Ray Bradbury is what I would call a literary author who's always labeled as writing genre stories (never mind the debate about what "literary" means in this context); he's a storyteller but his writing is also suffused with poetic flourishes and evocative, moody imagery and dialog that many genre authors skimp on. That said, none of the short stories I've read by him are among my favorite or most memorable. But some of his horror stories are very effectively creepy without any explicit violence.Long After Midnight
is a collection of twenty-two of his older stories. They range from mediocre to pretty good, but the mediocres outweighed the pretty goods, since after finishing the audiobook, I couldn't remember many details about specific stories. There is a lot of sentimentality, bordering on schmaltziness, such as in The Pumpernickel
, basically about a middle-aged man remembering his childhood friends and how they drifted apart:
"In the hard, shiny crust of the bread, the boys at Druce's Lake had cut their names: Tom, Nick, Bill, Alec, Paul, Jack. The finest picnic in history! Their faces tanned as they rattled down the dusty roads. Those were the days when roads were really dusty; a fine brown talcum floured up after your car. And the lake was always twice as good to reach as it would be later in life when you arrived immaculate, clean, and un-rumpled."
A lot of the sci-fi stories in this collection are also heavily allegorical, with a tone ranging from Catholic to mystical, as in "G.B.S. - Mark V":
"What are we? Why, we are the miracle of force and matter making itself over into imagination and will. Incredible. The Life Force experimenting with forms. You for one. Me for another. The Universe has shouted itself alive. We are one of the shouts. Creation turns in its abyss. We have bothered it, dreaming ourselves to shapes. The void is filled with slumbers; ten billion on a billion on a billion bombardments of light and material that know not themselves, that sleep moving and move but finally to make an eye and waken on themselves. Among so much that is flight and ignorance, we are the blind force that gropes like Lazarus from a billion-light-year tomb. We summon ourselves. We say, O Lazarus Life Force, truly come ye forth. So the Universe, a motion of deaths, fumbles to reach across Time to feel its own flesh and know it to be ours. We touch both ways and find each other miraculous because we are One."
Many of the more dated ones also seemed to be semi-autobiographical, perhaps slightly elaborated tales of Bradbury himself as a boy.
Here is a list of the stories in the collection. Some of them have been turned into short films or Twilight Zone
- "The Blue Bottle" — heavily metaphorical story about two men searching for an artifact on Mars.
- "One Timeless Spring" — a twelve-year-old boy believes his parents are trying to poison him.
- "The Parrot Who Met Papa" — almost felt like a bit of magical realism, about a parrot that has memorized Hemingway's last, unwritten novel.
- "The Burning Man" — odd story mixing any number of "why you shouldn't pick up hitchhikers" tales with a pseudo-philosophical meditation on the nature of evil.
- "A Piece of Wood" — one those speculative fiction stories that tries to make an important statement by starting with a silly premise, that a soldier has invented a device that can destroy all weapons.
- "The Messiah" — a Martian manifests as Christ to a Catholic priest, with tragicomic results.
- "G.B.S. - Mark V" — meditations of a robot.
- "The Utterly Perfect Murder" — an old man resolves to visit his childhood friend and enemy and kill him for all the misery he suffered.
- "Punishment Without Crime" — a man is sentenced to death for killing an android duplicate of his wife.
- "Getting Through Sunday Somehow" — an old Irishman rambles about the past.
- "Drink Entire: Against the Madness of Crowds" — a man meets a witch.
- "Interval in Sunlight" — this was one of the more memorable, though devoid of any fantastical elements, about a woman who wants to leave her joyless, verbally and emotionally abusive husband.
- "A Story of Love" — interesting, surprisingly thoughtful story about a thirteen-year-old with a crush on his teacher, who reciprocates his feelings on some level. Manages to examine age differences and societal taboos without being icky.
- "The Wish" — schmaltzy tale about a man who wants one last conversation with his dead father.
- "Forever and the Earth" — a SF writer brings Thomas Wolfe to the future to write about Mars and space travel.
- "The Better Part of Wisdom" — an old Irishman discovers his grandson is gay.
- "Darling Adolf" — an actor hired to play Hitler in a historical film wants to literally revive the Fuhrer's role.
- "The Miracles of Jamie" — dark-themed but not very original story of a boy who believes himself omnipotent, as a way of coping with his dying mother.
- "The October Game" — this is the creepiest story in the collection, and the most obviously horrific, about a man who conceives a horrible vengeance against his wife.
- "The Pumpernickel" — sentimental and kind of banal slice-of-life story.
- "Long After Midnight" — another gay-themed story, but frankly the plot slips my mind.
- "Have I Got a Chocolate Bar for You!" — a chocolate addict confesses to a priest, in another allegorical tale about redemption and pleasure and freedom.
In general, not a bad collection of stories, especially if you are a Ray Bradbury fan, but they didn't really excel in my opinion, although there is enough horror and creepiness in a few of them to make this good Halloween reading. 3.5 stars.