Sunday, August 19, 2012

A Review of "Shadow Show"

Ray Bradbury passed away on June 5 this year at the age of 91, which by almost any standard of measurement is a good long run.  If each us run a footrace with the Grim Reaper, relatively few of us lead him such a merry chase, and virtually none of us create such a grand legacy in the process.

Editors Sam Weller and Mort Castle would have had no way of knowing that Shadow Show, their anthology of all-new stories from noted authors in tribute of Bradbury, would make its appearance in the same summer that found the grand old magician pulling his final magic act: dying, only to immediately begin the process of living forever in the hearts and minds of untold millions of readers, past, present, and future.

A great many cultural titans were asked for their feelings on the subject of Bradbury's passing, and everyone from Steven Spielberg to Barack Obama seemed genuinely moved.  Perhaps the most poignant observance came via Stephen King, who had this to say on his website:

Ray Bradbury wrote three great novels and three hundred great stories. One of the latter was called "A Sound of Thunder." The sound I hear today is the thunder of a giant's footsteps fading away. But the novels and stories remain, in all their resonance and strange beauty.

King himself is unfortunately not represented in Shadow Show, but his sentiment -- "the thunder of a giant's footsteps fading away" -- is splashed all over it.  It is, I have no hesitation in saying, a great anthology, filled to the brim with good stories, several of which may well turn into classics in their own right.

I'd like to briefly consider each of the stories in their turn, but before we do that, I think it is worth noting just how drenched in melancholy this anthology is.  It is as if nearly all of the represented authors (there are a few exceptions, but only a few) decided, when approached about the possibility of contributing a story to this collection, to reach within themselves and not merely pay tribute to Ray Bradbury, but to eulogize him in some way.  In at least two of these cases, the eulogy is nearly literal; in others, it is much more generalized, and in some it is less a eulogy than a lament for the fact of death itself.  A lament, yes, but also, in a way, an embracing of the fact.

It was always going to be a shame for Bradbury to die, but it seems proper somehow that an anthology like this one should appear in the immediate wake of his passing.  It seems preordained in some way, and somehow, it strikes me that Bradbury would have appreciated the timing.

More than that, he would probably have appreciated the stories.  So should we.

First up (after an introduction by editors Weller and Castle): "A Second Homecoming," a contribution from the man himself.  It is not a short story, but instead a nonfiction piece wherein Bradbury discusses the pride and satisfaction he feels at serving as a sort of literary father-figure to such a fine crop of descendants.

It is a brief piece -- barely two pages -- but is an awfully fine one.  It, perhaps as a result of the man's still-recent demise, literally made me weep.

When I look back on my career, I realize that I blundered my way into success.  Never once did I know what I was doing.  I just did it.  But I blundered with great enthusiasm and, most of all, with love.  I was in love with stories.  And now I find my children expressing their love, and I am so grateful.

Neil Gaiman

"The Man Who Forgot Ray Bradbury," By Neil Gaiman:

I may as well confess to you now that I -- apart from this anthology -- am mostly unfamiliar with the authors represented in its pages.  Sure, I'm knowledgeable about a few, and have at least heard of many of the ones I've never read.  Naturally, I've heard of Neil Gaiman, and in his case, I can even name numerous of his works.  But of all of them, the only one I've read is Coraline, and that only because a friend pressed it upon me and I was too weak to refuse.

I recognize this as a failing on my part.  Not the weakness vis-a-vis refusal, but my not having read more Neil Gaiman.  I know I ought to have blown my way through American Gods by now, and Neverwhere, and the various Sandman comics.  I know.  But look, the world contains WAY more books than I could ever consider finding the time to read; even if I were to compile a list of the ones I consider essential for me to read before I go where Ray Bradbury has gone, I'd have to live to be 400 in order to get it done.  It is, simply, not possible.

Gaiman is on my list, though.  Know that.  And know that if somehow I never am able to quite find the time to plow through his bibliography, I will at least be able to say I read his excellent story in this anthology.

Because, yes, "The Man Who Forgot Ray Bradbury" IS excellent.  Bradbury's "A Second Homecoming" struck me as being a bit similar to the type of thing a father would say to his children and grandchildren if he were able to give them a nice rousing speech from his deathbed.  Gaiman's story, then, struck me opening remarks at a wake.

