Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Birthday interview; theatrical productions

Ray Bradbury made a brief appearance on KPCC Radio, Pasadena, yesterday for this 86th birthday interview, conducted by Patt Morrison.

Bradbury is best known for his short stories and novels, but less well known for his poetry and plays. And yet there seems to be a Bradbury play in production somewhere in the world at almost any given moment. I have only actually seen one production, the British premiere of Fahrenheit 451, but have also read a number of other Bradbury plays. If you want to read them just for pleasure, a good starting point is On Stage: A Chrestomathy of His Plays, which combines three earlier play collections (The Anthem Sprinters and Other Antics (1963), The Wonderful Ice Cream Suit and Other Plays (1972), and Pillar of Fire and Other Plays (1975)) into a single volume. This one volume contains the following plays:
  • The Great Collision of Monday Last
  • The First Night of Lent
  • A Clear View of an Irish Mist
  • The Anthem Sprinters
  • The Wonderful Ice Cream Suit
  • The Veldt
  • To the Chicago Abyss
  • Pillar of Fire
  • Kaleidoscope
  • The Foghorn
There are also useful introductions and afterwords to each section.

Some of the plays are remarkable for their economy of staging. "Kaleidoscope", for example, dramatises the last minutes of a crew of astronauts after theirship has been destroyed and they find themselves flung apart in empty space. Bradbury's stage directions call for no scenery. The play begins in darkness, and each astronaut appears, one by one, in a single spotlight against the dark stage. There is no need to show anything else.

Anyone interested in staging a Bradbury production would be well advised to visit the website of Dramatic Publishing. They supply single plays at reasonable prices, and will also manage the licensing arrangements, and publicise productions on their site.

They currently list the following current and imminent productions (to which I have have added links to the theatres or companies staging the shows):

Dandelion Wine
(Chicago, November to January)

Fahrenheit 451
(Talent, Oregon, October to November)
(Civic Theatre of San Juan, Puerto Rico, October to November)

The Martian Chronicles

(Seattle, until 26th August)

The Wonderful Ice Cream Suit
(Albuquerque , New Mexico, August to September).

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Ray Bradbury at 86

Today is Ray Bradbury's 86th birthday. He says he is going to live forever, so he is now one year closer to achieving that aim!

Bradbury has, on many occasions, written of time machines. Some of these are more or less literal transports, such as the device that takes Eckels and Travis back to the Jurassic for a touch of dino hunting. Others are more metaphorical. In "The Toynbee Convector" (1984), a man in an ice-cream white suit claims to have travelled to a glorious future world, and by so preaching of it causes such a world to come into existence. This man sounds very much like Ray Bradbury.

In the much earlier Dandelion Wine (1957), Douglas Spaulding and his friends sit and listen in awe of Colonel Freeleigh, an old man whose reminiscences are so vivid that they feel transported back to the American Civil War. The old man is a time machine.

In this recent interview, Bradbury is conscious that, at eighty-six, he is now such a time machine. It is remarkable to think, as you read Dandelion Wine, that the book's author (thirty-seven years old at the time it was published) is able to project himself into the characters of young Doug and old Freeleigh, is capable of simultaneously being the child and the time machine.

Birthday greetings for Ray are being gathered on his official message board. Brian Sibley offers a birthday tribute to Ray on his ex libris blog.

Monday, August 21, 2006

Bradbury 13

I have recently been in contact with Mike McDonough, the award-winning sound designer and writer-producer of the classic radio series Bradbury 13. Mike was kind enough to answer some of my questions, which has enabled me to expand my page on the series.

Although episodes of the series were once available on audio cassette, there has never been a CD release of the show. Aficionados have had to make do with relatively poor quality recordings, many of them unauthorised. The good news is that Mike is still in possession of the original studio master recordings (and the copyright on the series), and has recently transferred them to a digital format to preserve them for posterity. He still hopes that he can one day secure a commercial release on CD, or as high-quality, official MP3 downloads.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Farewell Summer, video odds and ends

Advanced reviews have started to appear for Ray Bradbury's forthcoming book Farewell Summer. This, you may recall, is his sequel to Dandelion Wine (1957), although most of it was written at the same time as the original novel, and both books were originally conceived by Bradbury as a single novel.

Publisher's Review's text is posted on the Amazon page for the book. Kirkus Review's text is available on their site, but only to paying subscribers. However, over at the Ray Bradbury Message Board, Walloon has posted the Kirkus text. Many thanks, Walloon.

