Now in his 80s, Ray Bradbury continues to turn out the kind of imaginative and insightful short stories that have made him the grand old man of American science fiction (as noted by the National Book Foundation when it awarded Bradbury its 2000 Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters). His latest collection, One More for the Road, contains 25 stories written over a period of more than 40 years. Most of the pieces are published here for the first time, making the volume a treasure trove for the Bradbury fan. These are familiar later-years Bradbury stories, dealing with some of his recurring subjects: golf, movies and (in a gesture that will please many long-time readers) Laurel and Hardy. In a brief afterword, the author explains how he first became enthralled by the comedic duo.
Some of the stories are softer than others, but some will stick with you long, long after you read them. None of Bradbury's creations can be summed up in one word or a single phrase. A story like "Tangerine" in which a man recognizes a waiter as one of a crowd he ran with as a young man deals with memory, aging, recognition, discovery, tragedy and more in just a few pages. Here are a few more of the best: "Time Intervening," a circular wonder of a story in which a man looks backward and forward at his own life; "My Son, Max," in which a lip-reader follows a family trying rather disastrously to come to terms with one another; and the heart-breaking "Heart Transplant," in which a man and a woman make a wish that they would both "fall back in love, you with your wife, me with my husband." In the comic/tragic title story, a publisher agrees to publish a novel on small roadside signs all across the country. For a few minutes we're lost in this idea: it's a new style of storytelling and the ultimate road trip all in one. But this is the Internet age, and we quickly find that the idea's time has passed.
Bradbury has a light, almost ephemeral touch that belies the underlying depth of feeling in his writing. His favorite mode is nostalgia, but not for the past or for his youth: he is nostalgic for the best parts of all of us. Gavin Grant reads, writes and publishes science fiction in Brooklyn.