Friday, August 16, 2019

Ray Bradbury wins another Retro Hugo

Ray Bradbury's classic short story "King of the Gray Spaces" has won a Retro Hugo Award from the World Science Fiction Convention 2019, which began yesterday in Dublin.

Retro Hugos are special awards given for years where the standard Hugo Award was not awarded for some reason, mostly due to the Second World War interrupting the usual continuity of the Worldcon.

Bradbury has been awarded Retro Hugos in the past - the 1939 award for Best Fanzine, and the 1954 award for best novel (Fahrenheit 451).

"King of the Gray Spaces" is an early Bradbury science fiction tale, and is typically considered as the first to show the emotive style he is associated with. First published in Famous Fantastic Mysteries magazine in December 1943, the story has frequently been reprinted under the more familiar title "R is for Rocket".

In the story, fourteen year old Christopher and his friends long to be chosen for the space corps. They know that they can't "apply" for this; they have to be chosen. The key emotion of the story comes when Chris is indeed chosen, but as part of the selection process he has to keep it a secret even from his best friend Ralph. Chris's elation is contrasted with his sadness at having to leave Ralph behind, and with Ralph's muted understanding of what is happening to Chris.

Some elements of the story are quite dated now, and in fact Bradbury was aware of this when he made it the title story of his 1962 collection R is for Rocket: he made some changes to the story to bring it more up to date.

When the story first appeared in Famous Fantastic Mysteries, it was accompanied by a magnificent illustration by Lawrence Sterne Stevens (shown above).

When the Retro Hugo win was announced, my friend Jason Aukerman of the Center for Ray Bradbury Studies took the stage to receive it on behalf of the Bradbury family and the Bradbury estate. Jason took the opportunity to remind the Worldcon audience that in exactly one year and one week it will be Bradbury's one hundredth birthday. The awarding of the Retro Hugo makes a fine lead-in to the Bradbury Centenary.

Here's the award announcement and Jason's speech.




Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Family Tree

I occasionally get emails asking about Ray Bradbury's ancestry. So, as a public service, here's a link to an earlier post (wow, it's nearly ten years old!) where I unveiled his family tree:

https://bradburymedia.blogspot.com/2009/08/ancestry.html


Wednesday, April 03, 2019

Another Fine Mess


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Twenty-four years ago, in April 1995, The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction debuted a new Ray Bradbury short story. "Another Fine Mess" is one of Bradbury's tributes to Laurel and Hardy, and another of his laments for the old Hollywood of his childhood.

Bella Winters, newly moved into a house near Effie Street in Los Angeles, awakens one night and hears voices outside. And what sounds like a piano being hit. She becomes convinced that she is hearing, in the darkness outside, Laurel and Hardy attempting to get a piano up the steep concrete steps. She calls her friend Zelda, a silent film fanatic, and Zelda too becomes convinced that Stan and Ollie are somehow haunting the steps. Perhaps, Bella suggests, they have returned because no one has ever told them how much they are loved...

The piano reference is, of course, to Laurel and Hardy's classic, Oscar-winning short film The Music Box (1932), in which the comic duo repeatedly attempt to get a boxed upright piano up an impossibly long flight of stairs.

As a longtime resident of Los Angeles, and a lifelong fan of Laurel and Hardy, Bradbury knew and loved the old Hollywood. Bella and Zelda represent aspects of himself, both characters being around his own age, and speaking of seeing Laurel and Hardy films in their early childhood. The old Hollywood may be gone, but vestiges of its geography survive even today, and Bradbury's story is partly a celebration of this. Bradbury had previously returned to old Hollywood in his 1990 novel A Graveyard for Lunatics, a fictionalised account of his own adventures in 1950s Tinseltown.

Oddly, for all his Angeleno knowledge and familiarity with Hollywood, Bradbury doesn't place "Another Fine Mess" at the real location used in The Music Box. The steps seen in the film are located in the Silver Lake area of Los Angeles, and run between Vendome Street and Descanso Drive. For some reason, though, Bradbury sets his story on nearby Effie Street. It's a similarly hilly place, and does indeed have some long concrete steps. But it has nowhere quite like the real Music Box steps. Of course, the story is a fantasy - Bella Winters' waking dream - so has no obligation to reflect reality. But it makes me wonder if Ray was basing the story's location on a particular house that he knew.

Laurel and Hardy purists might further object to Bradbury's Ollie repeatedly saying "Another fine mess" - when the real Hardy tended to say "Another nice mess". However, I'm going to give Ray a pass on this, since there is a Laurel and Hardy short called Another Fine Mess (1930). If Laurel and Hardy are allowed to misquote, then so is Ray!

Bradbury refers to The Music Box in another of his short stories, "The Laurel and Hardy Love Affair" (1987), and he put "the boys" into yet another story, "The Laurel and Hardy Alpha Centauri Farewell Tour", in 2000. And he famously saw Laurel and Hardy live on stage in Dublin in the 1950s, when he was in Ireland to write the film version of Moby Dick (1956). The love for Stan and Ollie declared by Bella and Zelda is heartfelt, and undoubtedly reflects Bradbury's own love for Laurel and Hardy.

Today, you can find "Another Fine Mess" in two of Ray's books: Quicker Than The Eye and Bradbury Stories: 100 of His Most Celebrated Tales.