The story itself is simple; it is a first-person tale of a man who seems to be in the process of, Alzheimer's-fashion, forgetting that there ever was such a person as Ray Bradbury.  And he frets that it might -- just might -- be possible that all God has really wanted from him is to remember Bradbury, and that if he does, indeed, forget him, so will everyone else.

I don't think he needs to worry about that, frankly.  Still, it is a beautiful story, surely one of the two or three best in the collection.  (Incidentally, an audio recording of Gaiman reading the story at a public appearance is available here.  WELL worth listening to.)

 You must learn a Shakespeare play; I will think of you as Titus Androniucs.  Or you, my friend, you could learn an Agatha Christie novel; you will be Murder on the Orient Express.  Someone else can learn the poems of John Wilmot, Earl of Rochester, and you, whoever you are, reading this, you can learn a Dickens book, and when I want to know what happened to Barnaby Rudge, I will come to you.  You can tell me.

Margaret Atwood

"Headlife," by Margaret Atwood: 

A short, nastily comedic tale about a rich man in the future who takes a few things for granted when he shouldn't.

I have little to say about this story, except to note that it is very good, and to also note that it is one of the few stories in the collection that really tries to replicate that Bradburian sense of black comedy.

It succeeds, too.

In some of his more extreme fantasies he watches his new muscles rippling  in the mirror like boa constrictors, then leaps out the window and soars from rooftop to rooftop like those ultrafit Chinese guys in the movies.  The Whatsit movies -- the word's at the edge of his brain.  Anyway, like that.  Then he'll swing in through some girl's window just as she's slipping into her peekaboo ruffles.  Maybe hair will sprout from him like a werewolf, and he'll lose all control and growl and rip and plunge and guzzle, and blood and flesh will...

Jay Bonansinga

"Heavy," by Jay Bonansinga:

I'd never heard of Jay Bonansinga before reading "Heavy," and if its quality is any indication, I've been missing out.

This is a fine story, but I have very little to say about it.  Reason: there is a big plot twist, and while the twist comes very early on in the story, it's a good one, and I'd hate to give it away.

So, in lieu of offering anything substantive, I'll merely point out that this is the first of several stories in the anthology that focus on the relationship between two best friends.  In that respect, the influence of Something Wicked This Way Comes is all over these stories.

At one of the tallest buildings in Los Angeles the contractor arrives after dark.  Riding the crystalline glass elevator up to the lavish, gleaming spires of the upper floors -- where the law offices and consultants burn the midnight oil to finance their BMWs and alimony payments -- the contractor finds Room 1201 and pauses.

Sam Weller

"The Girl in the Funeral Parlor," by Sam Weller:

A flower-delivery-man falls sees a dead girl in a funeral parlor, falls in love with her, and becomes convinced that they were intended to be soul mates.  Not in the necrophilic sense, but in the sense that they would have become soul mates if they had met in life.

This is one of the stories in the book that I'm a little on the fence about.  It's a well-written story, but I think the central idea -- that someone could, essentially, fall in love with a corpse -- is a bit too much for me.  I think any notion of love that is based purely on appearances, and not on communication of some sort, is not romantic love.  It may be love of some sort, but it isn't romance.

In short, I suppose I'm saying that I reject the thesis of this story.  Your mileage may vary.

Her lips were lined in black with little sharp points at the edges, her lips glossed light pink, her hands folded across her chest.  The top of a black-and-white polka-dot skirt was visible.  You couldn't see her legs.  She looked like she had lived in the fifties.  Standing there, I stared. The more I looked, the more I itched to touch that soft sweater, run my fingertips down her arm or across her smooth face.  I glanced over my shoulder.

David Morrell

"The Companions," by David Morrell:

The first of several ghost stories to be found in Shadow Show, this one is the tale of a married couple who has an encounter with a couple of men at an opera.  Are those men ghosts?

Read the story and find out.  I doubt you'll regret it.

About a third of the audience was leaving through the front gate.  But coming from the opposite direction, from the parking lot, Alexander and Brother Richard emerged from the darkness, making their way through the courtyard.  What puzzled Frank wasn't that they had left and were coming back.  Rather it was that a spotlight seemed to be following them, outlining them, drawing Frank's attention to their progress through the crowd.  They almost glowed.

 By the way, I've failed to mention that each story is followed by brief pieces wherein the authors say a bit about the story, or about Bradbury, or both.  For example, Morrell explains how an actual incident inspired "The Companions."

