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S is for Space

posted on 01 Aug 2017

S Is For Space by Ray Bradbury

Ray Bradbury who died at the ripe old age of 91 in 2012 was American literary aristocracy. He’s frequently characterised rather lazily as a ‘science fiction’ author but in reality he drifted in and out of different genres and refused to be so easily pigeonholed. He is, of course, famous for his dystopian classic, Fahrenheit 451, and the nightmarish short stories themed together under the title of The Illustrated Man.

I’ve seen the term ‘speculative fiction’ used to try and capture the kind of future fiction that writers like Bradbury engaged with and I suspect this is a description he’d have endorsed over that of the more restrictive tag of science fiction. Bradbury himself said he knew nothing worth knowing about science and that his stories were more like fantasies of the future.

One of the things I like about Bradbury’s short stories is that they are very traditional – he doesn’t go in for experimentations in form and he eschews unconventional endings or trickery. Like so many writers of more populist, non-literary fiction and short stories Bradbury cut his teeth producing material for comic books. This heritage is immediately obvious in this collection 16 stories of very different lengths, ranging from a couple of pages to over 50.

S is for Space published in 1968 is a companion collection with R Is For Rocket and both were designed for a crossover audience of adult and younger readers. The range of the stories is remarkable – from religious allegory ( The Man), to horror (Pillar of Fire), comedy (Invisible Boy) and traditional space adventure (Icarus Montgolfier Wright). He moves with ease from one form to another without ever losing his very identifiable voice – it’s easy to drop his dialogue into the mouths of all those characters in the black and white science fiction movies that were shown on the local cinema on Saturday afternoons.

I like Bradbury best when he’s at his most enigmatic and two stories really stick out for me – the first in the collection called Chrysalis and the religious allegory, The Man. In Chrysalis Bradbury speculates on the future evolution of human beings and envisages a sort of pupation stage that will allow humanity to break the constricting boundaries of our Earth-bound existence. While in The Man Bradbury suggests that that the person we called Jesus (although he never uses the name directly) may in fact be an inter-galactic traveller bringing enlightenment to civilisations across the universe. Those wanting proof of his existence are doomed to chase him forever without ever finding him.

In an interesting foreword to the collection written by Bradbury in 1965 he sums up himself and his writing in this way:

Jules Verne was my father.

H.G. Wells was my wise uncle.

Edgar Allan Poe was the batwinged cousin we kept high in the back attic room.

Flash Gordon and Buck Rogers were my brothers and friends.

There you have my ancestry.

For me this captures the experience of reading Bradbury exactly. These short stories are essentially for grazing through and you'll be able, like me, to put the book down and pick it up again weeks later and read another couple of stories without having any difficulty getting back into them. Good holiday reading if you are likely to find it difficult to settle into a longer novel.

Paperbacks of this book are easy enough to find and cheap but if you want a hardback, and especially a first edition hardback, you’ll have to pay substantially more.

Terry Potter

August 2017