Sunday, October 23, 2016

Bradbury 31, Day 23: "The Jar"

"The Jar" is from the "weird" era of Ray Bradbury's writing career, appearing in short story form in 1944. It's not entirely a horror story, though the climax certainly points the way. The tale concerns a man who buys a jar from a carnival. No two people can agree on what's inside the jar and he becomes a leading member of the community as folks gather and speculate. The Alfred Hitchcock Hour adapted "The Jar" in 1964 and although the hour-long format didn't usually suit the show, "The Jar" is one of those tales which absolutely works.

In 1992 The Ray Bradbury Theater took a jab at the jar. Although the half-hour format seems better for a short story, especially one as simple as "The Jar," but this episode is a bit of a misfire. It futzes the climax just a tad by making the contents of the jar too obvious. If you're interested in seeing the tale adapted, stick with the Hitch.

Another Bradbury tale tomorrow!

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Bradbury 31, Day 22: "Frost and Fire"

"Frost and Fire" is a 1946 short story by Ray Bradbury which is set on a planet where time seems to pass rapidly. The humans who live there have evolved to telepathically transmit memory to their young as their lifespans run out within eight days. One newborn man tries to find a way to save his people from this fate.

This is a high-concept sci-fi tale which is not exactly what Bradbury's best-known for - a little more Heinlein or De Camp than his usual fare. In 1985 it was adapted by Klaus Janson into a graphic novel as part of DC Comics' short-lived line of science fiction graphic novels edited by Julius Schwartz, who had worked in the sci-fi publishing biz back in the 40s and previously been Bradbury's agent. Although the book has a handsome cover by Sienkiewicz and Janson - best-known as an inker rather than a penciler - does a good enough job at rendering the world, the ending is a tremendous let-down as it swerves away from the happy ending of Bradbury's story into something ambiguous and unsatisfying.

A better Bradbury adaptation tomorrow, promise!

Friday, October 21, 2016

Bradbury 31, Day 21: "Usher II"

Here's one last look at The Martian Chronicles and the tale "Usher II." It's been frequently omitted from later editions of the work and probably should be left out (you won't find it in adaptations such as the Dennis Calero graphic novel or the TV movie). First called "Carnival of Madness" in 1950

In 1990, The Ray Bradbury Theater adapted the story to television with Patrick MacNee in the lead. This version is as darkly humourous as the original work. Tapping into ideas he also featured in his novel Fahrenheit 451 and short story "The Exiles," this tells of a future where civilization has banned books. One book-loving man (who has retreated to Mars to justify its inclusion in the novel) constructs an elaborate death trap for the agents enforcing the ban and appropriately draws from literature in order to gruesomely kill them all - but, most deliciously, do it in a way so they'll watch their friends die and not even realize it's happening.

Finally, in 1993 Topps comics had writer James Van Hise and artist Ron Wilber adapt the tale into comic book form. Like most of the Topps works, it's very faithful, although the horror side of the story is a little lost due to Wilber's nice clean art; man, I'd love to see someone like Bill Sienkiewicz take a crack at this one!

More from Ray Bradbury tomorrow!

October 21: Canadian Library Workers Day

I had no clear path before me as high school came to an end. I struggled to socialize with others and my self-esteem was horribly low. I had given no thought to my post-secondary education, much less a career I would be suited to.

One day my mother encouraged me to take an aptitude test and the results gave me a sudden surge of self-confidence; I would never have been believed the results if another person had said them to me, but the impartial nature of a standardized test reassured me. The test informed me I had a strong organizational mind; "Hm, yes, I do have a strong organizational mind," I realized. What careers were recommended for me? Among them was to work in a library. Yes, that sounded right.

It took a great deal of time and effort. I had to struggle at becoming a better student to earn my degree as a library technician, but I worked harder than I had through my high school years because I finally knew what I was building towards. I had to learn to trust people. I had to learn to trust myself. I had to persevere when there were no opportunities in my field.

