.

    • September 5, 2010 11:00 am

      Ladytink – I still haven’t read The Halloween Tree (although I have it on my pile), but I hope you do get to read some more of his collections!

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