Science fiction grandmaster Bradbury gathers together 25 stories, some half-baked, most unpublished. Calling the collection a “downpour of images from photos, films, cartoons, encounters that have tracked through life without an umbrella,” Bradbury congratulates himself on his long, happy, productive life. Some stories, like “Diane de Foret,” about a man’s mawkish communion with the spirit of a dead French girl “of timeless mythic beauty,” or like the predictable revelation (“One Woman Show”) that a good actress is merely that might have gone back for more cooking. Most, though, bubble over with the manic exuberance of a writer who feels himself so blessed that he travels back in time to save the lives of doomed ones (“The F. Scott/Tolstoy/Ahab Accumulator”) or to change another’s past so he won’t become a drunken wreck (“Quid Pro Quo”). Bad tidings—an unexploded WWII bomb in a wheat field (“The Enemy in Wheat”); the McCarthy-era bugging of a Hollywood producer’s home (“Cricket on the Hearth”)—can be gifts that change lives, while wishes that come true can bring bittersweet results (“Heart Transplant”). Many characters speak in Bradburyese, like the B-movie production assistant in “The Dragon Danced at Midnight” (“Willis Hornbeck drunk was . . . a wildman who blind-wrestled creativity in a snake pit, who fought an inspired alligator in a crystal tank for all to see”) or the technologically reconstituted Oliver Hardy describing his resurrection in “The Laurel and Hardy Alpha Centauri Farewell Tour” (“We were rushed to completion, flesh on flesh, nerve ends to neurons, ganglia to ganglia”). The title story describes a publisher who, overwhelmed by the manic word-spray from an untried writer, agrees to publish the longest road novel ever, only to watch his author literally and metaphorically run out of gas.
Slight, affecting, voluble, exuberant—by a writer who feels life’s even better than he can imagine.