There are some interesting Bradbury-related video clips on YouTube these days. Nard has alerted me to Exposure Three: a short behind-the-scenes feature on the making of The Small Assassin. And then there is this quirky little piece: The Adventures of Ray Bradbury. This is a little comedy that parodies the persona of Bradbury - not so much his fiction or writing style, but his Ray Bradbury Theater persona. Until I saw this, it had never occurred to me that Bradbury was a celebrity capable of being parodied, but I guess he is!

Other Bradbury-related material on YouTube can be found here.

Friday, August 18, 2006

"The Burning Man"

One of the best Bradbury adaptations in the visual media was a modest entry in the 1980s version of The Twilight Zone. "The Burning Man" is only eleven minutes long, and is based on Bradbury's short story of the same name. The writer and director of the adaptation was J.D.Feigelson.

Feigelson took Bradbury's story, looked at the central metaphors - the idea of evil being perpetually reborn, like locusts that return every seventeen years; and the idea that we all go a little crazy in the heat - and ran with them. This is by far the best way to capture the spirit of Bradbury; instead of slavishly keeping the plot but losing the imagery, you cling to the imagery and let the plot slide where necessary.

As it happens, Feigelson made very few changes to the story, just enough to vary the pace and, more importantly, to emphasise the drama in the dialogue.

Bradbury's story may be flawed (is it locusts that rise up out of the earth, or is it cicadas?), but Feigelson has captured the look and the feel of Bradbury's original. It has marvellous performances, particularly from Roberts Blossom as the crazy old guy.

"The Burning Man" features characters called Aunt Neva and Doug (probably Douglas Spaulding, although this isn't specified). Both names are familiar from other Bradbury stories. Bradbury really did have an aunt called Neva - there is a picture in Nard's gallery ("Ray Bradbury Personal Photos #2").

Monday, August 14, 2006

Bradbury audio (again)

I now have a page about the BBC Radio 4 series Fear on Four, which explains the origin of the Bradbury episode "The Next in Line", and how it came to inspire Ray's BBC Radio series Tales of the Bizarre. I hope to develop a page about the latter series in the next few weeks.

Bradbury short films

Ray Bradbury's stories make very inviting material for short films, and some of the best adaptations of his work have been in the short form. 2006 has seen at least two low-budget shorts based on Bradbury stories.

"The Small Assassin" is directed by Chris Charles, and brings to life Bradbury's classic tale of paranoia (mother becomes convined her newborn is out to kill her). The story has been adapted several times in the past, most notably as one of the British episodes of Ray Bradbury Theater. Judging by the trailer for this new production, it will rival the TV version.

"A Piece of Wood" is directed by Tony Baez Milan, and is an adaptation of Bradbury's anti-war fantasy. For a while this film was apparently viewable online, but seems to no longer be available outside of the short film festival circuit.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

More Bradbury audio

The Internet Archive has a growing collection of OTR - old-time radio - material. Both Dimension X and X Minus One are there in their entirety. This means (I hope) that it is no longer to scour the web for these 1950s classics, or pay good money to traders to access this public domain material.

Suspense is also being collected on Internet Archive, but so far only one episode ("Riabouchinska") has been uploaded. This 1947 episode has the distinction of being adapted from a Bradbury story that was unpublished at that time; it later appeared in print under the title "And So Died Riabouchinska", and was also dramatised for the television series Alfred Hitchcock Presents.

I have updated my Audio pages to provide links directly to the Bradbury episodes on the Internet Archive, and will continue to add links for any episodes that become available in the future. I have also added links to other downloads currently available, although my experience has been thatMP3 links tend not to stay live for very long.

And in case you thought time travel was an impossibility, you should check out the Archive's fabulous Wayback Machine.

The Vix Audio Show podcast (#5) features the 1980s radio series Bradbury 13, and includes an interview with the producer Mike McDonough. You can read more about the series here.

Finally on the Bradbury audio front, Colonial Radio Theater on the Air have announced that they have recently completed production of the first audio dramatisation of Bradbury's Dandelion Wine, due for commercial release towards the end of 2006. They have also announced a forthcoming audio production of Something Wicked This Way Comes.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Bradbury images

One ongoing strand of my research into Bradbury is looking at Bradbury's imagery, and what happens to it when his stories are translated into other media. My view, generally, is that Bradbury's stories are often sensory explosions that thoroughly engage the reader; it is then almost inevitable that when someone lifts a Bradbury plot and makes a film of it, the film will disappoint. I say almost inevitable because I'm sure a strong visual artist could do much to bring Bradbury to life. If we think of the film-makers who have adapted Bradbury, very few of them have been primarily visual artists. The strongest Bradbury film adaptations have some sense of atmosphere - Something Wicked This Way Comes (in parts), Moby Dick, Fahrenheit 451 (think of the final scenes) - but still don't quite summon up the sensory response you get from reading Bradbury off the page.

