In three dozen pieces sometimes prickly and always passionate, SF/fantasy legend Bradbury fires off opinions galore on books, movies, SF and the people and places in his life.
As a rule, Bradbury prefers essays that “wake me at dawn and ask to be finished by noon” rather than ones requiring extensive research. Such “familiar essays” can lead to spontaneity but also, at times, as here, to preening and ranting. Though Bradbury diehards will clamor for this uneven collection (especially the dozen unpublished pieces), others may be frustrated. There are glimpses of the lyricism of the author’s best writing (a Kansas train ride a half century ago: “So the night went, the train gliding among stilts of fire, huge laboratory experiments of electric flame, then rumbling coughs of thunder as great blind hands of shocked air clapped tight, the night’s echoing applause for its own words”), showing that the octogenarian hasn’t lost his child-like capacity for wonder. And some anecdotes hold great potential: encountering Al Jolson, W.C. Fields and George Burns while roller-skating through Hollywood as a starstruck 14-year-old; visiting a polite Lord Bertrand Russell and his chilly wife as a young novelist; wrestling over the screenplay for Moby-Dick with John Huston. But Bradbury skimps so much on detail that he sounds less interested in these figures for themselves than in the fact that they crossed his path. Even hymns of praise to Paris and Los Angeles end up inevitably about himself. Sometimes he unapologetically toots his own horn (“No one else had noticed, or written about, the fact that Jules Verne had probably read Herman Melville”), at other times groans about the sorry state of the movie business, science fiction and the media (“Shut off the set. Write your local TV newspeople. Tell them to go to hell”).
Essays made up mainly of declamation. Stick with the novels and stories that ensure Bradbury’s place in the pantheon.