And you can learn how the once-lost Music Box steps were "re-discovered" here: http://www.laurel-and-hardy.com/films/talkies/music-location.html

Tuesday, March 26, 2019

Fifty Years Beyond Apollo

If you didn't already know it, you will soon. This year is the fiftieth anniversary of the first Moon landing, and you can be sure there will be all sorts of celebrations and commemorations all over the world. Of course, it's not the first time Apollo 11 has been commemorated. Just one decade after Neil Armstrong's one small step, it was celebrated in a TV documentary presented and co-written by Ray Bradbury.

Infinite Horizons: Space Beyond Apollo seems to have begun life as an undated Bradbury script titled Beyond 1984, probably written in 1978. The documentary's presenter, called "Interlocutor" in the script, looks back on the Moon landing and asks philosophically what it was all about, whether it was worthwhile, if there is any hope, and what happens next. The tone of the script reflects Ray's frustration at humankind's greatest achievement - escaping the Earth and setting foot on another world - being cast aside and forgotten.

Ray's view was reflected in his other writings of that era. While at the peak of the US Moon preparations he had written eagerly about Houston Mission Control for Life magazine ("An Impatient Gulliver Above Our Roofs", 1967), a few years after Apollo he wrote a poem called "Abandon In Place", inspired by the now-deserted rocket pads of Apollo at the Kennedy Space Centre.

Ray developed his Beyond 1984 script through various drafts and titles - "Remembrance of Things Future" (March 1979) being one of them. By this draft, the "Interlocutor" was to interact with such futurist luminaries as Isaac Asimov and Alvin Toffler. The final version of the script, now titled Infinite Horizons: Space Beyond Apollo was written jointly by Ray and his producer-director, Malcolm Clarke. In this version - as in the finished documentary - Ray Bradbury is clearly identified as the presenter, stepping into the interlocutor role.

Malcolm Clarke would go on to an illustrious career as a film-maker. He received Oscars for best short documentary in 1989 and 2014 (You Don't Have to Die and The Lady in No. 6 respectively), and his other awards include those from the Writers Guild of America, the Directors Guild of America, Cable ACE - and an Emmy.

Incidentally, this wasn't the first time a Bradbury script had cast him as a presenter. In 1966, he drafted a TV science special called Tomorrow is Now where he would have shown the viewer a history of science from the Ancient Greeks to the present day. And in 1970 he wrote Death Warmed Over, another TV special with himself as host, this time on the subject of horror. Neither of these specials was produced as far as I know, although Death Warmed Over re-surfaced as an essay in a magazine.

Infinite Horizons: Space Beyond Apollo first aired on 17th July 1979 on ABC-TV, ten years and a day after the launch of Armstrong, Aldrin and Collins on Apollo 11. The final page of the script talks of humankind taking to the stars in solar-powered ships, like giant kites flying in formation, and like Christopher Columbus' ships heading out into uncharted waters. (Bradbury was never afraid of mixing his metaphors.) Ray's final lines echo Tsiolkovsky: "For Earth is only our birthplace after all. It needn't be our home forever."

A cut-down version of Infinite Horizons: Space Beyond Apollo can be viewed on Archive.org, here: https://archive.org/details/infinitehorizonsspacebeyondapollo_201505

My thanks to the Center for Ray Bradbury Studies for providing access to Bradbury's papers, which include the various draft scripts referred to above.

Monday, March 11, 2019

Repairs complete!

Following the migration of Bradburymedia to a new web host, repairs are now complete!

There are probably still some broken links around the place - particularly links to other websites, which I haven't had time to systematically check - but everything should now be back to the way it was before the migration. If you spot anything that looks wrong, please post a comment below and I'll check it out.

In case you're wondering what else is here, other than the blog posts, here's a selection of pages which you may find interesting:

My review of the classic feature film It Came from Outer Space (original screen story by Ray Bradbury): http://www.bradburymedia.co.uk/films/it_came/it_came.htm

My review of episodes of The Alfred Hitchcock Hour (scripted by Bradbury and adapted from Bradbury stories): http://www.bradburymedia.co.uk/films/hitchcock/hitchcockhour.htm

My overview of the classic radio series Bradbury Thirteen (based on Bradbury stories): http://www.bradburymedia.co.uk/audio/bradbury13/bradbury13.htm

Thanks for your patience during the refurb - and check back soon for some new content! 

Tuesday, March 05, 2019

My Scribblings

While Bradburymedia undergoes much needed maintenance, perhaps you'd like to peruse some of my more academic writing? I've collected many of my conference papers, journal articles and books chapters in two places, so take your pick:

Phil's writings at Researchgate: https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Phil_Nichols2

Phil's writings at Academia: https://wlv.academia.edu/PhilNichols

Maintenance continues...

I'm still doing repairs to Bradburymedia following its migration to a new web host. Most pages still work, but there will be dead links a-plenty.

Once the basic mechanical stuff is fixed, I'll begin posting new material. ("At last!" I hear you cry...)

Monday, February 11, 2019

Under maintenance...

Image result for roadworks sign





I'm doing some behind-the-scenes maintenance work on Bradburymedia, so don't be surprised if there are some glitches.

Normal service will be resumed as soon as possible!