Thursday, August 30, 2012

Charles Yu

Charles Yu is the author of the new short story collection Sorry Please Thank You and the novel How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe.

He is also a contributor to the Bradbury tribute volume Shadow Show, with his short story "Earth (a Gift Shop)", which is influenced by Bradbury's classic story "There Will Come Soft Rains".

In a recent interview, Yu spoke about his involvement with Shadow Show, and about Bradbury's fiction:

I was asked to submit something for the anthology by Sam Weller and Mort Castle, who put together the anthology. I was seriously daunted by the list of contributors they had rounded up, and I still am. Deciding what to write was very nerve-wracking – I kept thinking, “Ray Bradbury is going to read this story.” That’s a lot of pressure! And I heard from Sam that Mr. Bradbury did read it (at least I think he did), and enjoyed it. That was a quite a feeling. Pride and relief. Pri-lief. It’s like being in-shamed, but the opposite.
Oh, and yes, I love The Martian Chronicles, Fahrenheit 451, Something Wicked This Way Comes. In terms of stories, “The Veldt” is one of my favorites, but there are so many.

You can read the full interview at Wired.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Last Flight

"200 million kilometers from Earth, her base destroyed and her oxygen supply running out, a lone astronaut begins a perilous trek across the windswept deserts of Mars.

Her only company are the sporadic transmissions she receives from Earth; radio reports counting down the minutes to global war.

As her diffculties increase, the astronaut is forced to search for a way to come to terms with her circumstances - for herself and for the future of life in the universe."

So reads the synopsis of the short film Last Flight, produced in New Zealand on a budget of $17,000 by Damon Keen. The film has been touring film festivals around the world, and now available in its complete form on YouTube.

Keen documented the production as the film progressed on his blog Mars Shot. It was a long, slow process taking around two years, because the director was making it in his spare time.

Last Flight originated as a comic book story, "The Sparrow", which Keen produced in 2008. He then developed it into a thirteen-page screenplay, which he then proceeded to film - along the way having to figure out how to achieve the needed CGI and audio effects to bring the film to life.

First page of "The Sparrow". Click to enlarge.

Is there a Bradbury connection to the film? Well, it's set on Mars, so that tends to put us in Martian Chronicles territory. It's predicated on a countdown to global war on Earth, which is again reminiscent of the Chronicles. Then there's the sole survivor, and a hint of either dreaming or hallucination... all very Bradbury.

But there's nothing in Keen's blog (as far as I can see) that consciously references Bradbury, so it may be coincidental, or a case of a writer-director being unconsciously influenced.

You can read more about the film in the official press kit. It's a smart little film, and will only take about fifteen minutes of your time to watch, so why not give it a go? Here's the trailer; and if you scroll down, you'll come to the complete film.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Shadow Show Reviewed

The most perceptive review yet of the tribute volume Shadow Show appeared this week in the Los Angeles Review of Books. SF and fantasy scholar Gary K. Wolfe - whose best known essay on Bradbury established the "frontier myth" reading of The Martian Chronicles - has written a lengthy review which not only evaluates the book itself but uses it as an opportunity to gauge Bradbury's literary influence.

Wolfe writes:

Few would consider [Harlan] Ellison and Bradbury as close siblings in any literary or stylistic sense, but [...] there’s some of the genetic material of those old pulp classics in both writers.

But such are the mysteries of literary DNA. Those old retroviruses can express themselves in unexpected ways generations later, and Bradbury was a carrier. He may have read Eudora Welty and Willa Cather and imported some of their stylistic grace into genre fiction, but by the same token he passed along some of the imaginative energy of Brackett or Henry Kuttner to the writers who followed him.

Wolfe then explores each story in the anthology in turn, considering the extent and nature of Bradbury's influence. One of his key points is that nearly every contributor to the book refers in their afterword  to discovering Bradbury at an early age, and nearly every one references Bradbury stories that were originally published prior to 1962. That was the year Something Wicked This Way Comes was published, and it seems to mark a changeover point at which Bradbury switched from "becoming Ray Bradbury" to "being Ray Bradbury", Wolfe observes, consciously echoing Jon Eller's recent biographical volume Becoming Ray Bradbury.

