Sunday, December 01, 2002

Review: "Bradbury, An Illustrated Life," by Jerry Weist

Like his famous Illustrated Man, the images in "Bradbury, an Illustrated Life: A Journey to Far Metaphor" (William Morrow, $34.95) tell a lot of stories.

The coffee-table biography written by Jerry Weist does tell the tale of Ray Bradbury's life, but it could just as well have been billed as an overview of science fiction and fantasy in the 20th century. Few writers, if any, have had the kind of impact on the genres as Bradbury has. From his earliest publications in the 1930s to his current works, Bradbury has consistently set a high standard for other writers to follow.

Following the introduction by Bradbury himself, the book opens on photos from the 1934 World's Fair's 1,000,000 B.C. exhibit, which was perhaps the inspiration for one of Bradbury's most famous stories "A Sound of Thunder." At any rate, the exhibit certainly left an impression on him and helped set him on his path.

The first chapter of "Bradbury, An Illustrated Life" is a treasure trove for lovers of classic fantasy and science fiction. As we read about the things that shaped Bradbury's life and his love of all things weird, we can enjoy classic covers and illustrations from H.G. Wells, Jules Verne and Amazing Stories magazine, as well as early comic strips and stills from classic horror films.

Over the next 100 pages or so, the book takes us on a trip through Bradbury's most prolific years. From covers of Weird Tales where his stories ran alongside luminaries like H.P. Lovecraft and Clark Ashton Smith, to his numerous novels, they're all represented. There is an extensive collection of illustrations that have accompanied Bradbury's stories in magazines, as well as the various incarnations of the covers of some of his most famous books.

On the pages dedicated to books like "Fahrenheit 451" and "The October Country," you can follow the trends in the publishing industry from the stark covers of the 1950s to the funky '60s and '70s versions and the slick covers of the '80s and '90s.

Later, we're introduced to images from the silver screen, small screen and even stage adaptations of Bradbury's work.

But it's not all about the writer's considerable legacy. We also get to steal a few glimpses of the real man behind the typewriter. Images of Bradbury enjoying himself on classic movie sets at the Los Angeles Film Society or at his cluttered desk or surrounded by friends are scattered throughout the book. Particularly interesting are the drawings and correspondences by Bradbury that are sprinkled throughout. More than anything else, these offer insight into the real man.

"Bradbury, an Illustrated Life" is a gorgeous and informative tribute to the true master of the speculative genres. If you've got a Bradbury fan on your Christmas list, this volume would be the perfect gift.

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