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Tuesday, 15 October 2013

Halloween –A Good Time To Remember Ray Bradbury

Seb Kirby

Halloween in a good opportunity to remember Ray Bradbury. Though he’s been thought of more as a science fiction writer in recent years, right from the start and throughout his writing career, Ray Bradbury was interested in the macabre, the bizarre and the unusual, all seen through the lens of his uplifting poetic imagination.
Ray Bradbury
Attribution: photo by Alan Light

The true story he recounts in the Introduction to Volume 1 of his collected short stories sets the scene. He takes us back to 1932 when, as a twelve year old, he met a remarkable performer who was part of a ‘seedy, two-bit’ carnival that came to town:

‘Mr Electrico sat in his electric chair, being fired with ten billion volts of pure blue sizzling power. Reaching out into the audience, his eyes flaming, his white hair standing on end, sparks leaping between his smiling teeth, he brushed an Excalibur sword over the heads of the children, knighting them with fire. When he came to me, he tapped me on both shoulders and then the tip of my nose. The lightening jumped into me, Mr Electrico cried: “Live forever!”’

Making excuses to go back there the next two nights, the twelve year old got to know the entertainer who told him he was a defrocked Presbyterian minister out of Cairo, Illinois. Then, Mr Electrico came up with the really surprising news. They had met before, he said, on the battlefield of the Ardennes in 1918.  “And here you are, born again, in a new body, with a new name. Welcome back!”

Ray Bradbury concludes that he had been uplifted by not one but two gifts from Mr Electrico – the gift of having lived once before (and of being told about it) …and the gift of trying somehow to live forever.  He continues: ‘A few weeks later I started writing my first short stories about the planet Mars. From that time to this, I have never stopped. God bless Mr Electrico, the catalyst, wherever he is.’

As a young boy myself not much older than Ray Bradbury was then, I began reading his stories. His science fiction stories came later for me; what captured my imagination first was the macabre mystery of the stories in ‘The October Country’, ‘I Sing The Body Electric!’ and the story that turned into a novel, ‘Something Wicked This Way Comes’. In these stories he draws on the surreal imagination set off by that carnival encounter back in 1932, producing quirky, challenging encounters that stretch the imagination. But this is a forgiving horror. As in all of his writing there is an optimism that rises despite the most difficult of odds and cuts through the darkness.

So, have a good Halloween!  Banish those monsters!  Ray Bradbury will be with you every step of the way.

Sadly, Ray Bradbury failed in one thing – he didn’t find a way of living forever as Mr Electrico had demanded. He died last year, aged 91. But he lives on in his wonderful stories, written in that clear, inspirational voice that is a model to so many authors today.

Here he is, talking about his writing and his hope of inspiring others.


Nothing like a murder to get the blood flowing

When James Blake discovers his wife has been murdered in their London home, he is determined to find her killer. 

Julia, a conservator - a protector and preserver of fine art - has left him with just two clues: the words help me on her mobile phone and a strange attachment of Michelangelo's Leda and the Swan. 

As the prime suspect of his wife's murder, James flees England and sets out on a trail of deception and danger across the sweeping landscapes of Venice and Florence into a dark underworld of corruption, a trail that will lead him to the killer - and the shocking truth behind the mystery.

Seb Kirby was literally raised with books - his grandfather ran a mobile library in Birmingham, UK, and his parents inherited a random selection of the books. Once he discovered a trove of well-used titles from Zane Gray’s Riders of the Purple Sage, HG Wells’ The Invisible Man and Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities to more obscure stuff, he was hooked.
He’s been an avid reader ever since.

Other inspirations include Franz Kafka’s Metamorphosis and The Trial, George Orwell 1984 and Animal Farm, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s One Day In The Life of Ivan Denisovich, Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury, Boris Pasternak’s Dr Zhivago, Arthur Koestler’s Darkness At Noon, Pale Fire by Vladimir Nabokov, Ken Kesey’s One Flew Over the Cukoo's Nest, Brave New World by Aldous Huxley ...
He is author of the James Blake thriller series, Take No More, Regret No More and, coming soon, Forgive No More, and the science-fiction thriller, Double Bind.

Extract from TAKE NO MORE below

Gianacarlo met Emelia on the corner of Via Ricasoli and Via degli Alfani, quiet streets just a short walk away from the Academia. He had not told her why he had suggested that they meet there.

She had been crying, he could see that. 'You all right?'

'Not really,' she said. 'Why are we meeting here?'

'There is something I want to show you.' He took her arm and walked her along Via Ricasoli towards the Academia.

They didn't make it easy for locals like Emelia to see inside. Most days the museum was besieged by tourists waiting for up to an hour to get in. But Giancarlo had a pass and that meant they could just walk in past the lines. Emelia did not complain but it was clear that she was apprehensive about where he was taking her.

'Why here? Why here?' was all she would say. 

Gianacarlo moved them on through the entrance hall and, in a few short minutes, they were standing in the Gallery of Slaves, the long corridor-like space that housed Michelangelo Buenorotti's unfinished sculptures - partially completed figures trapped in the huge blocks of stone from which it seemed they had failed to escape. They had been donated by Michelangelo to Cosimo Di Medici after they had been turned down by the Vatican for Pope Julius III's mausoleum.

Emelia stood and stared. Giancarlo did not say a word. She knew immediately why he had brought her here. Yes, he thought that her life was that of little more than that of a modern day slave, no different from the life of those souls trapped in those blocks of stone. She caressed the form of the Awakening Slave, running her hands over the cold, hard stone, feeling how the body shape had been worked out of the hidden structure of the stone, feeling the tool marks left behind as Michelangelo's chisels struck with such precision all those years ago. And she began to cry.

Gianacarlo was concerned that the gallery staff would have them removed for touching the sculptures but in the event, no-one came.

'So you brought me here, to show me this, to tell me that my life is no better than this?' The anger in her voice matched the tears in her eyes. 'Is this some new way you have found to drive me further down?'

'It's not designed to make you feel worse about yourself _______'.

'Then why bring me here to tell me something that I should already know? Don't you think that that is humiliating? Nothing to lose, eh?'

'That's not what I'm trying to say.' He tried to hold her but she pulled away.

'And I am so much the slave that I wouldn't understand any of this if you hadn't brought me here?'

'Look up,' Giancarlo said. He had managed to place his arm around her and was pointing her towards the statue of David in the circular gallery beyond. 'What do you see?'

Michelangelo's statue of David, fully three times life size, rising high above the surrounding tourists, looked back.

'We trap ourselves. We make slaves of ourselves,' he whispered. 'We make our own chains. The powerful look on without a care, inflated by the pride made possible by our entrapment.'

'And the David looks down on the gallery of slaves, and it's been like that for as long as anyone can remember,' she said. 'Where is the hope in that?'

She looked at him and he could see the anguish in her eyes. 'And you are no different. You use me and abuse me just like them. Why should I care if the sight of art gives you an excuse to seek to ease your conscience?'

'It doesn't have to be like that,' Giancarlo said. 'I'd never have known you if we hadn't both been as we are, here and now.'

1 comment:

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