Sam Weller’s THE RAY BRADBURY CHRONICLES is a very enjoyable book. I’ve read it twice, and I will read it again. That big but you hear coming isn’t in any way a criticism of Weller or his book.
THE RAY BRADBURY CHRONICLES was written with the cooperation of Bradbury, and was aimed at general readers. It is an overview, one that is especially good for someone who knows Bradbury’s classic works but wants to learn a little more about the man. Even with all the detail, there is not enough for the Bradbury fanatic who wants to know more about him and his work.
For those who are really interested in Bradbury and his work, I’d suggest they look at the books of Jonathan R. Eller, particularly his two-volume look at some of the crucial working years of Bradbury’s life.
BECOMING RAY BRADBURY covers his early years, and his beginnings as a writer, but it focuses on his interests–what turned his mind toward certain ideas and values–and especially on his efforts to create a style of his own. Now that may sound generic–don’t all books about writers do this?–but Eller REALLY looks into the life of Bradbury’s mind during the years of his first publications and successes. Eller’s books are not recommended for the casual reader, but for budding writers and Bradbury fanatics. For example, he traces the evolution of “The Illinois Novel,” which isn’t DANDELION WINE, but something DW was part of…sort of. See, Bradbury mastered the short story, and kept trying things with it–it’s hard to grasp today, but while he was coming up, it was startling and strange to see stories about skeletons in Mexico and “black folks” on Mars. If you read some of his stories from the forties, you find an unapologetic Progressive writing about the issues that mattered to him with little self-censoring in a time when that was pretty common.
One of the things I like best about the two Eller volumes is the depth he goes into about unrealized projects that still impacted Bradbury’s career. These projects remind me of the many unfinished works left by Orson Welles, unseen by fans but very important to their creator’s development.
I’m being intentionally vague because I sunk into these books over a couple of weeks, seeing how Bradbury’s mind worked over certain projects he would not let go. He spent a lot of time trying to become a film writer, and ended up scripting MOBY DICK and not much else. (He seems to have done a lot more of the script of IT CAME FROM OUTER SPACE than his co-screenwriter let on.) There’s also a lot of room spent discussing Bradbury’s plays, which never really hit Broadway but were local successes in Los Angeles.
These two books are for those who want to see Bradbury’s development, how he worked with his passions. Most of the focus is on his work from the forties into the sixties; his later years are barely touched on. But in the eighties Bradbury wrote a novel that is actually a fine companion to these biographical works, a mystery novel that doesn’t seem to get much respect, but which is a good companion.
DEATH IS A LONELY BUSINESS is a mystery novel about a young nameless writer who is Ray Bradbury. It is a tour of his stories from the inside; the whole story could be about Bradbury seeking a killer inside his own brain. With a little repackaging, it could be considered a post-modern look at a writer of pulp fictions whose own creations haunt him on rainy nights, and what the writer has to do to silence the voices in his head. It’s also about death, morbid but also fascinating to a young writer who still loves his childish things–comics, rockets and dinosaurs.
Read after the other three books, DEATH IS A LONELY BUSINESS is another look at the subject the biographers could not give, one from inside.