Shadow Show: All-New Stories in Celebration of Ray Bradbury edited by Sam Weller and Mort Castle
Stories by: 26 writers including Neil Gaiman, Joe Hill, Audrey Niffenegger, Margaret Atwood, Alice Hoffman, Robert McCammon, and more
Narrated by: George Takei, Edward Hermann, Kate Mulgrew, F. Murray Abraham, Neil Gaiman, Peter Appel, and James Urbaniak for Harper Audio
Length: 14 hours, 11 minutes
Review by Dave Thompson
For me, Ray Bradbury’s name is more synonymous with October and Halloween than any other author I can think of (Neil Gaiman comes in second, a bit further down the line), so if this All Hallow’s Listen series seems a little heavy on Ray, that’s why.
With that in mind, it seemed natural to include the tribute anthology Shadow Show for All Hallows Listen. Anthologies are hard to write reviews about, particularly if the stories are good, because you want to talk about all the ones you loved, and this collection is crammed full of good stuff.
Unfortunately, Bradbury passed away right around the time Shadow Show came out, but for those of us still mourning his passing, this is an excellent way for us to remember him, hopefully shouting, “LIVE FOREVER!” all the way through.
It kicks off with an introduction from the late, great Ray Bradbury himself, exclaiming his amazement at the stories in this collection, claiming their authors as his literary children, and he – their Papa.
All the stuff we love about Bradbury is on display here: carnivals and tattoos, coming of age and loss of innocence, the turning points of youthful friendships, rocket ships, monsters, and the importance of storytelling.
The first story is Neil Gaiman’s “The Man Who Forgot Ray Bradbury,” read by the author, and due to Bradbury’s passing, it’s particularly poignant. It’s the story of an older man struggling with a Bradbury-sized hole in his memories. It might be the most meta of the stories in this collection, but Gaiman’s reading is unsurprisingly inspired, and I would not be at all surprised if this particular story was nominated for loads of awards in 2013.
Joe Hill’s “By the Silver Water of Lake Champlain” is probably my favorite story in the collection, if not my favorite story of the entire year. It’s an homage to a classic Bradbury tale, but it’s so much more than that – a coming of age story where imagination and reality collide when a girl and a boy who discover something unbelievable on the shoreline. Hill’s story manages to be that wonderful Bradburian trick – a haunting, heartbreaking, coming of age tale that manages to be both whimsical and melancholy at the same time. I mentioned that I wouldn’t be surprised if Gaiman’s story was nominated for awards. I sincerely hope this story is. (I will most likely nominate both of them myself. So there!)
Bradbury didn’t write female characters very often, so one of the pleasant surprises here is how quite a few of the authors dipped into Bradbury’s tradition of childhood coming of age stories, but gave us memorable female characters. Alice Hoffman’s “Conjure” is one of these – a story about two best friends who come across an odd man living in a field (perhaps otherworldly), who piques both girls’ interest. Hoffman does an excellent job of dangling one fantastic element in front of us, but like a magician whose revealing trick leaves you breathless with delight and surprise (in this case, a dark one). This is my first experience with Hoffman’s writing, and I’ll definitely be seeking out more of her work.
I’ve never heard Kate Mulgrew read before, but her narrations for both the Hill and Hoffman stories absolutely floored me. They were both excellent stories already, but Mulgrew’s readings are like a force of nature – she tells them absolutely perfectly, and raised them to an even higher level.
George Takei read two stories as well – Margaret Atwood’s “Headlife,” which is maybe reminscient of “Marionettes, Inc.” and “Punishment without a Crime.” It’s a good story about a man wanting to escape his life, and fulfill all his secret desires, but Takei’s performance makes it ridiculously fun. Ditto Charles Yu’s short, but fun, “Earth (A Gift Shop)” – a story that matched with Takei’s reading is laugh out loud. How is it that Takei’s generally only read abridged versions of Star Trek novels? Get this guy a captain’s chair and a dozen more audiobooks STAT!
