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International Bon Vivant and Raconteur

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June 6th, 2012

R.I.P. Ray Bradbury [Jun. 6th, 2012|01:33 pm]
International Bon Vivant and Raconteur

It’s almost impossible for me to wrap my brain around the death of Ray Bradbury. He seemed immortal, the way all legends do. Yes, he was 91 and lived a full and no doubt satisfying life, but it’s not him I mourn so much as us. A world without Ray Bradbury seems almost too horrible, too barren to imagine.

Bradbury’s 1955 collection The October Country changed my life in much the same way Clive Barker’s Books of Blood and Peter Straub’s Ghost Story did. It opened my eyes to the possibilities of genre fiction as something beyond its worst and most prevalent tropes. Though I read The October Country in the mid- to late-1980s, I still remember stories like “The Lake,” “The Emissary,” and “The Crowd” so vividly it’s as if I only just read them yesterday. Later, I read Long After Midnight, another collection of horror stories whose centerpiece “The October Game” still haunts me, and Something Wicked This Way Comes, and The Illustrated Man, and The Martian Chronicles, and Fahrenheit 451, and somewhere in there Ray Bradbury became my favorite author. Though I’m old and wise enough now (or maybe just old) to no longer label anyone my favorite author (why bother when I know it’ll just change tomorrow anyway?), Bradbury never dropped from the top of the list. He was one of a kind. Inimitable. Hell, I even watched his stupid TV anthology program Ray Bradbury Theater back in the ’80s, when anthology shows like Tales from the Darkside and Amazing Stories and revamps of Alfred Hitchcock Presents and The Twilight Zone were all the rage, because it was Ray Bradbury, damn it, and who cared if the acting was awful, the direction third rate, and the budget nonexistent?

His how-to manual Zen in the Art of Writing is, I believe, indispensable advice for all writers. Trust yourself, he said. Don’t edit or censor yourself while you’re drafting. Just get it all on the page and whittle it down to something comprehensible from there. I still struggle with that lesson, as I’m sure so many other writers do, fretting over word choice and how best to describe someone moving from point A to point B while I stare at the mercilessly blinking cursor. But I never let myself get full-on writer’s block because Bradbury’s advice always comes back to me, and I push through. He didn’t just make me want to be a better writer. He helps me write. Every day.

Ray Bradbury was a beacon to many writers, not just me, and he will be deeply missed. Luckily, we still have with us all the magic his words conjured, now and forever.

Originally published at Nicholas Kaufmann. You can comment here or there.

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The Company Man [Jun. 6th, 2012|05:18 pm]
International Bon Vivant and Raconteur
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Longtime readers of my blog may remember how I raved about Robert Jackson Bennett’s first novel Mr. Shivers. If that novel, which went on to win the Shirley Jackson Award for Best Novel, marked the debut of a promising new author, his second novel, The Company Man, fulfills that promise handily. After it won a special citation from the Philip K. Dick Award, not to mention the Best Paperback Original Edgar Award from the Mystery Writers of America, to call Bennett a writer to watch is to already be behind the curve.

The Company Man is actually a classic noir mystery at heart, hence the Edgar Award, encased in the trappings of an alternate history science fiction novel, hence the PKD special citation. The year is 1919, and Evesden, Washington, is the center of the world, a teeming metropolis of industry thanks to the McNaughton Corporation, whose incredible inventions have staved off World War One, created fabulous airships, and changed the world forever. Only their inventions don’t seem quite earthly, and from deep below the city, the hum of immense machinery is a daily constant. Into this engaging setting comes the classic noir mystery I mentioned: a dozen union boys are found murdered in a trolley car a mere four minutes after they boarded at the previous station. Suspicion falls immediately on the McNaughton Corporation, which is trying to fend off unionization in order to keep its bottom line robust, so McNaughton calls in their company man, the drunk, opium-addicted Cyril Hayes, to find out what happened. Along with his friend, police detective Donald Garvey, and Samantha Fairbanks, the woman assigned to him by McNaughton to keep him in line, Hayes begins an investigation that takes him into the very heart of Evesden’s living history and blows apart everything he thought was true about the world in which he lives.

The big reveal behind the McNaughton Corporation probably won’t come as a surprise to savvy science fiction readers, but Bennett handles it with aplomb and, as he did with Mr. Shivers, brings the novel to a close with the perfect philosophical note. But it’s the characters even more than the plot that makes The Company Man such a great story. Hayes’s colorful history, the blossoming romance between Garvey and Samantha, the lives of the people they meet in the course of the investigation, it all comes across authentically and compellingly. Bennett is great at spinning the intimate events of his characters’ lives into enormous, earthshaking stories that explore the nature of the world around us, weaving the personal and mythic together almost seamlessly.

Robert Jackson Bennett was a writer to watch a couple of years ago. Now he’s a writer to read. So get to it. You won’t be disappointed.

Originally published at Nicholas Kaufmann. You can comment here or there.

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