I am reminded that the illustrator most closely associated with Bradbury, Joe Mugnaini, was a visual artist who was able to not just visualise what Bradbury had written, but extend it, interpret it, add twists and depth to it. Mugnaini's line illustrations are deceptively simple, and have (in many cases) created a permanent image in the reader's mind, an image which is inseparable from the Bradbury story.

If only there were a film-maker with the vision of a Mugnaini...

There's very little on the web about Mugnaini - lots of references to him, but very few dedicated pages. A Google Images search will turn up lots of his work, however. The best pages on Mugnaini I can find are:

Saturday, August 05, 2006

Bradbury radio shows

I am often asked whether it is possible to download old radio shows that Bradbury was involved with, or shows that adapted his stories. The answer is yes, but don't expect to be able to find everything. Some material (very little, admittedly) is available commercially on tape or disc; visit my audio page for some links for specific shows, but don't be surprised if the shows are no longer available.

One of the better download sites for old radio shows is Zootradio. You have to register (for free) for access to the downloads, but it holds a wealth of material that in my view beats any other free site on the web. For Bradbury material, you should head straight for Dimension X and X Minus One. These series presented a number of Martian Chronicles stories, and other gems such as "Marionettes, Inc".

Unfortunately, another site that was good for the occasional Bradbury gem, Gwangi's Blog, looks like it's closing soon, at least as far as live download links are concerned.

Friday, August 04, 2006

Pictures and videos of Ray

Nard Kordell (left) has been expanding his excellent site. In addition to his own photos of Ray's old haunts in Waukegan - a must-see for admirers of Bradbury's Green Town stories (Dandelion Wine, Something Wicked This Way Comes) - he now has videos of some of Ray's recent appearances at book signings and other public appearances.

The latest addition is a section of Ray's own photos. It's fascinating to see some of the famous people Ray has met and worked with, and of family members. Did you know there really was an Uncle Einar?

[Uncle Einar image from Charles Addams' cover art for From the Dust Returned, taken from a Booksense interview with Bradbury.]

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Which reminds me...

Brian Sibley, who I mentioned yesterday, has posted a delightful blog about his long friendship with Ray Bradbury. Like me, Brian first encountered Bradbury through The Golden Apples of the Sun - which is, in fact, an excellent place to start, since it contains "The Fog Horn", "The Fruit at the Bottom of the Bowl" and "A Sound of Thunder", all essential reading.

Brian's blog also links to an excellent interview he conducted with Ray in 2004.

Interviews with Ray

Ray Bradbury has got to be one of the most interviewed authors around. Steven Aggelis even produced a PhD thesis on Ray's interviews (later turned into a book, Conversations with Ray Bradbury). Reading interviews made over a span of years, as Aggelis found, is fascinating. You can see how Ray's opinions gradually change, sometimes hardening, sometimes softening. You can also see how Ray's favourite anecdotes, such as the story of Mr Electrico, become embellished over time.

Unfortunately for the true Bradbury fan, most interviews - certainly most recent interviews - have been rather repetitive. Journalists only seem to want to ask Ray whether we will ever get to Mars, or when his next book is coming out. An exception, however, is this recent interview in the Ventura County Life & Style magazine, which 'rifraf' very kindly uploaded to the official Ray Bradbury Message Boards. The interview is long, which helps. And beautifully illustrated, which also helps. Most important, the interviewee asks questions which are not hurried, and which don't just cover the obvious.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Unauthorised biography of Ray!

I stumbled across this new, strangely titled book. The title suggests something quite salacious, a suggestion supported by the strapline "the only UNAUTHORISED biography".

But given that Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451 is often read as a statement against censorship, maybe this biography has hit upon an appropriate title, even for a non-salacious volume.

I haven't read the book yet, but being a completist I couldn't help but order a copy. I fear the worst, however, since it is published by, which appears to be a high-tech vanity press.

New Bradbury books

We're in for a spree of new Bradbury material in the next few months.

First to be released will probably be Farewell Summer. This is a sequel of sorts to Bradbury's classic Dandelion Wine. In fact, the two books were originally conceived as one, but Bradbury was persuaded to split it into two...and then took around fifty years to polish the second part. Farewell Summer is out in hardcover in October 2006.