Thomas F. Monteleone and friend

"The Exchange," by Thomas F. Monteleone:

The only story in the collection that actually makes Bradbury himself a character (albeit under a different name), "The Exchange" hypothesizes a meeting between a young Bradbury figure and an old Lovecraft figure.

One of the best stories in the book, for my money, and it seems appropriate that Monteleone's story leaves "Jim Holloway" as a young man, bursting with energy and imagination.

Their handshake was brief, but long enough for Jim to sense the weakness in Phillips's grip.  It was not that limp, dead fish that some people offered but an attempt at strength forever lost.  Again, Jim felt overwhelmed by an essential sadness that seemed to radiate from this dessicated man who looked far older than his years.

Lee Martin

"Cat on a Bad Couch," by Lee Martin:

This is the story of a man whose marriage is in slow dissolution, and of the relationships he has with a both a scruffy cat and a semi-mysterious neighbor.  It is primarily a character piece, and it is a good one.

There are several stories in Shadow Show that do not immediately strike me as having much of anything to do with Ray Bradbury.  This is one.  In his afterword, Martin notes that he is writing in response to a specific Bradbury story, "I See You Never."  I don't know that story, so maybe if I did I would have gotten the connection without having to have them spelled out for me.

In any case, it doesn't much matter that "Cat on a Bad Couch" is relatively unlike Bradbury (at least in my eyes).  It is a good story; that, really, is all that matters.

He'd already curled up on the window seat, smack-dab in the middle of the ramie-covered cushions Vonnie had purchased from IKEA earlier that morning.  In an instant, he was asleep.  Vonnie and I could see him  through the front windows, and I could tell from the way she looked at him there'd be nothing I could say to convince her that a bit-eared, gimpy, smart-mouthed stray was nothing but bad news.

Joe Hill

"By the Silver Water of Lake Champlain," by Joe Hill:

There are two primary reasons that I purchased Shadow Show: one of those is Joe Hill, who is an author whose work I collect.  You may have heard me mention him on this blog a time or two.

Unsurprisingly (to me), Hill's story is one of the book's highlights.  Its excellence begins with the opening sentence:

The robot shuffled clank-clank into the pitch dark of the bedroom, then stood staring down at the humans.

The robot is not a robot at all, but a little girl, Gail, pretending to be a robot.  Hill reveals that fact less than a page later, and from there, the story becomes the tale of a girl's relationship with a boy, their fanciful mock-discovery -- or is it...? (wink-wink) -- of a dead "dinosaur" on the edge of a lake, and their efforts to get somebody to pay attention to them.

Hill here is playing with Dandelion Wine-esque notions of children at play and the world their play creates, but he's got tricks up his sleeve, oh yessir he does.  As is the case in most of his best stories, he has taken Bradbury's magic-realism and made it his own.

The mist streamed in off the surface of the water.  By some trick of the light, their shadows telescoped, so each girl appeared as a shadow within a larger shadowThey made long, girl-shaped tunnels in the vapor, extending away, those multiple shadows lines up like a series of dark, featureless matryoshka dolls.  Finally they dwindled in on themselves and were claimed by the fishy-smelling fog.

I'd never connected the Bradbury influence upon Joe Hill before, but he points it out in his afterword, which in and of itself is one of the best pieces of writing in the entire book.  Hill himself is a master of the short form, and I wish he practiced it a bit more often.

Dan Chaon

"Little America," by Dan Chaon:

As I read this story, I didn't think of Ray Bradbury so much as I thought of Peter Straub: specifically, of the beginning of Ghost Story.  Like that, this is the story of a man who has kidnapped a child, only not for the perverted and sadistic reasons we might at first assume.

The Bradbury connection is made VERY evident by Chaon's afterword.

As with Jay Bonansinga, I had never heard of Dan Chaon before reading this book; as with Bonansinga, I feel like I might have been missing out on something.  "Little America" is a very good story, and if Chaon has similar ones up his sleeve, I need to check them out someday.

There is no handle on the passenger side of the car, so Peter cannot open his door.  If he wanted to, he could slide across to the driver's seat, and open Mr. Breeze's door, and roll out onto the pavement and try to scramble as fast as he could into the darkness, and maybe he could run fast enough, zig-zagging, so that the bullets they'd shoot would only nip the ground behind him, and he could find his way into some kind of brush or forest and run and run until the voices and the lights were far in the distance.

John McNally

"The Phone Call," by John McNally:

A haunting tale of why a man's phone bill was so expensive.

