Sunday, October 28, 2001

Review: "From the Dust Returned" by Ray Bradbury

Ask speculative fiction fans to name the best authors of the 20th century, and Ray Bradbury would probably rank high on almost every one. In a career that's spanned almost 60 years, Bradbury has shown us visions of the future and sent shivers down our spines. In the process he's also created some classic stories like "Something Wicked This Way Comes" and "Fahrenheit 451," which in my opinion should be required reading in school.

Now Bradbury enters the 21st century with his newest novel "From the Dust Returned" (William Morrow). It's an unusual book in that it took 55 years to complete. The book meshes together slight revisions of several popular short stories, along with some new tales and interesting interludes.

"From the Dust Returned" chronicles Bradbury's popular Elliot family, which includes witches, vampires, magicians, winged men and all sorts of curious characters. The story is told by Timothy, a seemingly "normal" child who was left on the doorstep with a note that simply said "historian."

Through Timothy, we meet some of the more interesting members of the family. The fabulous winged Uncle Einar who, after losing his night vision in an accident, hits upon a unique solution that allows him to fly during the day without drawing undue attention to himself. Cecy the Dreamer who lays in the attic, but travels far and wide through the minds of other people and animals. A Thousand Times Great Grand-Mere, the daughter of a pharoah, and her husband Grand-Pere, who still feels frisky at the age of 4,000.

Even though he's often referred to as a science fiction writer, the weird is really Bradbury's element. While I appreciate his sci-fi tales, I've always felt that he was at his best when exploring the strange and unknown in tales like those in his short story collection "The October Country."

In "From the Dust Returned," Bradbury hits on all cylinders. He draws every emotion from the reader, from amazement to laughter to horror. It's a book with a sense of wonder that will appeal to children and a depth that adults will appreciate. Since most of the chapters can be read separately as short stories, it may even be a good book to read with your children.

In the afterword, Bradbury talks about his relationship with the late cartoonist Charles Addams - whose cover art fits the book perfectly. After watching "The Addams Family" when I was young and reading "From the Dust Returned," it seems to me that they influenced each other heavily. In a lot of ways, the Elliot family resembles the cartoonists' famous "Addams Family."

Bradbury says he and Addams often talked about doing a book like this, but never got around to it. I think Addams would be proud of "From the Dust Returned."

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