Dan Chaon’s “Little America” follows a boy and his kidnapper driving through a dystopian nation, and the tension in this sparse, disturbing tale continues to ratchet up from the very first minute. I don’t think I’ve read anything by Chaon before, but I’m already on the lookout for more. I thought I knew who these characters were and where this story was going at the beginning, but the destination they ended at instead was much more surprising and satisfying.
Kelly Link’s “Two Houses” questions the nature and necessity of stories, particularly ghost stories, following a crew of astronauts traveling between planets. Like most of Link’s stories, there are many layers beneath the surface, and it’s a story that I could listen to over and over again.
It feels like I’m going on and on, but there are still so many good stories! Sam Weller’s “The Girl in the Funeral Parlor” is a haunting, subtle tale; Jacqueline Mitchard’s “Two of a Kind” is a classic ghost story, and Dave Eggers “Who Knocks?” is short, scary, and odd.
Then there are the Hollywood Tales, a genre and city Bradbury enjoyed playing in. Mort Castle’s “Light” is the third story he’s written (to date) that focuses on Marilyn Monroe, giving us a disturbing take on her life and death, but most importantly, how she became the sensation she is. Jay Bonansinga’s “Heavy” is a more lighthearted tale of mortality and friendship.
A short afterword is provided with each story by the author, to give some insight into their tale, as well as their connection to Ray Bradbury. It’s incredible to hear how Bradbury took some of these authors under his wing prior to them ever selling a story – like Dan Chaon. As a young adult, Bradbury gave Chaon a tour of his office, and spent an afternoon talking with him about writing. Afterward, he critiqued quite a few of Chaon’s stories (including the story presented here). And it was charming to see writers like Harlan Ellison reminiscence (Ellison’s story is, amusingly, twice as long as his story). Others wax on about how Bradbury influenced them.
All in all, this is hands down one of the best collections I can remember experiencing, and a wonderful tribute to Bradbury. Perhaps, thanks to his literary children, “Live Forever” isn’t such an impossible feat for Bradbury after all.
Table of Contents:
The Man Who Forgot Ray Bradbury, written and read by Neil Gaiman
Headlife, by Margaret Atwood, read by George Takei
Heavy, by Jay Bonansinga, read by Peter Appel
The Girl in the Funeral Parlor, by Sam Weller, read by James Urbaniak
The Companions, by David Morrell, read by Robert Petkoff
The Exchange, by Thomas F. Moonstone, read by Dion Graham
Cat on a Bad Couch, by Lee Martin, read by Dion Graham
By the Silver Water of Lake Champlain, by Joe Hill, read by Kate Mulgrew
Little America, by Dan Chaon, read by Paul Lazar
The Phone Call, by John McNally, read by Robert Petkoff
Young Pilgrims, by Joe Meno, read by Eduardo Ballerini
Children of the Bedtime Machine, by Robert McCammon, read by January Lavoy
The Page, by Ramsey Campbell, read by Simon Van Booy
Light, by Mort Castle, read by Robert Petkoff
Conjure, by Alice Hoffman, read by Kate Mulgrew
Max, by John Maclay, read by Holter Graham
Two of a Kind, by Jacqueline Mitchard, read by Edward Herrmann
Fat Man and Little Boy, by Gary Braunbeck, read by Arthur Bishop
The Tattoo, by Bonnie Jo Campbell, read by Eduardo Ballerini
Backwards in Seville, by Audrey Niffenegger, read by Jan Maxwell
Earth: (A Gift Shop), by Charles Yu, read by George Takei
Hayleigh’s Dad, by Julia Keller, read by January Lavoy
Who Knocks?, by Dave Eggers, read by Dian Graham
Reservation 2020, by Bayo Ojikutu, read by Holter Graham
Two Houses, by Kelly Link, read by Jan Maxwell
Weariness, by Harlan Ellison, read by F. Murray Abraham