The Golden Apples of the Sun, by Ray Bradbury

the-golden-apples-of-the-sun-by-ray-bradbury coverGenre: Mixed Genre Anthology
Publisher: Perennial
Published: 1970
Reviewer Rating: five stars
Book Review by Eugene Wiley

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Ray Bradbury has always been an icon to me. I fell in love with his books, Something Wicked This Way Comes, Dandelion Wine, and The Martian Chronicles, long, long ago when I used to cut junior high-school to go to the Public Library!

In between looking up old microfilm on the Titanic and the Manson murders, I read Ray Bradbury and discovered how powerful a medium speculative fiction can be in the hands of a true Master. I think it is important to distinguish speculative fiction and science fiction, always, but especially in Bradbury’s case, where fantasy and fancy are as plentiful as technology or science.

The Golden Apples of the Sun is a classic collection of twenty-two stories from one of speculative fiction’s most imaginative and technically inspired writers. In this collection, Bradbury shows a dynamic range — from “weird tales” like, “The Foghorn”, to mainstream literary pieces such as, “I See You Never”, and “The Great Black and White Game”. Also on hand are “science-fiction” pieces like, “Embroidery”, a harrowing apocalyptic vignette, and the rockets and rayguns title track, “The Golden Apples of the Sun”.

One of the special qualities of Bradbury’s fiction is his lyricism. You either like this kind of flowery, exuberantly emotional writing — or you hate it. If you like it, and I do, then cracking a collection of Bradbury’s prose is like giving an alcoholic the keys to a distillery.

Stories like, “The April Witch”, mesmerize with their grace and technical execution. Here the plot revolves around a sprightly nether creature who infuses, through bodily possession, a teenage couple with their first romantic and sexual longings. This story is a masterpiece of wistful wisdom and playful, imaginative spontaneity. As always, Bradbury blends a tone of tragedy into this essentially affirmative pastoral tale, which makes for memorable reading, indeed.

“The Fog Horn”, equally lyrical, equally imaginative is more of an adventure piece. This coming of age story takes place in a lighthouse where young Johnny is undertaking tutelage from the old Keeper, McDunn. A terrible secret lies in store for the lad in the form of a behemoth under the sea whose loneliness exceeds its awesome physical size. This story, like many from Bradbury’s pen, reads as though it has always been, as though it was inevitable that it should be written exactly as he has done here.

One of the best pieces is a quirky, mystery style suspense story, “The Fruit at the Bottom of the Bowl”. This is a riff on the “perfect murder” scheme and theme, with a very Hitchcockian twist. William Acton was capable of methodical murder, but is he too methodical for his own good? There is a Poe-like vibe to this story of psychological self-undoing. It is also an example of how to bring an oddball idea for a story to exceptional fruition.

One of the most controversial pieces in the collection was always, “The Great Black and White Game”, which is a study in racial prejudice, with some disturbing Darwinian overtones. Here Bradbury evokes such an acute sense of nostalgia and youthful innocence that the harsher aspects of the tale are tempered with much sensitivity and humorous insight. This story still grabs at you today — another testament to Bradbury’s writing.

“The Sound of Thunder” is a well-known classic work of speculative fiction. This is the story of the “Time Safari” that went horribly wrong. You know, they stepped on a butterfly and… well, when they came back things just weren’t the same. This story alone would be worth the price of the collection. The fact of the matter is it’s just one of many masterworks in this single volume.

Do I have any criticisms of Bradbury? Sure. But not many. One thing that seems rather bothersome is the occasional over-intensity of his nostalgia and evocation of youth. Yes, I had brilliant times as a young man and even as a teenager, but sometimes Bradbury tends to over glorify the past and over-indict the present and future. This is an odd vision for a speculative writer to have, when so many of them are focused on the near or far future — or even the very distant past. Bradbury’s fiction is personal and as such is centered on his personal past, couched in the symbols and language of speculative fiction, driven by the imaginative freedom that is part of spec. fiction’s heritage.

Nowhere does he convey his sense of alienation and nostalgia for the past more clearly than in his tale, “The Pedestrian”, about a future without fiction, without books, and seemingly a world much closer to reality than we should ever allow it to be.

There’s no question that Ray Bradbury is a genius, that his writing comprises some of the most important and enduring works in speculative fiction. This collection showcases the Maestro in all his lyrical and imaginative splendor. Twenty-two stories, all well worth reading, some classics in the field.

It’s simply one of the best short story collections you are apt to find.

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