Visions of Paradise

Saturday, April 26, 2008

S is for Space

I am a lifelong science fiction fan who does not favor the “hard science” end of the spectrum, so Ray Bradbury is one of my “Big Three” of science fiction’s Golden Age (along with Clifford D. Simak and Alfred Bester). I have read many of his books over the years, but a few years ago a good friend of mine gave me a few I had not read. So I read The Illustrated Man immediately (and posted its review on 1/14/06) and now I have read S is For Space, a collection of unrelated stories from the 1940s through the early 1960s.

The stories are typical Bradbury, running the gamut from horror stories of the creepy, quiet variety (“Chrysalis,” “The Screaming Woman” and “Come Into My Cellar”) to the type of wistful fantasies in sf clothing which made Bradbury’s reputation. “The Man” tells of an obsessed spaceship captain frantically racing from planet to planet seeking a Messiah whom he just seems to miss, while many of his crew know exactly where to find him. There were two Martian Chronicles. “Dark They Were, and Golden-Eyed” and “The Million Year Picnic” were two of the best stories in the book (with the latter seemed strange here since it also appeared in The Martian Chronicles as well), both fitting reading in the early 21st century when humanity seems to be racing pell mell towards self-destruction. If only Bradbury’s fanciful escape was available to some–but not too many–of us!

Perhaps the most moving story was “The Smile,” which was published in 1952 and seems to come out of the same deep-seated Bradbury fear as “The Fireman” (Fahrenheit 451 in book form). It tells the story of a post-disaster Earth in which all remnants of the pre-catastrophe civilization are shunned or destroyed, and of a queue of people waiting for a chance to spit at a famous, ancient painting of a woman having a secretive smile. Here Bradbury evoked in less than 10 pages the same emotions as “The Fireman” did at considerably longer length, with the boy Tom serving much the same role as the title fireman of the more famous story.

While I certainly do not recommend S is For Space over The Martian Chronicles or even The Illustrated Man, it is still good Bradbury worth reading.


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