Ray Bradbury Writes Noir: Death Is a Lonely Business
EDWARD A. GRAINGER FROM CRIMINAL ELEMENT
Ed here: This is one of my favorite Ray Bradbury collections. Plenty of used copies available.
I suspect most people think of science fiction and fantasy when they hear the name Ray Bradbury, who—along withIsaac Asimov, Phillip K. Dick, Robert A. Heinlein, andArthur C. Clarke—represented the very best of modern thought-provoking and socially-conscious escapism. His Fahrenheit 451,The Martian Chronicles, The Illustrated Man, to name a few, are required reading for any serious student of sci-fi/fantasy. But apart from his legions of dedicated fans, many may not be aware that Mr. Bradbury took a stab at several noir novels rather late in his career, the first of which was 1985’s Death Is a Lonely Business, his first full-length novel in over a decade. The book is dedicated to several notables of crime fiction including Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett, and Ross Macdonald. To their noir hardboiled legacy, he writes in his own Bradbury-ian elegance, fusing the well-worn (and, frankly, by then, tired) detective novel with a great deal of his distinct lyrical flair. Examples: “books clustered like vultures with their black feathers and dusty golden stares” and “Venice was and is full of lost places where people put up for sale the last worn bits of their souls, hoping no one will buy.” To his credit, Mr. Bradbury never borders on parody or pastiche (a problem I’ve noticed with other writers when attempting to emulate the golden era masters) and instead paves his own path down those shadowed mean streets cluttered with desperate and longing characters.
The novel opens with an unnamed twenty-seven-year old protagonist—a writer very much like the young Ray Bradbury—who irreverently calls himself the Great American Novelist, traveling on a lonely railcar with only one other man on the train. The fellow passenger begins eerily moaning and wandering about, which is enough to creep out the writer, but the chill culminates when the eccentric rider whispers to the writer’s back, “Death is a lonely business.” Bradbury had me wondering in this scene, is this other passenger flesh and blood or a spectral presence?
After the writer quickly disembarks, attempting to forget the dreadful voice “exhaling vapors of fear,” he retires to his barren room where he stares at the blank page of an unfinished book. He lives a meagre existence, with his only source of income being an occasional sale to a detective or science fiction pulp magazine, and those are few and far between. Adding to his despair, he’s missing his girlfriend, Peg, who is studying far away in Mexico City.
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