Shadow Show has received a lot of reviews, but many of them have been cursory and lacking in awareness of what the book truly demonstrates. Wolfe, I think, has got it spot on. I haven't read all the stories in the book yet, but his review prompts me to get on with it!

Gary K. Wolfe's full review can be read here.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Mars and the Mind of Man

For a long time, it's been on my very lengthy to-do list: write a review of the 1971 book Mars and the Mind of Man. It's a record of a seminar held at the time of the Mariner 9 probe to Mars, in which key figures in space science and science fiction give their views of the impact of our new knowledge of the red planet.

I acquired an ex-library copy of this book a year or two ago, in the hope that it would reveal something more of Bradbury's attitudes to the "space age". (It does, so it was a worthwhile purchase!) Now I have an excuse to skip the review, because Maria Popova has done the task so well on

Popova's article includes a number of images from the book, and a considered digest of the points of view expressed by the principal contributors Arthur C.Clarke, Carl Sagan and Ray Bradbury.

On Bradbury's birthday, 22 August, two artists presented new portraits of of Ray to the Waukegan public library. Pictured below are David Motley and Patrick Tufo with the paintings. The full story is here.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Bradbury Landing!

As expected, yesterday - what would have been Ray Bradbury's 92nd birthday - saw some more tributes paid to Ray:

Practical Magic author Alice Hoffman recalled her first direct contact with Ray, and his response to the story she submitted for the tribute volume Shadow Show in "A Birthday Wish For Ray".

Bradbury's friend, the British writer and broadcaster Brian Sibley uploaded a radio documentary he made in 1989 for the BBC World Service.

The Curiosity rover on Mars dedicated its landing site to Ray, announced in a tweet which reads "In tribute, I dedicate my landing spot on Mars to you, Ray Bradbury. Greetings from Bradbury Landing!" Here's the photo of Bradbury Landing: was the first website to attempt to place "Bradbury Landing" in the context of other named landing spots on Mars. Read more here.

In their 11.30am (PST) press conference, the NASA/JPL team started with Ray Bradbury - playing a clip of him from the 1971 "Mars and the Mind of Man" symposium - and concluded with a short video showing Ray's last visit to JPL in 2009, when he was shown models of Mars rovers and was allowed to drive one of them in simulation. NBC have the best coverage of the contents of the press conference, and have included the two video clips, here.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Ray Bradbury's Birthday

Today, 22 August 2012, would have been Ray Bradbury's 92nd birthday. Although the writer is no longer with us, there will be celebrations of his life in many places today and in the coming week.

As a reminder of Bradbury's amazing life and body of work, let me introduce Michael Cart - author, editor and prodigious podcaster. In a recent podcast, Cart focuses on Ray Bradbury, giving a biographical overview of his career, and a perceptive appreciation of his masterworks. He also includes personal reminiscences of his meetings with Bradbury, which include introducing Ray at various public events.

You can access the podcast at Infopeople, here.


For another birthday special, visit Brian Sibley's blog. Brian knew Ray for many years, and interviewed him to TV and radio on several occasions. Today, Brian has posted a complete recording of a 1989 programme he made for the BBC World Service Meridian programme. You can access it here.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Birthday Specials - 4

Meanwhile, in New York on the exact date of Ray Bradbury's birthday, there will be a celebratory launch of Shadow Show, the book of stories in tribute to Ray Bradbury. The book's actually been out for a while, but there's no harm in launching it one more time!

Full details here.

...And on the same day, in California, a double bill of Bradbury movies on the big screen: Fahrenheit 451 and Something Wicked This Way Comes. Details are here.


