Saturday, February 23, 2013

Bradbury News

Earlier this week, The Guardian reported that Ray Bradbury's books are finally to be released as e-books in the UK. No big deal, you might think - except that Bradbury was famously opposed to his works being made available in this form right up until his final year on this planet. I don't believe there was any great earth-shattering moment when he "caved in", or when he had some great epiphany; I think it was just a case of the new contract arriving, and the continued publication of the print editions of his works would be conditional on e-book rights also being made available to his publisher.

The Guardian faithfully reported this story, but slipped in a new piece of information which to me is much more significant. It appears that Dark Carnival is among the books which will be made available as an e-book.

Dark Carnival. Bradbury's first book. Not science fiction, but dark fantasy and horror. The book that he refused to be re-issued, on the grounds that he had re-written (improved?) all of its constituent short stories, which continued to be available in the collection The October Country.

Dark Carnival has only ever been available in three editions: the US hardcover, out of print since the 1940s; the UK hardcover, also out of print since that decade; and a limited edition re-issue from Gauntlett Press (2001), also long out of print.

At the moment, any copy of Dark Carnival is likely to set you back at least £600 (900 USD). The first edition typically goes for 2000USD.

So issuing Dark Carnival as an e-book is a very big deal. (Assuming, of course, that they use the original text from Dark Carnival. If they instead cobble the contents together from the text in The October Country, thinking that the stories are identical, they will be making a big mistake.)

Is there much of a difference between the stories in Dark Carnival and the re-written versions in The October Country? In some cases, not so much. But in other cases the stories are somewhat transformed. In general, the earlier versions of the stories are darker and a bit more raw; the re-writes are a bit more poetic, but sometimes read like a more "respectable" Bradbury has gone back and tidied up the work of his earlier self. This isn't far from what actually happened, as Dark Carnival came out when Bradbury was known only from stories in pulp magazines like Weird Tales, but The October Country was assembled when he had gone up in the world and was appearing in slick, upmarket magazines.

Speaking of Dark Carnival, BBC Radio 4 Extra this week broadcast a dramatisation of one of the stories from that book. "The Emissary" is a thirty-minute drama broadcast in the Haunted strand. Although marked on the BBC website as a "Radio 4 Extra debut", the closing credits of the show place it as a BBC World Service production, so it is probably not new... but I haven't been able to work out when it was made. Oddly, the late Percy Edwards is credited with playing the dog in the story, but he died a long time ago. Either it's a much older recording than it appears, or Percy is being played in as a sound effect!

"The Emissary" is still available right now for listening online, but it won't stay there forever. Get it while you can.

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