You just gotta love Ray Bradbury. Even beyond and above his skill with the written word (which is considerable), there’s such a vibrancy that comes across in his work, an appreciation of the wonder and awe of the universe and the joys of living. The stories found in this 1966 collection, S Is for Space, are no exception; there is no shortage here of Bradbury’s sense of wonder and his exuberance for life. But several of the items here also serve a cautionary tales, dealing with themes similar to those in his masterwork Fahrenheit 451: knowledge replaced by ignorance, individuality replaced by strict social conformity, the simple life and simple human warmth replaced by a cold, antiseptic future and a confused sense of what’s really important. Of course it’s not all bleak futures. There are also plenty of glimpses into the rural small-town America of Bradbury’s childhood — the sunshine and white picket fences and kids playing ball at the park. Indeed, more than once children are central characters of these stories, and on display is both their depth of imagination, and the consequences when adults take them and their imagination for granted. So we have here both snapshots of a more innocent age, as well as warnings about what a less innocent future might look like.
Gathered here are sixteen stories chosen by Bradbury himself, most of them quite short indeed, averaging around ten pages or so each, with a few longer entries. Bradbury’s introduction is also highly enjoyable, and he tells us a bit about some of his influences while growing up:
Jules Verne was my father.
H. G. Wells was my wise uncle.
Edgar Allen Poe was the batwinged cousin we kept high in the back attic room.
Flash Gordon and Buck Rogers were my brothers and friends.
There you have my ancestry.
Who wouldn’t want relatives like those?
By far my favorite story here would have to be “Pillar of Fire,” which transforms the “last man on Earth” trope into “the last dead man on Earth.” In the 21st century, all the graveyards are dug up and the bodies burned in incinerators, which is the modern way, all neat and sterile and futuristic. Before the completion of this project, the last corpse wakes up and begins a one-man campaign against this desecration by blowing up the incinerators, all the while ranting against the loss of tradition and other modern evils . It’s great hilarious fun, but with a serious edge underneath.
I also really liked “Chrysalis,” a nifty “next-stage-of-evolution” tale about what humanity might turn into. In the future world of “The Pedestrian,” a man is harassed by the police for walking alone at night and for not owning a TV, both of which people simply don’t do. “Zero Hour” has a frightening message: if you don’t take your children seriously, maybe alien invaders will. “Hail and Farewell” is about a man who doesn’t physically age, stuck in a boy’s body, and the problems that go along with it.
Time travelers, lonely witches, colonists to other worlds, alien invaders, and other strange characters populate these rich tales of imagination. “S” is for Space, but it’s also for the Satisfaction you’ll get from this lovely collection.