 ...And at 2pm on Saturday 26th August in Florence, Alabama, Terry Pace's Pillar of Fire will be saluting Ray's life and legacy with a special showing of three first-class television adaptations of his work -- Piper Laurie and Roberts Blossom in the Twilight Zone chiller "The Burning Man" (1985), James Whitmore in The Ray Bradbury Theater SF fable "The Toynbee Convector" (1990) and Fred Gwynne in the American Playhouse classic "Any Friend of Nicholas Nickleby is a Friend of Mine. The venue is the Florence-Lauderdale Public Library, 350 N. Wood Ave., Florence, Alabam.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Birthday Specials 3

California Artists Radio Theatre  has announced that their 75th Birthday Tribute To Ray Bradbury from 1995 will replay next week as a memorial to the author. It will be heard on SiriusXM Satellite Radio, Channel 80 (Book & Drama), on Monday, August 20 at 6pm Pacific / 9pm Eastern, and Friday, August 24 at 6:30pm Pacific / 9:30pm Eastern. The production - a live performance attended by Bradbury - was originally staged to help raise funds for the Thousand Oaks Library Foundation, as well as being a tribute to Bradbury.

Naturally, these broadcasts will reach only a limited audience. I would add that anyone who is unable to receive the broadcast can still buy the recording  - but CART's own page for the recording unfortunately lists it as currently not available to buy.

My own review of the this effective show is here.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Birthday Specials - 2

Some more confirmed events for celebrations of the life of Ray Bradbury, again focused around what would have been his birthday. For a number of years, Ray had a public birthday party in the Mystery & Imagination bookshop in Glendale, California. I had the good fortune to attend the 90th birthday event. This year, to mark what would have been Ray's 92nd birthday, the bookshop is holding another event, with some special additions. I'll let the flyers speak for themselves:

Thursday, August 16, 2012

The Elevator

Ray Bradbury is often thought of in connection with The Twilight Zone, partly because the series regularly dealt in distinctly Bradburyan stories, and partly because Bradbury did actually write for the series. Only one of his scripts was actually filmed, "I Sing The Body Electric!" - which is sometimes referred to as an adaptation of his short story. In reality, the script was written long before the short story was published, so it would be more correct to say that the story is an adaptation of the script.

Bradbury's experience with The Twilight Zone - or more specifically with the show's host and creator Rod Serling - was an unhappy one, due in part to Bradbury's feeling that Serling had borrowed from his work without credit, and cut Bradbury's scripts without consultation.

When The Twilight Zone was revived in the 1980s, there was no particular reason that Bradbury should be (or should want to be) involved, but he did contribute one short script to the series, called "The Elevator". Writer-producer Alan Brennert recently mentioned on Facebook how this Bradbury contribution came about:

I guess with Ray gone now I can reveal that he really, really didn't want to have anything to do with The Twilight Zone after his bad experience with Rod Serling on the old show. "The Burning Man" was a different matter, it was an existing script by J.D. Feigelson, one of Ray's literary "godsons" to which he gave his blessing. But in order to get an original script out of him, Harlan [Ellison] took him to lunch and sweet-talked him (and when Harlan wants to, can he sweet-talk!) into giving us a script, and Ray gave us "The Elevator." 

"The Burning Man" is an episode I have written about before; I consider it to be one of the best-ever adaptations of a Bradbury story.

Harlan Ellison was a creative consultant on the show, and was a longtime friend of Bradbury.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Why Mars?

For most of the past year, I have immersed myself in Bradbury's unfilmed (and mostly unpublished) screenplay versions of The Martian Chronicles. One of the outputs from this research was a paper which I presented at the 2012 Science Fiction Research Association conference in Detroit. In the paper I attempted to unpick what Bradbury was trying to do in his early-1960s Chronicles film work.

Although the screenplays are adaptations of his book, each version takes on a different flavour. The published 1965 screenplay (found in the limited edition volume The Complete Martian Chronicles) appears to address, head on, the reasons we might be compelled to explore space. This is not entirely surprising, given that the script was written at the height of the space age, when the successes of the Mercury and Gemini programmes were coming thick and fast, and when Bradbury was himself becoming something of a spokesman for the space programme.

It was interesting, therefore, to see Steven Paul Leiva's excellent recent article "Ray Bradbury, the Masterheart of Mars" in which he identifies three reasons for going to Mars. Bradbury "instinctually understood" two of these, Leiva writes, and "was a poet of the third". Read the article at the KCET website, here. Steven, you may recall, was the organiser of "Ray Bradbury Week" in Los Angeles in 2010.

