The Thumbnail Book Reviews

by John Q McDonald --- 12 June 2006

The Golden Apples of the Sun

by Ray Bradbury

Ray Bradbury's own web site describes him as a writer of stories for pulp magazines back in the 1940s and 1950s. Indeed he was. But like his rough contemporary and fellow Los Angeleno, Raymond Chandler, who wrote for the mystery pulps, Bradbury's bite-sized stories also convey a boyish sincerity and concerned humanity. Bradbury has been almost ridiculously prolific, to the point of boasting about three hundred rejections from The New Yorker magazine. Many of his stories have been collected into many volumes, some of them loosely assembled as novels, such as The Martian Chronicles, The Illustrated Man, and the marvelously nostalgic Dandelion Wine. Of course, many of his stories and books have been made into films, and Bradbury has written screenplays as well. Many of his stories sound like episodes from The Twilight Zone. One of the stories in this volume was recently, but poorly, made into a major action movie. This book is a collection of twenty-two of Bradbury's stories dating from the late 1940s well into the 1950s. It is an almost random sampling that includes slices of American life, mysteries, fantasy, near horror, and, of course, science-fiction. All of the stories are quite short, and so are required to exhibit a story-teller's dexterity in conveying time, place and character in so tight a space. Most of the stories succeed. Some show the sparse backstory that results from brevity and rapidity of composition. Overall, though, it is a virtuoso performance from one of the hardest-working writers of the 20th century.

Here is a sampling of the 22 stories in this book:

--- In the opening story, The Fog Horn lighthouse keepers on the foggy coast encounter a mysterious giant beast, drawn to the sound of the horn in the night. Anyone who has stood on the Golden Gate Bridge while its fog horn blew will appreciate this story.
--- The Pedestrian places us in 2053 when the world is controlled and humanity supressed by television. A lone man takes a walk and discovers the price of nonconformity. The story was published in 1951. Fifty-six years later, how can we say Bradbury was wrong? Just try to have a conversation at a party without mentioning something someone saw on TV.
--- The April Witch flies over the nighttime landscape inside an insect, a bird and a falling leaf. She is looking for the experience of love, and tries to find it by occupying an unwilling girl drawn out to a dance. In this story, Bradbury reveals his occasional tendency toward romance and nostalgia. It is hazy and sweet, and is a prelude to Bradbury's recent novel From the Dust Returned.
--- A story might seem simplistic by modern standards, but that doesn't keep The Murderer from demonstrating a remarkable prescience about today's world of media and communications absorption in our culture. The author portrays another man rebelling against the tyranny of the majority, as he pours ice cream into his car radio and jams wrist-radio (read: cell phone) communications on a bus.
--- The Cold War was just beginning when Bradbury published The Golden Kite, The Silver Wind. It is a parable of the arms race, which itself is a timeless story of mankind's need for domination. This story's cultural base is a bit thin, but the author makes his point.
--- A Sound of Thunder was sloppily adapted in a 2005 movie of the same name. This story is a bit of a classic and it was too bad Hollywood made such a mess of it. The story itself, though, has its weak points, as necessary backstory loses out to its brevity. A group of men go on a hunt in the age of the dinosaurs. One of them is so terrified by the T. Rex they confront that he threatens to violate the rules of time travel. Upon their return, the hunters learn the penalties of toying with Time.
--- Sun and Shadow takes us to a poor town apparently south of the border, where slick young fashion models and their photographers use the authentic scruffiness as a backdrop for their catalog photos. One man, and rightly so, objects to this condescending use of the town's genuine poverty. The fashion industry still does this kind of thing today, cynically and blithely contrasting the wealth of fashion with the poverty shown by broken-down locales.
--- Finally, the title story, The Golden Apples of the Sun, shows us a fiery trip to the surface of the Sun to scoop up a bit of its luminous surface. Such a flight is unlikely to ever occur, and certainly not a manned one, but the bizarre spacecraft makes the story, as well as Bradbury's many poetic references throughout.

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Also by Bradbury: [Death is a Lonely Business] [Fahrenheit 451] [Let's all Kill Constance]

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