Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Bradbury 31, Day 26: "Zero Hour"

As with yesterday's entry, we have a story in which adults are betrayed by their own brood. Ray Bradbury's "Zero Hour" was printed first in 1947 at the dawn of the Cold War and I can only imagine it must have been a reflection of the anxieties of the time. In this story, Martian invaders gather intelligence and aid in their invasion from Earth children; the children's scheming is believed to be mere playing by their unconcerned parents until the titular Zero Hour arrives.

It's been adapted to radio a few times - on Dimension X in 1950 as a double-feature with "There Will Come Soft Rains" (listen to it at here), on Escape in 1953 (listen to it at here) and on Suspense in 1955 (listen to it at here). They're all very good, but I feel the Dimension X version hits the climax with the most force.

In 1953, Al Feldstein and Jack Kamen adapted the tale for EC Comics and did a pretty great job. In 1992 it was adapted for television's Ray Bradbury Theater, but I can't really recommend this version. The acting is not only inferior compared to the radio versions, it's just not very good, full stop. The terrifying climax is particularly underwhelming, considering the potency of the radio adaptations.

More horror from Bradbury tomorrow!

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Bradbury 31, Day 25: "Boys! Raise Giant Mushrooms in Your Cellar!"

Well then; this is Ray Bradbury's story about mushrooms conquering the world. And yet, despite the hokey premise, it first appeared on the rather grounded program Alfred Hitchcock Presents titled "Sepcial Delivery." It's also known as "Come into My Cellar," but "Boys! Raise Giant Mushrooms in Your Cellar!" is just the most fun title. It concerns precisely what the title indicates as boys raise mushrooms and soon the people who consume them are part of an alien plot. The story contains a quote from Macbeth which points to the title of another Bradbury work: "Something Wicked This Way Comes." The Hitchcock adaptation is perfectly creepy.

In 1989 it returned to television under the "Boys!" title via The Ray Bradbury Theater, but I'm not particularly fond of that version - it plays the idea for laughs. I mean, it is a rather laughable idea, but so are many horror stories - played straight, it's effective. Of course, in the era of the Red Scare the concept of children turning on their parents was a more insidious one; by 1989, the Cold War was being served its pink slip.

Fortunately, another great adaptation was on its way; Topps comics enlisted the one and only Dave Gibbons to draw an adaptation (as "Come into My Cellar") in 1992. Gibbons' legendary mastery of pages with plenty of panels was used to good effect in this version, as seen above with the tightened focus perfectly representing the sense of agitation and indescribable fear. It's one of the best of the Topps comics.

More spooky Bradbury tomorrow!

Monday, October 24, 2016

Bradbury 31, Day 24: "The Small Assassin"

There are only eight more days until Halloween and I'll be featuring a Ray Bradbury story which is season-appropriate up 'til then! How about "The Small Assassin," a story best summed up as "killer baby." Bradbury published it in 1946 and it's perhaps the most primordial example of Bradbury's recurring "children are terrible" theme. You can't go much further back than infancy! Now, some people will tell you a child only a few months old couldn't possibly plot murder against it's own parents. Well, I kinda like the story's explanation:
"What is more at peace, more dreamfully content, at ease, at rest, fed, comforted, unbothered, than an unborn child? Nothing. It floats in a sleepy, timeless wonder of nourishment and silence. Then, suddenly, it is asked to give up its berth, is forced to vacate, rushed out into a noisy, uncaring, selfish world where it is asked to shift for itself, to hunt, to feed from the hunting, to seek after a vanishing love that once was its unquestionable right, to meet confusion instead of inner silence and conservative slumber! And the child resents it! Resents the cold air, the huge spaces, the sudden departure from familiar things. And in the tiny filament of brain the only thing the child knows is selfishness and hatred because the spell has been ruddely shattered. Who is responsible for this disenchantment, this rude breaking of the spell? The mother. So here the new child has someone to hate with all its unreasoning mind. The mother has cast it out, rejected it. And the father is no better, kill him, too! He's responsible in his way!"

This was a popular tale to imitate; I've certainly found a few imitators in Atlas Comics of the 1950s such as John Romita's "It!" in Strange Tales #4. EC Comics used their relationship with Bradbury to print an authorized version by Al Feldstein & George Evans and did it expertly, in my opinion.

The first place I heard of "The Small Assassin" was actually the television adaptation on The Ray Bradbury Theater. It was dramatized pretty well, and while I've complained that this series frequently spoiled the conclusions of horror stories, this time they did it just right. "A scalpel."

Another ghoulish Ray Bradbury tale tomorrow!

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.