Shadow Show edited by Sam Weller and Mort Castle (A Ray Bradbury Celebration)

If you haven’t realized by now, I’m a huge Ray Bradbury fangirl.  For evidence, please see my reviews of Fahrenheit 451 and The Illustrated Man.  So when the lovely ladies of TLC Book Tours brought my attention to this must read, I snatched it up as quickly as possible.  And you should too!

Shadow Show was completed before Bradbury’s death and is a collection of 26 stories by some of today’s hottest authors – Neil Gaiman, Margaret Atwood, Audrey Niffenegger, Dave Eggers, and Alice Hoffman to name a few.  I know without a doubt that Bradbury lovers will find some amazing stories to treasure and take pleasure in the knowledge that Bradbury himself has been so amazingly loved and respected.  For those who haven’t acquainted themselves with the Master (and really, what is wrong with you?), these stories are so delightfully constructed by such talented authors that you really can’t afford not to read them!

I know many readers are often wary of the short story form, especially in large anthologies, but that’s where I think Shadow Show really shines.  First, each story feels fresh and new since they are penned by different authors.  If one author’s tale doesn’t float your boat, you have a new writer awaiting you just a few pages away.  I never felt bogged down or like I was reading the same thing over and over again.  Each story is influenced by Ray in different ways – some tales relate to a specific Bradbury story, some to a particular emotion, theme, or genre Bradbury perfected (yes, I think his writing is pretty darn close to perfect), and others act as love stories to the man himself.  I wanted to read Bradbury’s entire oeuvre all over again.

As for the individual stories themselves, they run the entire human emotional gamut from cheeky comedy to desolate sadness.  They are science fiction tales with fantastical twists or stories of bleak realism with creepy slants, but they are all very human stories.  I only encountered 2 or 3 that felt like duds – one was confusing and hard to follow, another a bit too long, and the final dud just felt a bit too self-indulgent and not in the spirit of a proper tribute.  Every other story impressed me and was super fun to read.  And at the end of each story, the author writes a little background information – how their story came to be, how Ray influenced them, or personal anecdotes about their relationship with Bradbury.  These blurbs were perhaps even better than the stories!

What I liked most about Shadow Show is that nothing felt morose or ‘in memoriam’ in light of Bradbury’s recent death.  The stories seemed more like a thank you to someone who has gotten these authors where they are today, filled with sincere gratitude to a father figure who over the decades never lost his hero shine.  He truly was an amazing gift to literature and humanity.

Some favorite moments more well-spoken than I could possibly manage:

“Because, perhaps, if this works, they will remember him.  All of them will remember him.  His name will once more become synonymous with small American towns at Halloween, when the leaves skitter across the sidewalk like frightened birds, or with Mars, or with love.” – From “The Man Who Forgot Ray Bradbury” by Neil Gaiman

“If I’d been moved before, now I was undone.  Ray Bradbury’s writing is sentimental in the sense that Steinbeck’s is, but it’s never syrupy.  It’s simply the iteration of honest human emotions we can neither outrun or deny.” – Jacquelyn Mitchard

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Thanks to TLC Book Tours and William Morrow for the copy of Shadow Show in exchange for my honest review!  Check out the rest of the tour here!

The Illustrated Man by Ray Bradbury

What better way to remember a beloved author than reading one of his works?  I was so saddened to hear of Bradbury’s recent death because this man literally awoke the science fiction loving monster within me.  As a freshman in high school I read The Martian Chronicles along with several short stories by Bradbury and have not stopped reading him since.  Fahrenheit 451, Something Wicked This Way Comes, and Dandelion Wine have all been spectacular reads over the past decade and a half.  So with his passing I thought I’d take it all the way back to the beginning with the very first story I ever read that he wrote – “The Veldt”.

What I didn’t realize (and how could I not have realized this?) was that “The Veldt” is actually the first story in a collection entitled, The Illustrated Man.  Eighteen stories are woven together seamlessly.  The illustrated man is literally that – covered in beautiful lifelike tattoos that come awake at night.  They bring warnings of the future and one even shows a man (or woman) his/her death.

There are tales of race, gluttony, materialism, consumerism, and other bleak ‘isms’ that all involve space, many Bradbury’s beloved Mars.  In one yarn, all African American people escaped Earth to colonize Mars and now, many years later, a white man is on his way to Mars for the first time – will the Martians exact revenge for the wrongs of the past or forgive this man his race’s crimes?   And then there’s the previously mentioned “The Veldt” where the children’s virtual reality playroom becomes a little less virtual and a lot more reality.  But perhaps my favorite of the collection (and one of the only positive, uplifting stories) tells the tale of the world’s best father.

