Friday, January 12, 2007

Early Bibliography

I wonder how many Bradbury readers are familiar with William F. Nolan. A successful writer in his own right, Nolan is probably best known as the co-creator of Logan's Run, the popular SF novel (and film, and TV series, and series of books).

But Nolan (pictured left with Forry Ackerman and Ray Bradbury in 1953) was also one of the first to begin keeping detailed bibliographical records of Ray Bradbury's work. In the 1950s, he launched a fanzine/journal called The Ray Bradbury Review. Twenty-odd years later he published a collation of much of this work in a book, The Ray Bradbury Companion. For years, this was the most detailed book on Bradbury's publishing history, and in many respects it is still unsurpassed. Nolan's vast collection of Bradbury materials has been donated to Bowling Green University, Ohio, where it is is accessible to researchers.

Just the other day I stumbled across one of Nolan's earliest Bradbury biblographical pieces, onthe web. FANAC, dedicated to preserving and celebrating the history and publications of SF fandom, has uploaded a 1953 fanzine called Shangri-LA, which includes Bill Nolan's "Ray Bradbury Index".

This particular bibliography is fascinating to me because it captures Bradbury at the peak of his early success: by this time, he had broken out of genre publications and into the "slicks"; he had several books behind him; he had had works adapted for radio and early TV; and he was just breaking into movies. (For more on Bradbury's early experiences of film, see the Spaceman article here.)

"The Ray Bradbury Index" is also remarkable for its detail and accuracy. It gave me cause to cross-check the detail on my own website.

Bill Nolan is still active, and has his own website at Last year he was named as Author Emeritus by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America. And he has been named a member of the Advisory Board of the proposed new Center for Ray Bradbury Studies at Indiana University.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Spring Clean

I've been re-arranging the Books section of my site, to make it more useful and easier to navigate. You can now browse books by decade and by type.

I've also added a section on books about Ray Bradbury. This is fairly comprehensive, and includes everything from popular non-fiction books to PhD-style learned treatises, with some High School study guides in there as well.

When time permits, I will be adding more details about some of these books.

Monday, January 08, 2007

Thomas Petitpas

I've recently been in touch with Thomas Petitpas. Tom, pictured left with Ray, until 2004 ran Bradbury's Pandemonium Theater Company, and produced all of the plays. I hope shortly to probe Tom's knowledge of Bradbury on stage, with a view to improving my coverage of this neglected area.

Tom sells comics and assorted stuff through his eBay store. He has a nice line in Bradbury rareties, some of them related to the Pandemonium productions.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Iconic images

A question on the official Ray Bradbury Message Board got me looking at illustrations of the short story "A Sound of Thunder" (1952). This, you may recall, is Bradbury's classic dinosaur-hunting tale: travel back in time and enjoy the thrill of hunting T.Rex. (Image is by Richard Corben, from The Ray Bradbury Chronicles.)

This is a compelling fantasy. So much so that other writers have trodden the same ground, most famously L. Sprague de Camp in "A Gun for Dinosaur".

Bradbury makes the tale slightly different, by bringing in one of those time paradoxes that the true science fiction fan will happily spend hours debating. Bradbury's twist is that one of the time-travellers steps on a butterfly and screws up the subsequent course of evolution.

Now many have criticised the story for its logical flaws - most famously the editors of Fantasy and Science Fiction who rejected the story on those grounds. (Bradbury didn't care - he sold the story to a 'slick' magazine instead, and made a whole lot more money.) However, defenders of the story, myself included, will tell you that the details of the time travel don't matter one jot. It's the symbolism that's important. Bradbury seems to be saying that little things are important: the way he sets the story up, the fate of the dinosaur is trivial; it's the butterfly that really matters.

Looking at various visual interpretations of "A Sound of Thunder", I find that most illustrators have gone for the big picture. They show the T.Rex, sometimes dwarfing our time-travellers. That's certainly true of Frederick Siebel, the original illustrator of the Collier's magazine version of the story (June 1952, above). Notice that Siebel gives us the thrill of the hunt. He does also show the all-important pathway which our heroes must stick to - and one of the hunters fatally stepping off the path.

Franz Altschuler, who illustrated the story for Playboy (June 1956, above) follows the same idea, although the chrononauts don't seem quite so concerned in his vision.

Even the Game Boy game (above) bearing the title of Bradbury's story lingers on the hunt.

The poster and publicity for the recent film version (not a film I recommend you rush out and see) did get one thing right: emphasising the butterfly. I think this adds to the intrigue of the advertising campaign, especially when the movie trailer hints at sub-Jurassic Park dinosaur CGI. (Image shows the movie poster graphic used on a re-issue of a Bradbury short story collection.)

[For the record, I find the low budget adaptation for TV's Ray Bradbury Theatre to be vastly superior to the Peter Hyams movie. And the radio production for Bradbury 13 is pretty good as well.]

Full marks go to Joe Mugnaini, the quintessential Bradbury illustrator, for achieving such a perfect balance in his line-drawing. Created for The Golden Apples of the Sun, the short story collection that first contained "A Sound of Thunder", his illustration (above) seems to focus on the dino hunt - and his composition uses the pathway as a flourish that frames the tyrannosaur. But look again. See how the butterfly, all translucent wing, dominates the scene.

This, for me, is precisely why Mugnaini worked as Bradbury's best illustrator. He found a way of getting narrative into a single frame, and always gives a new way of looking at a story.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

More Short Films

A remarkable number of Ray Bradbury's stories have been made into short films. Many of these are independent productions, often made by film-makers who are just starting out. Examples include the recent A Piece of Wood and The Small Assassin.

But there have also been quite a few "educational" films, usually aimed at children, and presumably intended for classroom use. Examples include the Learning Corporation of America productions The Electric Grandmother and The Invisible Boy.

I thought I knew about all of these shorts, but new information keeps turning up. I recently had my attention drawn to The Flying Machine, a 16-minute short starring Blade Runner's James Hong (left), and Diane Haak's 1979 version of The Veldt (24-minutes). I haven't seen either of these, and have very little information on them. I hope to see them one day, and would welcome hearing from anyone who knows more about them.