This is a great story, but I ain't tellin' you squat about it apart from that.

Dougie had no idea what time it was.  He passed the hours thinking about Nurse Jill, who had long, straight hair like Susan Dey in The Partridge Family, and how she had rubbed her hand over his hair and said, "I know girls who'd kill for those curls."  She leaned close to him, almost to his mouth, and whispered, "But you probably hate them, don't you?"  With her mouth so close to his own, Dougie wanted to sit up and kiss her.  Instead, he stared into her foam-green eyes until she touched his nose with the tip of her finger and stood up.

Joe Meno

"Young Pilgrims," by Joe Meno:

Well, add Joe Meno to the list of authors I feel poorer for never having read before...

One thing that surprised me a bit about Shadow Show is that there are relatively few science-fiction stories -- you know, about rocketships and stuff -- in the book.  One of the few is Joe Meno's "Young Pilgrims," which is about a couple of teenaged humans on an alien world.  They are part of a group of people who have abandoned Earth in pursuit of religious isolation and freedom, hence "pilgrims."  They find an Edenlike garden spot, and they also run afoul of the local minister, who isn't terribly understanding when it comes to certain trespasses.

Another good story, and one with some interesting ideas lying beneath the surface.  I'm not entirely sure I like the ending, but even if I don't, it's a good story.

With his left hand he took hold of the girl Lana's heavy silver glove, his breath -- coming faster as they climbed along the incline -- fogging up the inside of his convex helmet.  Lana slipped a little in the dirt, and Quinn had to hold onto her with both hands.  Once they stumbled to the peak, they both rested, Quinn leaning over, his breath appearing and then disappearing along the seamless inside of the helmet, Lana sitting down in the dust, holding her heavy helmet up with both hands.

Robert McCammon

"Children of the Bedtime Machine," by Robert McCammon:

Remember earlier, when I said there were two primary reasons why I bought Shadow Show?  Well, if Joe Hill was one, Robert McCammon was the other, and in both cases, I am pleased to be able to say that my reasons were good ones.  Even if all of the other stories in this anthology had been duds, which they decidedly are not, then the Hill and McCammon stories are both good enough that I'd still feel like I'd bought the book for a good reason.

In fact, "Children of the Bedtime Machine" is my favorite story in the anthology.  It may or may not be yours, but I'd say the odds are quite good that it'll be in the upper third for virtually any reader.

I don't want to say a whole heck of a lot about the story (for example, I don't want to say who the children are, or what the bedtime machine is), but I can tell you this: it takes place in the future, after society has collapsed as the result of a devastating war, and is about a woman who grows puny tomatoes, which she sometimes trades for ancient cans of pork-'n'-beans and soup.  She also reads, from a treasured and elderly book from the distant past of 1988.  The inscription: "Live Forever!"

This, of course, may have meaning for Ray Bradbury fans.

This is a wholly successful story that brought tears into my eyes, and brought 'em out onto my cheeks, too.  Partially, this is because of the fact that McCammon is coincidentally very much in tune with what Brabdury himself has to say in "A Second Homecoming."  I think that if McCammon has noticed how close his own message is to being an acknowledgement of (and a piece of evidence proving the truth of) Bradbury's words in that piece, he must be very satisfied with what he has done in this story.

And if not, he damn well should be.

The woman enjoyed walking through the big store.  Sometimes, when she was particularly lonely, she came here and just walked.  Didn't barter at all.  She looked at old clothes and their labels.  She looked at old shoes and old hats, and she tried to  picture in her mind who'd worn them.  Infrequently she found a book or two there.  Or parts of books, because the sun and heat were not kind to paper.  It had been a long time since there'd been any new books.  Long before her son had died.  In fact, she couldn't remember exactly when.  War wiped away everything, even happy memories.

Ramsey Campbell, who appears to have an awesome library

"The Page," by Ramsey Campbell:

Like Neil Gaiman, I am keenly aware that Ramsey Campbell is someone whose work I really ought to have read by now.  I know; I know; this is nobody's fault but my own.  He's on the list, okay?

"The Page" is the story of a man (Ewan) who, while on vacation with his wife on a beach, sees a man chasing a piece of paper that is being blown by the wind.   The man does not catch it, but Ewan later stumbles across it, and, intrigued by what he reads there, determines to first find out about the author of the book it came from, and then to return the page to its proper owner.

Naturally, it turns out to not be that simple.