Bradbury’s writing is his amazing imagination come to life.  You really almost feel like a child again as you giddily read these wondrously fashioned creations.  There’s just something so special about the vibrancy of his writing even when his subject matter is decidedly bleak.  It’s like a painting you can’t take your eyes off of.  His stories always have a message – a morale – but never feel heavy handed or indulgent.  Or perhaps the magic of his writing just overshadows anything negative.  I even forgive him his obvious flaw of writing terribly poor female characters.  Often writers can’t get away with this, but something about Bradbury’s almost innocent style allows me to chalk his sexism up to being a product of his time (1940s/1950s).  Don’t hate me for it!  Clarisse from Fahrenheit 451 proves he can build a strong female!

The Illustrated Man will forever remain on my shelves and has only further solidified my inner Bradbury geekdom.  He’s a science fiction cultural icon and deserving of every bit of praise he receives.  The world lost a truly amazing visionary this year and he will be forever missed in the literary world.  I beseech all of you to pick up some Bradbury soon and discover (or rediscover) what makes his writing so effortlessly timeless.  This collection is a great place to start and will appeal to anyone who likes science fiction, twisty-turning plots, a story with a moral purpose, or just fantastic, poetic prose.

Reading back through what I just wrote and I sound like a complete lush gushing over her new lover.  Seriously.  I guess that’s how a favorite author should make you feel.  Thanks again, Mr. Bradbury, for making me weak in the knees!

Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

My first exposure to Ray Bradbury came some 14 years ago when I was a freshman in high school.  We read The Martian Chronicles and I was smitten, not just by Bradbury himself, but also by the whole idea of science fiction.  Science fiction seemed to be a place where adults were still allowed to use their imaginations.  I’ve since read Fahrenheit 451 (twice!), Dandelion Wine, and Something Wicked This Way Comes and have loved each one dearly.

Fahrenheit 451 tells the story of fireman, Guy Montag, who lives in a future where firemen start fires instead of stopping them.  Their job is to burn homes suspected of housing the most dangerous of contraband – books.  When Montag meets a strange young woman, Clarisse, one evening, she sends his world spinning simply by having the audacity to ask questions.  Soon enough, Montag realizes he’s been yearning to ask these same questions and finds himself hunter turned hunted as he races to free himself from the shackles of a world without thought.

I’m not sure what I can possibly say about this literary gem that hasn’t been said much more eloquently by someone else.  What really amazed me this time through the novel was how utterly relevant the story still is 59 years after publication.  Nothing about the premise or execution seems dated.  The futuristic elements are still locked firmly in a future we haven’t realized and fears of censorship, raging wars, and lack of freedom are still quite prevalent.  To top it all off, this ‘classic’ is an extremely accessible novel to read and should pose no hardship to new readers and yet still impact well read literary snobs.  Bradbury is a genius.

During my first reading in high school, I think I focused more on the shameful act of burning books than how our country got to that point in the first place.  During this reading, I was shocked to discover that people stopped reading all on their own far before the government enforced a ban.  How scary is that?  With the closing of Borders and the idea of brick-and-mortar bookstores being close to extinction, Bradbury’s foresight seems downright creepy.  Will we as a nation just eventually shun reading so much that we’ll be happy to see books banned?

I was also really drawn to the description of this dystopian society.  America becomes a world where brainless television reigns (think reality tv).  They have whole rooms where all four walls are huge television screens and they call the actors their ‘relatives’.  Their world moves so fast, technology has become so central, that no one slows down enough to make human connections anymore.  Can you imagine the day we think of Kris Jenner as our own mother or Kim Kardashian as our beloved sister?  It makes me break out into a sweat.  In this future world, suicide is so commonplace that they just send a team of stomach pumpers to siphon the swallowed sleeping pills from your body.  I’d probably be swallowing pills too if my family was The Real Housewives of Atlanta.

Joking aside, this novel is scary, grim, and shocking because you will see signs of society already turning towards Bradbury’s ‘fictional’ world.  If you haven’t read it, do yourself a favor and get a copy ASAP – it’s a short little story, less that 200 pages, but so unique and important.  My reread took place on the same day everyone was protesting SOPA which felt so freakishly relevant.  I would also beseech you to read Bradbury’s other novels, as they are all amazing in their own way.