Two Novellas in Now and Forever by Ray Bradbury:#NovNov22

HarperVoyager| 25 June 2012| 240 page| e-book| 4*

Now and Forever is the first book by Ray Bradbury that I’ve read. It contains two novellas – Somewhere a Band is Playing, in which a young writer discovers that all is not as it seems in a nostalgic community, and Leviathan ’99, a retelling of Moby Dick set in space. Two very different stories, each one fascinating, and both with a long history, as Bradbury wrote each one over several decades. They contrast both in style and content. I enjoyed both, but Leviathan ’99 is my favourite.

In the first, Somewhere a Band is Playing, (102 pages) a reporter James Cardiff arrives in Summerton, a small town in the middle of Arizona, a town which seems perfect, a quiet peaceful place. He can hear in the air the quiet sound of a band playing. But the more he explores the more mysterious Summerton becomes. For one thing there are no children and no hospitals or doctors because no one gets ill and even stranger the graves in the cemetery are empty. The story has a nostalgic feel, a sense of melancholy and myth as James, under the guidance of a beautiful young woman, Nefertiti, discovers the truth about Summerton.

Bradbury’s introduction to Somewhere a Band is Playing explains that he begun writing a screenplay and short story about a small town somewhere in the desert and how he had kept encountering Katharine Hepburn either in person or on the screen and was attracted by the fact that she remained youthful throughout the years. Then in 1956 she had made the film Summertime and this had led him to put her at the centre of a story and so Somewhere a Band is Playing slowly evolved. Another element of the story came when he saw the film, The Wind and the Lion and was so taken with the score that he wrote a long poem based on the enchanting music. He then put these elements together to produce this novella, which he dedicated to Anne Hardin, who had encouraged his work and to Katharine Hepburn.

Leviathan ’99’ (101 pages) is dedicated to Herman Melville because after spending a year writing the screenplay for John Huston’s Moby Dick he’d fallen under the spell of Melville and his ‘leviathan whale’. Bradbury then wrote his first script of Leviathan ’99’, which was eventually produced by BBC Radio in London, then as a longer version as a play in 1972. Finally thirty years later he finished writing it as a novella as his ‘final effort to focus and revitalize what began as a radio dream.’

I haven’t read Moby Dick, but I enjoyed this story about spaceships instead of sailing ships, mad astronaut captains instead of seafaring captains and the blind white comet instead of the great white whale. It’s set in 2099 and begins as Ishmael, an astronaut joins the Cetus 7, the largest interstellar ship ever built. The spaceship is on a mission, travelling beyond the stars. His cubicle roommate is Quell, a seven feet tall, green spider who is a telepath. The captain is mad, obsessed with finding the comet, Leviathan, the largest comet in history that had blinded him thirty years earlier. As Quell described it ‘the universe set off a light-year of immensity of photographic flash. God blinked and bleached the captain to this colour of sleeplessness and terror.’

It is an incredible achievement transposing Melville’s 19th century epic into a hundred page novella set in the future.