Yet, here I am; today is Canadian Library Workers Day and I have been employed in that field for 10 years & 11 months. I found work and challenges which motivate me - more than that, I found purpose as one of many people working to preserve and provide information to the world. I am proud to be a Canadian library worker.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Bradbury 31, Day 20: "The Earthmen"

One more time, let's look at a Ray Bradbury short story which appeared in The Martian Chronicles. 1948's "The Earthmen" is frequently omitted from adaptations of the novel, wasn't adapted by EC Comics or Dimension X and isn't in the TV movie version of the book.

Now, it does appear in Dennis Calero's graphic novel adaptation, but it's also been adapted in an unusual place - Escape, a radio show which wasn't really a sci-fi show, occasionally dabbled there. In 1951 they adapted "The Earthmen" and you can hear their version at Youtube here. In this tale, an expedition to Mars is somewhat hampered because as Martians can assume any form, they aren't convinced the humans are real - leading to tragedy.

In 1992 The Ray Bradbury Theater adapted the story to television and did it well. I enjoy this tale because it begins from an absurd premise - the first men on Mars are beset by Martian bureaucracy - but it leads to such a horrific and melancholic conclusion. It may not be among the best-known of The Martian Chronicles tales, but it's definitely a favourite of mine.

I'll be back with more Ray Bradbury tomorrow!

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Bradbury 31, Day 19: "There Will Come Soft Rains"

Yet again, I'm looking back on a Ray Bradbury short story which is best-known for comprising part of The Martian Chronicles. "There Will Come Soft Rains" debuted on its own in 1950 just ahead of the book itself. It is a very well-regarded Bradbury tale; I have one friend who a great fan of science fiction throughout the 20th century and while he's not much of a Bradbury fan, he believes this story is among sci-fi's finest.

In 1950 the radio show Dimension X adapted the story as a double feature alongside Bradbury's "Zero Hour" - a rather different tale of Mars. The computer voice in this version has a staccato rhythm which really sticks in the memory ("Today is October 6, 2026..."). You can listen to the show at here.

Al Feldstein and Wally Wood adapted it to EC comics in 1953 and did a fine job. Comic book versions also include the 1992 Topps version by Lebbeus Woods (which was published side-by-side with a reprint of the Feldstein/Wood version) and as part of Dennis Calero's The Martian Chronicles graphic novel. It is also one of the rare Bradbury tales to be animated; the animated version was made in 1984 by a Soviet animation studio and it is, if anything, more grim than Bradbury's text. In all, "There Will Come Soft Rains" is a fine representation of nuclear anxiety, the fear of the cataclysmic effects nuclear war would have on civilian populations. "Not one would mind, neither bird nor tree, if mankind perished utterly; and spring herself as she woke at dawn would scarcely know that we were gone - that we were gone - that we were gone - that we were gone..."

Another Ray Bradbury tale tomorrow!

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Bradbury 31, Day 18: "And the Moon Be Still As Bright"

Once again, I'm looking a story which was contained within The Martian Chronicles. "And the Moon Be Still As Bright" was likewise a 1948 short story and has been adapted in other version of The Martian Chronicles such as the TV movie and the Dennis Calero graphic novel.

This, too, was adapted for radio's Dimension X in 1950 (you can listen to it at here). It's a somber tale of an expedition to Mars in which it is found the Martians were all wiped out by chicken pox (H. G. Wells might have warned them!). One member of the expedition is outraged by this as he can foresee how human culture will supplant all which remains of Mars; he vows to become a Martian himself and wage a one-man war against humanity.

In 1990, The Ray Bradbury Theater made a fine adaptation for television. What comes through in all of these versions is the sadness at watching a culture diminish and die, left as little more than a memory as a stronger culture takes its place. And yet, Earth's own presence on Mars within The Martian Chronicles proves fleeting. Something to think about before we grow too pleased at the civilization we ourselves have built.

There will be another Ray Bradbury story tomorrow!