Steven Paul Leiva, pictured at Bradbury's 90th birthday party.

Steven has also been instrumental in the campaign over the Los Angeles Palms-Rancho Park branch library, which I recently reported on. He has pointed out that my report of the library's potential name change was incorrect: rather than being renamed in honour of Ray (something which isn't possible), the proposal is that the branch be dedicated to Ray.

This is how Steven, writing on Facebook, describes last week's meeting:
I spent the morning attending the monthly meeting of the LA Library Board of Commissioners, which - at the request of Councilmember Paul Koretz - was held at the Palms-Rancho Park Library. Also at Paul's request they gave consideration to the idea of dedicating the Palms to Ray. Several members of the public representing the neighborhood council and home owners association, the Greater Los Angeles Writers Club, and the Friends of the Palms Library spoke at the meeting and all very enthusiastically endorsed the idea. They all gave intelligent, passionate, and moving speeches. One broke into tears. At least one audience member started to weep (you know him, his name is Steven). Then the president of the council spoke, very tearfully, for the measure. It was moved and seconded -- and passed unanimously.

We now have to wait a mandate period of three months for public comment, but, essentially, it's a done deal!

The Palms-Rancho Park Library is very appropriate as this was Ray's local library, close to his home of over 50 years in Cheviot Hills. His daughters have very fond memories of Ray walking them to the library when they were children and spending much time there. Ray spoke there often and was a huge supporter of the library, as he was of all libraries. There is already a Ray Bradbury room at the Palms, but now the whole library will be dedicated to him.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Bradbury on TV

Jack Seabrook, author of Martians and Misplaced Clues: The Life and Work of Fredric Brown (1993) and Stealing Through Time: On the Writings of Jack Finney (2003) has begun reviewing Ray Bradbury's contributions to TV. His first article in this vein gives a detailed analysis of the Alfred Hitchcock Presents episode "Shopping for Death", based on the Bradbury short story better known under the title "Touched With Fire". You can read the article on the excellent bare.bones blog.

My thanks to Jack for bringing his review to my attention. I look forward to seeing future instalments.

My own brief coverage of the Bradbury Hitchcock episodes can be found here; somehow I never quite got round to reviewing the half-hours in depth. I did a bit better with the Alfred Hitchcock Hour episodes, though, as you can see here.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Proposal to Dedicate Library

The Board of Library Commissioners of the City of Los Angeles yesterday voted to proceed with consideration of re-naming dedicating a branch library in honour of Ray Bradbury.

The Palms-Rancho Park Branch Library was Bradbury's local branch library, and over the years he had made many appearances there. He was also, of course, a longstanding advocate of public libraries in general.

My reading of the minutes of the Commissioners' meeting is that there is still a process of consultation to go through before the proposal is confirmed, but the initial stages met with overwhelming support. You can read the minutes - which include several testimonials from community figures writing in support of the proposal - in this PDF document.

(This post has been corrected; my thanks to Steven Paul Leiva for pointing out the the plan is to dedicate the library to Bradbury rather than re-name it.)

Thursday, August 09, 2012

Birthday Special

I imagine that Bradbury's birthday (22 August) will be a natural focal point for the celebration of the author's life, and I hear various rumours of planned activities for that day. I'm not in the business of publishing rumours, though, so I will only post confirmed and actual events. Here's one:

At 7pm PST on 22 August, California Stage will be presenting a live performance of a 1954 radio play version of "Mars is Heaven!" This is taking place in Sacramento, California. If, like me, you live in a whole 'nother continent, you may prefer to listen to a live audio stream of the show. Full details are here.

I'm not entirely sure which version of "Mars is Heaven!" will be performed, as according to my records there was no 1954 radio version of the story. My guess is that they will use the 1950/1955 Ernest Kinoy script from Dimension X and X Minus One, since this is readily available online. On the other hand, there might be a Bradbury-scripted adaptation from that time which was never broadcast. If I find out, I'll let you know.