Books: Poet of the Pulps

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THE GOLDEN APPLES OF THE SUN (250 pp.)—Ray Bradbury—Doubleday ($3).

Ray Bradbury, 32, is a pulp writer whose work is admired by highbrows. Indeed, his writing has drawn from Novelist Christopher Isherwood such a full-dress tribute as this: "The sheer lift and power of a truly original imagination exhilarates you . . . a very great and unusual talent." Bradbury's new collection of short stories, The Golden Apples of the Sun, shows what has set the Isherwoods off: he is a first-class writer of spook stuff who also happens to have more than a twitch of poet in him.

Out on the Wires. A good example of what Bradbury can do is the story called Powerhouse, in which a man and his wife take shelter in an electric-power station during a desert rainstorm: "It was a dim undersea place, smooth and clean and polished, as if something or other was always coming through and coming through and nothing ever stayed. . . Each black and grey and green machine gave forth golden cables and lime-colored wires, and there were silver metal pouches with crimson tabs and white lettering, and a pit like a washtub in which something whirled as if rinsing unseen materials at invisible speeds . . . There was a great insect humming all through the air."

Shut in the Bradbury metaphor, the reader begins to feel himself dissolved in a metal drone of language and drawn slowly into the Bradbury dynamo. In fact, it is hard not to go along when the heroine, in a mystical experience, is whirled into the dynamo's core of energy and sped, in an instant, out along a thousand wires: "She glowed and pulsed and was gentled in the great easy fabric [of the power grid] . . . She was everywhere.'' Thanks to her glowing experience, Bradbury's heroine discovers a meaning for individual life in an indiscriminate universe.

Down the Past. The sense of "infinite interfusion" is Bradbury's purest string, and he plucks it rather too often. In The April Witch, a beautiful girl is interfused by a witch, who proceeds to make the girl flirt with a man, so that the witch can enjoy the lovemaking. In A Sound of Thunder, a 21st century man goes hunting dinosaurs down a distant time-track; in the excitement he kills a prehistoric butterfly, and when he returns to the present, finds that the death of the butterfly—its effect expanding slowly through the ages—has changed 21st century history.

Californian Bradbury never went to college; he sold newspapers until the pulps began to buy his stuff. Where he found the elf from which he wrings these stories, neither he nor his publisher is saying—though it is obviously a first cousin of the fantastic fellow kept by Author John Collier (TIME, Dec. 3, 1951), and not unrelated to the macabre literary familiar of Algernon Blackwood (TIME, Feb. 12, 1951). However, Author Bradbury's elf of fantasy is obviously only one element in a larger talent that includes passion, irony and even wisdom. If Bradbury could give the elf a rest, he might get some notable work out of his more human qualities.