Around the same time, Match to Flame: the Fictional Paths to Fahrenheit 451 should appear. This is the latest in a series of volumes from Gauntlet Press. It's rather a costly volume, but for the Bradbury completist it will be a must-have. Edited by Bradbury's bibliographer Donn Albright, the book includes essays by Jon Eller which show that Fahrenheit 451 didn't spring fully formed from Bradbury's creative genius, but rather had a long gestation through various precursor short stories. This volume should be a perfect conpanion piece to (and extension of) Eller & Touponce's Ray Bradbury: The Life of Fiction. The book contains "The Fireman", the short story that developed into Fahrenheit 451, plus a long list of other precursors.

After that should come Somewhere a Band is Playing. I believe that this is another "Green Town" novel, but don't know much else about it. The last information I heard about this wasthat Guantlet Press would be publishing it in 2007.

And finally... according to Bradbury himself in a number of recent interviews, the long-in-development novel version of Leviathan '99 is now with his publishers, and is likely to see publication in 2007. Leviathan '99 is Bradbury's space age version of Moby Dick. Having spent a year adapting MD for the screen, Bradbury was unable to let go of the mythic white whale. In the early 1960s he began the novel, but soon turned it instead into a radio play...and then a stage play... and now it's come full circle and is to appear as a novel.

Center for Ray Bradbury Studies

The website of the new Center for Ray Bradbury Studies is now live. The Center is being set up by Bill Touponce of the University of Indiana. As some of you may know, Bill is one of the leading Bradbury scholars. He was responsible, with his Indiana colleague Jon Eller, for the remarkable Ray Bradbury: The Life of Fiction, which gave a whole new set of insights into Bradbury's work.

I am delighted (and flattered) to have been invited to act as an adviser to the Center, alongside the far more illustrious Bradbury scholars David Mogen, Robin Anne Reid and William F. Nolan.

Talking about Ray

In June (told you it was a busy month!) I also presented a paper on Ray Bradbury to the Science Fiction Research Association Conference in New York State. I've been to academic conferences before, but this was my first presenting stint. Thankfully, the audience wasn't so huge as turn me to jelly.

The paper was the one mentioned earlier, on Leviathan '99. I have submitted the paper for possible publication in the conference book.

Funding for my trip was provided by my employer, the University of Wolverhampton, to whom I am immensely grateful.

Apart from the presenting, the highlight of the conference was listening to Norman Spinrad, the science fiction writer and critic. Although I think I may have upset him a bit by asking what had happened to the proposed film version of his novel Bug Jack Barron.

"Didn't Harlan Ellison write a screenplay for it?" I ask.
"Ellison wrote a screenplay," Spinrad replies.
"Was there more than one?"
"Ellison wrote a screenplay, I wrote a screenplay, Peter Weir wrote half a screenplay. Universal Studios now owns the whole damned thing, forever."

I also met Andy Sawyer of the Science Fiction Foundation and the University of Liverpool's SF Hub. Many years ago I used to write book reviews and type copy for Paperback Inferno, which Andy edited - and yet we never met, until SFRA 2006 in New York.

Interviewing Ray's collaborators

Also in June (it was a busy month!), I had the honour of meeting Brian Sibley, the writer and broadcaster. Brian has been a friend of Ray Bradbury for many years, and a few years ago adapted several Bradbury stories for the BBC's Tales of the Bizarre. Brian, fresh from recording his Radio 2 series Ain't No Mickey Mouse Music, kindly agreed to be interviewed about Bradbury and the dramatisation process. The information he provided will serve as useful background for my researches into adaptation, and will also help me extend the 'Bradbury at the BBC' story beyond the limits of the materials in the BBC Archives.

Brian is also an excellent blogger: check out his blog(s) here.

Researching Ray

A little over a year ago I visited the BBC Written Archive Centre in Caversham, near Reading. I went in search of information on Ray Bradbury's connections to the BBC, and came back with pages of notes relating mainly to BBC radio dramatisations of his work. Among the papers were several dealing with Leviathan '99, Ray's 1968 radio play. From this visit I was able to write a paper giving a detailed account of Bradbury's treatment by BBC radio up until 1970 (the Achives' cut-off date).

In June I paid a second visit to the Archives, this time hoping to fill in some of the gaps in the 'Bradbury at the BBC' story. I wanted to find out more about Leviathan '99, particularly about the production team. I searched through papers relating to H.B.Fortuin, the play's Dutch producer, and Tristram Carey, the play's composer. From this second visit I was able to write a second paper giving an account of the production of Leviathan '99, relating it to Bradbury's novel of the same name which is due for publication sometime in the next year.