Two novellas from the big heart of an American original—one about time and music, the other a riff on Moby-Dick.
Still active, curious and writing in his ninth decade, Bradbury (Farewell Summer, 2006, etc.) does a little desk cleaning, finishing up a story that’s nagged at him for years and having another stab at a sci-fi version of Moby-Dick first written for radio following his screenplay for the midcentury John Huston film. The first novella, Somewhere a Band is Playing, was inspired by a Jerry Goldsmith movie theme with which Bradbury was so taken that he went home and wrote lyrics for it, snatches of which turn up here. An early 20th-century Chicago reporter, James Cardiff, responds to a song heard in a dream by taking a train to Arizona, alighting at Summerton, a Brigadoonish town scheduled to be wiped off the map by highway engineers. He’s met by an amiable stationmaster who delivers him in a horse-drawn wagon to a beautiful small hotel full of intoxicating kitchen smells and peopled by amiable immortals. Cardiff’s wanderings through the town follow the route of a friendly delivery horse and lead him to the arms of Nefertiti, another immortal, beautiful and wise, whose invitation to join the club sets his head spinning. Will he accept? It doesn’t really matter. The pleasure here is writing that sounds like Aaron Copland’s music written for Our Town, and it is pleasant indeed. In Leviathan ’99, Ishmael Jones signs on as crew for a rocket set for a mapping and exploration mission. His Queequegish berthmate is Quell, a huge telepathic spider with whom he quickly bonds. Following Melville’s template, the captain has his own mission, to capture Leviathan, the comet that blinded him years ago and which is now on a trajectory that will bring it perilously close to earth. Astronomy being more exact than 19th-century marine navigation, things come quickly to a head.
Writing for the fun of writing. A treat for the reader.