Thursday, March 08, 2012

The Smile

The summer of 1952 saw the first issue of a fiction magazine called Fantastic, which boasted a star-studded line-up: not only Ray Bradbury, but Raymond Chandler, Walter M. Miller Jr, Kris Neville, Isaac Asimov and Horace L. Gold.

The magazine was a sister publication to Amazing Stories: Amazing concentrated on the science fiction end of the market, while Fantastic concentrated on fantasy. It would prove to be a successful and durable publication, as it containued to appear right up until 1980.

Bradbury's contribution to this first issue was his short story "The Smile", which made its first appearance here. The story is one of his most collected: you can find it in the following Bradbury books: A Medicine for Melancholy, Bradbury Stories: 100 of His Most Celebrated Tales, S is for Space, The Day it Rained Forever, Twice 22, and Match to Flame.

"The Smile" is one of Bradbury's after-the-apocalypse tales, set in a non-specific future and a non-specific location.The people in the story gather to ritually abuse all the remnants of the civilisation they have lost. One character stands apart, however, a young boy who manages to rescue a piece of the spat-upon Mona Lisa, which he hurries away with. Ostensibly a bleak story, in that it shows a collapsed world full of disgust for the causes of collapse, it becomes one of Bradbury's feel-good stories because of the element of hope represented by the smile that the boy manages to rescue. It's an example of what I like to think of as a muted renaissance. Not a true re-birth, but the first glimmer of hope that there might be a re-birth. The Bradbury of the 1950s excelled at this kind of thing. Fahrenheit 451 does something similar, but on a grander scale.

Writing at the time, the editors of Fantastic had this to say about Bradbury:

Few readers are neutral where Ray Bradbury is concerned: he's been called everything from a "chromium-age Thoreau" to a "hyperbole-happy hater of humanity". Both quotes seem more precious than pertinent - but the fact remains that almost as much has been written about Bradbury as by him. His work has appeared in smooth-paper magazines, in the pulps, on radio and television, as well as in numerous anthologies and pocket editions.
We offer "The Smile" as typical Bradbury: a sensitive and significant theme against a background filled with the gritty desolation of a lost world too many of us may help to make.

Illustration by L.Sterne Stevens, Fantastic, Summer 1952

No comments: