All Hallow’s Read: The October Country

NOTE: This is the eighth in a series of 31 reviews of scary short stories and novels. As part of All Hallow’s Read, I will be sharing all the scary stories that I think you should consider giving to someone for Halloween. Because this is a tradition intended for people of all ages, some of these titles will be for children and young adults, while others are meant strictly for adults. Happy Reading.

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Ray Bradbury is another one you should expect to find here again.

I’ve written so much about Bradbury that I’m afraid I have little to say here. At this point I would just be repeating myself again and again, recycling inadequate metaphors to explain what made him so brilliant. Usually this wouldn’t be a problem. It isn’t as if any of you have already read my essays on him and his work. What’s to stop me from copying and pasting those words here, delivering them to you secondhand, but looking fresh? Why should I start this entry again and again after only a few sentences?

What stops me is the work of Ray Bradbury itself. His words on paper shine so brightly they live in front of my eyes. They glow like the golden eyes of the Martians he loved so much to write about. None of them becoming stale. Always fresh, like an afternoon rain, washing away the grime of the hot morning sun. He could write about the same thing a hundred times and it would always shine that way. No matter how many stories of Mars he composed, the place never lost its luster. I imagine it’s because his passion never died. When bounding up from his bed in the morning, making way to his typewriter, I imagine he saw his loves in new ways that he had to share, keeping them gleaming.

All this doesn’t mean I’ve lost any love for writing about Bradbury. On the contrary, I’ve reached my ability to convey that adoration in new ways. It has gotten to the point that when I attempt articulating my feelings, all that comes out are nonsense words followed by a couple Ooos and Aahs.

Basically I am ever in awe of him.

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The October Country is the first book of his I read. At the time I’d known him mostly for his horror stuff. Books like The Martian Chronicles hadn’t even crossed my radar yet. To me, Bradbury was the dude who wrote the book (and screenplay) Something Wicked This Way Comes. So it wasn’t odd at all for me to pick up a collection of macabre short stories written by the same man. Not until a few months later did I come to find out most people labeled him a science-fiction writer.

That probably explains my unease with the term being so closely associated with Bradbury. Sure he wrote about rockets and Mars, but those were just decoration, or catalysts for the stories. He didn’t write about science or even really use the science to tell his stories. Isaac Asimov undoubtedly wrote science-fiction. The robot stories and Foundation were based on and dealt with fictional science. Ray thought of himself as a fantasy author, and I agree.

Some of my favorites of his fantasy stories appear in The October Country, an anthology that sets the atmosphere with its very title. None of the stories are any one thing. All of them can be a little funny, endearing, horrific, chilling, beautiful, and tragic. Considering the lack of rocket ships, there is still a startling range of everything Bradbury is great at.

“The Dwarf” is perhaps my favorite. There is such a sense of subtle foreboding in the story that when the mirrors shatter and the rain starts to fall, you’re in it.

“The Scythe” is a great one too. I remember reading it and sweating along with the vengeful father as he tended the fields, thus spreading destruction across the globe.

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“Skeleton” is both profound in its concept of the fear coming with discovering what lies beneath the skin and hilarious.

“The Small Assassin” is an odd one. Scary and unbelievable.

“The Lake” is special. It’s the story that made Bradbury the writer he is. I’ve heard him say that when he wrote that story, inspired by an actual incident in his childhood, he cried because he knew he had written something beautiful.

Looking back over these stories makes me nostalgic for a life I never lived. And even though all of them carry traces of the fantastic, I believe Ray Bradbury has lived them all. Dozens, hundreds of lifetimes, over his career, he has been able to claim as his own. And so can we, because he takes us there.

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