He couldn't see the man at any of the villas outside Ikonikos, all of which were white as tombs and gave as little sign of life.  Instinct, if even that, took him down the cliff path.  The sea was still helplessly restless, although at the horizon it appeared to be promisig peace.  The wind drove Ewan along the beach and unfurled veils of sand for him to walk on.  Beyond the rocky outcrop the next bay was unpopulated.  Nothing moved except the waves and, trapped by the wind in a crevice of the cliff, a lively piece of paper.

Mort Castle

"Light," by Mort Castle:

As Bradbury apparently did for Thomas Wolfe in a story called "Forever and the Earth," this story is Mort Castle's attempt to bring Marilyn Monroe back to life, even if only for a little while.  I spent the first few pages of the story wondering if it was poetry rather than prose.  I ended up deciding it was probably prose, but in the end, it doesn't really matter, I suppose.

Not my favorite story in the book, if I'm being honest, but not by any means bad.

     Marilyn Monroe lies naked and dying.
     Respiration: Shallow and irregular.
     Blue-fade-to-black above the half-moons of her fingernails.
     Eyelids seem to thicken as you watch.
     Pasty white drool at the left corner of her mouth.
     But if you look very hard, there is an almost imperceptible shimmering.  Faint, like a trick of weary eyes.
     Not rising from her but settling about her.

Alice Hoffman

"Conjure," by Alice Hoffman:

I liked this story a lot.  It takes the two-very-different-best-friends trope from Something Wicked This Way Comes (a novel name-checked in this story, by the way) and changes the gender from boys to girls, and then tells a story of one girl who does a dangerous thing to help keep the other girl from doing an even more dangerous thing.

Good stuff.

In a fiction it was possible to discern the wicked from the pure of heart.  Roses withered when devious individuals passed by; blackthorns grew about them.  But such clues were not as evident in real life.  "Judge a person the same way you judge a book," Mrs. Fanning suggested.  "A search for beauty and truth, a gut response to what feels a lie.  Intuition."  She seemed quite sure of herself.  "Imagination."

not John Maclay

"Max," by John Maclay:

First things first: I'm not at all positive that that is actually John Maclay picture above.  I found the photo on a website accompanying a piece written by him, and it isn't captioned, so I can't be sure.  It's an amusing photo, though, so I have appropriated it for my own uses.

[UPDATE:  Editor Mort Castle informs me via comment that this is not, in fact, John Maclay.  I think I'll leave it, though.  Also: holy crap, Mort Castle read my post!  How awesome is that?!?]

"Max" is the story of Masonism, and suggests that Tilers might be something more than human.

To be honest, I didn't get a whole heck of a lot out of this story, but at the very least, it is -- in its telling of an old man approaching death, who might not really be dying at all -- thematically of a piece with the rest of the anthology.

Dressed in a tuxedo, as were all the officers, Max was tall, balding, and cadaverous.  He was friendly enough but spoke with a quiet, nasal voice and had a withdrawn air about him.  No one knew where he worked, or where he lived, but that wasn't unusual, since Masons don't often share such details, and don't ask about them, concentrating instead on who a person is within the lodge.

Jacquelyn Mitchard

"Two of a Kind," by Jacquelyn Mitchard:

I respected this story more than I actually liked it, which is quite probably an unfair way of looking at it.  Allow me to explain myself.

This is the story of two cousins who, in grand Something Wicked fashion, are best friends and are also quite different in some respects.  These cousins, though, are -- thanks to the fact that their fathers are bothers who married twin sisters -- nearly identical in appearance.  Damn, that is a great idea for a couple of characters.

The story is about how one of the boys gets into some trouble, and then later goes to war and gets into even more trouble, and then comes back and gets into even more trouble, except really, all the troubles are the same trouble.

Good story, well-written, but it feels a bit like a short novel crammed into about thirty pages.  I am, for the record, willing to concede the possibility that I am fault here, not the story; and if that's so, then you may possibly find it to be one of your favorites in the book.

That's why I never told her about it.  Not in so many words.  I never told her none of it, although it's wrong, to the church, to everyone, for a man to keep a secret from his wife, a gentle and true wife that Joanie is.  I do believe she does know.  It's like something she was born knowing.  But she never asked me anything but had I been with Nora before her and me married -- and I hadn't done anything but kiss Nora.  I didn't have to lie.  I never been with no on but Joanie, the truth of it is, though she don't know that either, and she has no need to know that, as a wife.  A man has his pride.

