This book contains two long short-stories:
1. Somewhere a Band is Playing is a strange little story, with the main character being an aspiring journalist who sets out to report on a small town that is destined for demolition.
The tale blends romance with mystery, and features a town of immortal egyptian characters who hold the knowledge of the books of long-lost libraries in their memories. Part horror story, part fantasy, part ghost story– the mix is melded and poured into a nostalgic small-town somewhere-in-America setting. In the introduction, Ray Bradbury explains how the setting was influenced by his childhood upbringing in small towns in middle-america.
There were some wonderful concepts: the baker’s delivery cart with the horse that knew exactly where to go, the spookily deserted schools, the ‘perfect’ town with its ‘perfect’ people, sitting on their porches and rocking in harmony.
The story contains some of Bradbury’s favourite themes- the importance of libraries and the books they contain and how, even if you manage to destroy books, great tracts of knowledge may be stored in the minds of the old.
The writing was beautifully crafted. I liked it.
2. Leviathan ’99 is a space adventure based on Moby Dick.
In his introduction, Bradbury explains how he spent a year in Ireland, writing the screenplay for John Huston’s 1956 version of Moby Dick. Bradbury became obsessed by the story, writing Leviathan ’99 as a radio play and eventually selling it to the BBC. Later he converted the story into a stage play and, finally, into this novella.
For the whale – substitute a terrible, blinding comet. For Captain Ahab – substitute a blind spaceship commander. The hapless Ishmael is a young graduate from the spaceman training programme. His best friend happens to be a giant mind-reading alien. The two cadets are assigned to Captain Ahab’s ship and are launched on an exploratory mission. The obsessed Captain diverts the ship in order to pursue the great comet that blinded him.
The story is told in an old-worldly style, in manner similar to the original Moby Dick book, and this took me some time to get used to.
I very much enjoyed some of the tale, in particular I liked the psychic insectoid alien and the touching friendship between the two young spacemen. I found the captain less convincing and the story was a somewhat contrived mix of old-fashioned 19th century literature and old-fashioned 1950’s science fiction. (Although, thinking about it, there is an element of steam-punk about the novella. Maybe Bradbury was ahead of his time with this one!)