Pulp Cult: The Terrible Futures Of Ray Bradbury

Art & Culture

It’s not even December and it’s cold enough to freeze the balls off a brass monkey. What a great phrase. D’ya know where it comes from? Apparently, when Chinese and Japanese craftsmen made tat to sell to tourists in the 19th Century (not sure how big tourism was before Ryan Air, but bear with me), a mini brass statue of the three wise monkeys was a common top seller. Except, there used to be four monkeys – and while the first three were in the familiar see no evil – hear no evil – say no evil pose, the forth was covering his balls. Bang no evil? Idk. Anyway, these brass monkeys were often used as a simile for coldness, and back in more refined times writers would note that a particularly chilly day was cold enough to freeze the tail/ nose off a brass monkey. Then, gradually, and with typical Anglo Saxon ribaldry, tail got swapped for balls. And there we are.

This has absolutely nothing to do with Ray Bradbury, but I feel it’s the kind of weird detail that he could have spun a story out of. I love Ray Bradbury, even as I’m increasingly realising that he was a crotchety old right wing misanthrope that almost certainly hated everybody. Later in his life he claimed that Fahrenheit 451 actually had nothing to do with McCarthyism and the dangers of censorship, and everything to do with the controlling nature of minority groups ‘policing’ free speech. This seems like such pony to me, that I’m just going to assume that his mind was rotted by years of watching Fox News, and ruminate that its best not to read interviews with artists you admire. I had a similar feeling the day I read John Lydon’s op-ed for The Sun about how much he liked William and Kate, and how great royal weddings were, and how it was only the Queen he didn’t like, and how, by the way, he had a really expensive book out to promote. Why John? Why?  

I’m at danger of drowning in tangents here, so let’s get it back to Ray Bradbury. The great thing about Ray Bradbury is that he worked like no other writer. Bradbury was churning out a story a week for years, and the quality is remarkably high. And now, thanks to the wonders of Youtube, which Ray would have definitely hated, a bunch of his best stories are available as podcasts. And I’m going to suggest some to you.

The thing that Bradbury understood so well is that kids are fucking terrifying. He has stories where he does horrible things to children and he has stories were he has children do horrible things, and they’re amongst his best. I think I’m going to start off with a truly nasty Halloween number where the children don’t have a chance. It may be a month too late, but the nights are dark, the air is chilly, and I can’t think of a better thing to disquiet the senses on a winter’s eve. Titled The October Game, this story finds Bradbury at his mean-spirited best. It describes an irredeemably unpleasant man creeping towards gleeful grotesquery. There’s no hope and no light and somehow Bradbury makes the experience of listening to this bleakness distinctly enjoyable. Still, it’s probably not one for date night.

Now let’s get into the flipside – kids strike back. The Veldt is one of Bradbury’sbetter known stories – if memory serves me correctly, it’s the first tale featured in his classic collection The Painted Man. It’s a science fiction horror, and as usual displays uncanny ability to predict our immersion in altered realities. He’s often quoted as noting that “I don’t try to predict the future, I try to prevent it” – unfortunately, whilst he did a great job of predicting the future, he did a woeful job of preventing it, and whilst the violent denouement is something of a stretch, the idea of children becoming addicted to virtual landscapes gains currency by the day. Here it is read by Dr Spock himself in superb creepy mode…

Now for something slightly less horrific. The Sound of Thunder is attributed as coining the term ‘the butterfly effect’ although I’m dubious on this (in fact a quick Wikipedia fact check suggests that meteorologist Edward Lorenz came up with the concept in the ‘60s). It’s a story about how little actions can have hugely significant consequences, and I’m interested in it because the world that Bradbury describes – a topsy-turvy place where words have shifted meaning, the wrong man is president, and there is an indefinable sense of wrongness permeating existence – has a lot of parallels with our current post-truth age. Tbh I’ve begun to wonder if we’re not all figments of Nigel Farage’s imagination, conjured up as life flees his body following the plane crash back in what we think of as 2010, but in actuality was 5 minutes ago. Everything since; Nigel’s rise as triumphant Brexit delivering man of the people, his union jack brogues, Trump’s golden lift, the offer of an ambassadorship, and the moment in about 2 years when he becomes ultimate high chief of the multiverse is, in fact, the fevered brainfart of a dying fool. Or at least it feels like it is, because if this last year is actual, objective reality then we have actually, objectively fucking lost the plot. Enjoy the story!

Is there time for one more? I think there’s time for one more. I’m breaking my own rules and posting a show rather than an audio book, because I’m a wild anarchist. This is from the Ray Bradbury Mystery Theatre series, which I’ve only recently discovered has been uploaded in pretty much it’s entirety to the ‘Tube – I’ll put together a playlist of the best once I’ve ploughed through them all. This episode Punishment Without Crime is a bit of a Marmite choice – a lot of Bradbury fans hate it for all the reasons I love it – it’s really overly stylised, there are gaping plot holes, and the acting is stilted, but 0for me that gives the whole thing the sensation of a gripping nightmare. The art direction is amazing; the sets switch between cold blues and dreamstate pastels, and Donald Pleasance is excellent as a man convicted of an apparently victimless crime. Extra points awarded for dropping in a few bars from the Moonlight Sonata over some ambient synths. The end credits music is also some great proto-Stranger Things dronescape.  


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