Gary A. Braunbeck

"Fat Man and Little Boy," by Gary A. Braunbeck:

Undoubtedly one of the weirdest stories in Shadow Show, this one takes place in some sort of hypothetical future where fat people aren't allowed to go outside anymore, until they whip themselves into shape and make themselves more presentable.  However, one man has decided to go somewhat in the opposite direction.

It's a simple story, and it kinda charmed my socks off.  It's just as likely to gross you out, but either way, it's worth reading.

"Well, hello there, boy," said the fat man from his bed, which was really four, all  king-sized, all pushed together to make a bed the size of two parked flatbed trucks.  The fat man's upper body was held up by about a thousand pillows because if he were ever to lie all the way down, he would not be able to breathe.  He always had trouble breathing, so he kept a tall oxygen tank next to the bed.

Bonnie Jo Campbell

"The Tattoo," by Bonnie Jo Campbell:


I seem to compiling quite a list of authors whose names I have to add to my to-read list.

"The Tattoo" is the story of a young engaged couple who go to the carnival, where the man meets a tattooed woman who tattoos, Hogwarts-fashion, move and tell stories, many of which don't end particularly well.  He decides he wants one of those tattoos for himself, and goes to see the Gypsy woman about giving him one.

This is a mostly light-hearted relationship story, and if I had to complain about it in any way, I'd complain that it didn't go on for another few pages, so I'd know what happened next!

He doled out a few more tickets, and they entered the twelve-by-twenty-foot tent.  MacGregor expected to see a big woman posing in a bathing suit, her skin covere entirely with tattoos, but the woman seemed of average height and size, and she wore glasses.  It was hard to tell her shape precisely, because she was sitting on a cushioned stoll facing away from them.  She seemed young, or certainly no older than MacGregor.  She was paying no attention to the half dozen carnival patrons in the tent, who were mumbling and pointing at her, but was instead engaged in writing something in a notebook.  Her hair was pulled into a sensible bun, and she wore a backless black evening gown that revealed the brilliant colors stretching from her tailbone up to her hairline.  MacGregor noticed that the images on her skin appeared to be moving.

Audrey Niffenegger

"Backward In Seville," by Audrey Niffenegger:

 Helene is a middle-aged woman on a cruise filled with old people; among them is her father, who is old and reaching the point of slipping away into that good night.

Helene wishes she could do something to change that.

This is a dark story that ought to be depressing, but somehow isn't.  I spent most of my time disliking it, until I got to the end and realized what it was actually about, at which point in time I perofrmed an abrupt about-face.  And here we are.

The canal was wide enough now, and the ship began to turn.  The world revolved around Helene and she saw the way ahead; they were about to pass under an enormous bridge.  She titled her head back to see the silhouette of the underside of the bridge, menacing and close in the dark.  She felt dizzy.  She looked down and saw her hands on the railing...

Charles Yu

"Earth (A Gift Shop)," by Charles Yu:

This amusing little tale is a satirical piece about Earth's future.  I suspect Bradbury himself would have chuckled mightily to read it.

I chuckled for him, just in case he never got to read it.

Eventually one of us realized that the most popular part of the museum was the escalator ride.  Although you would think interstellar travel was have sort of raised the bar on what was needed to impress people, there was just something about moving diagonally that seemed to amuse the tourists, both kids and adults, and then one of us finally woke up and said, well, why not give them what they want?

Julia Keller

"Hayleigh's Dad," by Julia Keller:

Of the several horror stories in Shadow Show, I think this one might be the most effective.

It's the story of two girls who aren't supposed to play in the basement, but do, and what happens next?

My lips are sealed.

Sharon and Hayleigh had both turned eight years old that fall.  They had not been best friends very long.  Friendship was a serious thing, with clear, grimly implacable rules.  Everybody had one and only one best friend, and that person had to be chosen as your companion every single time, on the playground at recess, or eating lunch in the cafeteria, or whatever.

Dave Eggers

"Who Knocks?", by Dave Eggers:

No point in me saying anything about this short-short, except to say that if "Hayleigh's Dad" isn't the most effective horror story in Shadow Show, then "Who Knocks?" is.

Flip a coin; you don't lose either way.

I miss Quetico, but I won't be going back anytime soon.  Not after what happened to a girl named Frances Brandywine.

