Friday, June 12, 2015

FFB: Driving Blind -- Ray Bradbury

When I was a first reading SF, Ray Bradbury was one of my favorite writers.  Collections like The October Country, The Illustrated Man, and The Martian Chronicles were about as good as it got, and Fahrenheit 451 was another great longer work.  Then something happened.  I don't know if Bradbury changed or I did, but the later stories didn't work for me.  I still picked up some of the collections, but the magic wasn't there.  This might explain why the paperback edition of Driving Blind has been sitting on my shelves unread for more than 15 years.  

The other day I picked it up and read some of the reviews quoted on the covers and inside them.  The reviewers raved about how good these stories were.  The one of the front cover is typical: "These stories are more sophisticated in their presentation, more intoxicatingly unputdownable, than anything he wrote in his prime."  So I thought I'd give them a try.  I did, and I wish I could say I agree with the reviewers, but I don't.  The first story in the collection, "Night Train to Babylon," didn't work at all.  I'm sure there's a sophisticated point, but I'm too dim to get it.  "If MGM Is Killed, Who Gets the Lion" was a little better, but not much.  "Hello, I Must Be Going" was a disappointment because while the story was a real story and was amusing, I knew exactly where it was going almost from the first page. "Remember Me" was okay, but certainly nothing special.  And so on.  I wanted to like the stories, and I kept reading them, but I found nothing to compare with the early work.  "The Old Dog Lying in the Dust," set in Mexico in the past, comes closest, I think.  "Mr. Pale" was okay.  On the whole, though, I would have been better off rereading some of the older stories like "The Small Assassin" or "Kaleidoscope" or "The Veldt" or so many others.  I miss the old days.

9 comments:

George Kelley said...

I've had the same reaction to the late Ray Bradbury: not nearly as good as the early Ray Bradbury. Sadly, I think Bradbury did his best work in the Fifties and Sixties.

Jeffrey Meyerson said...

I was going to mention "The Small Assassin" if you didn't. It still stays with me. I read a collection A MEMORY OF MURDER a couple of years ago and the old stuff collected there was a lot better than DRIVING BLIND, which I read 10 years ago.

Jeff

Bill Crider said...

I agree about A MEMORY OF MURDER. I've done a post on that one for a previous FFB.

Jeffrey Meyerson said...

I believe your post is what got me to read the book.

Jeff

Ed Gorman said...

I'm with you, Bill. I've always thought that Bradbury started reading his own spectacular reviews in the mid Fifties--Christopher Isherwood etc.--and took them too much to heart. He began to see himself as a poet and a mainstream writer when his real strength was as an unabashed pulp-influenced storyteller. I keep Memory of Murder and The October Country on my nightstand. When I'm not finding compelling reading material I pick one of those up and revel in his brilliance. I did like Something Wicked This Way Comes and a handful of stories that came later on but The Martin Chronicles and The illustrated Man and the two collections I've mentioned, those were Bradbury at his best for me.

Mike Stamm said...

Me too! I've got most of Bradbury's later collections on the shelf, picked up out of habit and fond memories, but haven't read any of them (although I enjoyed his NF essays in the relatively recent YESTERMORROW and GREEN SHADOWS, WHITE WHALE very much). The later works are supremely competent but somehow empty, with little real heart or RB's old energy. I've often wondered if Harlan Ellison wasn't referring to Bradbury in his "Working with the Little People"...

Todd Mason said...

Bradbury, Mike, or Alfred Bester, or any number of others...

The preciousness of later Bradbury is usually hard for me to take...and his word choices always ran for me to the imprecise, to degree not too common among his first great models, Theodore Sturgeon and Leigh Brackett.

Anonymous said...

I was 12 in 1971. A friend of mine, whose name and visage have gone from my memory, led me to a tall, narrow shelf of paperback books. He said, "You have to read this." The book was "S Is for Space," and the story he steered me toward was "Frost and Fire." I have never been the same! Afterward, I read everything Bradbury wrote. I used to read "The Halloween Tree" every 31st of October. (Obsession does not always suck!)

Ray Bradbury's work evoked something within me that transformed me into a life-long reader. His later work was not of the lustrous, luminous consistency of what he gave us early on. That acknowledged, I enjoyed several of his later stories, wherein old couples unexpectedly died together, suicides evoked unexpected feelings in law officers, and so on. How about creating a future for our species by force of will...sort of?

I'm thinking his focus shifted. I'm thinking at least some of his later stories told truths that had to do less with the heavens and more to do with human fragility. I'm a reader, and not an author, so my perspective is not perhaps as analytical. His later work was less enchanting, but I found much, not all, to be worthwhile. I'll join Mr. Crider in missing the old days, though!

Jerry Mecaskey

Mr. Cider, I hope you are well!

Bill Crider said...

Great comment, Jerry, very thoughtful, and I agree with you. I haven't read all the later work, but some of it is still very good even if it lacks the magic of the earlier stories. I suspect quite a few people became readers thanks to Bradbury's work.