Bayo Ojikutu

"Reservation 2020," by Bayo Ojikutu:

Earlier, I mentioned having been somewhat disappointed by Jacquelyn Mitchard's "Two of a Kind" because I felt like it was a novel that had been crammed into a short story.

It's a similar situation with this story, although not in the same way.  Here, we don't really get a complete story; instead, we get a situation and some characters, and a set-up, but we really don't get a story that is complete in and of itself.  As a result, I was dissatisfied by the story: I wanted to know more about the world, and about what would happen to it.

It may be, though, that Ojikutu anticipated that response, and was counting on it.  What we've got here is a tale of an America that has rounded up minorities and put them in camps (hence the title).  In a way, it feels as if walking out of the story with a great big howwhywhenwhat in the front of our minds might be the right response.

Still, I wish there was more.  Which means I'd better keep an eye out for Bayo Ojikutu; he seems as if he might be the kind of guy who could produce a masterpiece any second now.

Joseph squinted to read the sideways words scribbled along the black cotton of the boy's T-shirt, neck to hem, as he rolled along: IN THIS DARK PIT, ALONE, YOU ARE LOST.  BUT HERE, I CAN SEE, TAKE MY HAND, FOLLOW ME.

Kelly Link

"Two Houses," by Kelly Link:

I've read some of Kelly Link's stories.  Not enough to be an expert, but enough to know that she is, as they say, the shit.  So I was looking forward to her story, and it didn't let me down.

I won't try to explain it.  I'd sound like a moron.  So let me instead just give you one detail: the story involves two spaceships, which have been nicknamed The House of Secrets and The House of Mystery.  That's enough to tickle a comics fan like me (even though I've never read either of those horror anthologies).

And yet, amazingly, those are not the houses referred to in the story's title!

Or are they...?

Deeply good stuff here.

The sleepers floated gracelessly in the recycled air, bumped softly against one another.  They clasped hands, as if to reassure one another that they were real, then pushed off again.  Their heads were heavy with dreams.  There were three of them, two women and one man.

Harlan Ellison

"Weariness," by Harlan Ellison:

At only about three pages, this is one of the shortest stories in Shadow Show, but it's good, and it has the virtue of having been written by one of the very few men who can be said to be arguably as good a writer of short stories as Ray Bradbury.  Ellison, like Bradbury, moves in and out sci-fi into horror and back again, sometimes occupying the two places simultaneously.

Here, he's taking on no smaller a topic than the end of the universe. In his afterword, which is excellent, he indicates that it might be the final story he ever publishes; he also indicates that he and Ray are running out of time, and in Ray's case, he was right.

We've still got Harlan, at least for a while, and the world seems like a better place for it.

Very near the final thaw of the Universe, the last of them left behind, the last three of the most perfect beings who had ever existed, stood waiting for the transitional moment.  The neap tide of all time.  The eternal helix sang its silent song in stone; and the glow of What Was to Come had bruised itself to a ripe plumness.


Final thoughts: this is a fine, fine anthology; of its 26 stories, I'd say a bare minimum of sixteen of them are excellent, and of the remaining ten, there are only a couple I'd say even get close to being bad.  In short, this is an anthology worthy of paying tribute to the memory of Ray Bradbury.

He will truly live forever, and a few of these stories might, too.


  1. Thank you.

    Always gratifying to be read seriously.

    Mort Castle

    PS. Not a picture of John Maclay.

    1. Arghh! I knew that photo was too good to be true...

      By the by, I have loaned the book to a friend who is a MASSIVE Marilyn Monroe fan, and I'm expecting that she will go nuts over "Light."

      Thanks for bringing the book into the world; it's a better place for it!

  2. Is that not John Maclay photo of William S Burroughs?

    I haven't read anything in here yet except the Bradbury intro, (which indeed was quite moving) the Gaiman story (which I also greatly enjoyed - and I'll add the obligatory "WHAT YOU NEVER READ SANDMAN!" nerdrage) and the Dan Chaon piece. That guy is the bomb - his 'Among the Missing' is really fantastic reading.

    I'm very much looking forward to these now - great write-ups/ chosen excerpts.

    1. Right you are, sir; William S. Burroughs indeed. Not sure how I missed that one.

      I have never read "Sandman," it is true. I almost bought the first volume once, but I realized that it would only lead to me buying all the other volumes, and I am determined to complete my Alan Moore collection before starting any new ones.

      I'll get to it one of these days!