two stories in NOW AND FOREVER are not new. In fact, "Somewhere a
Band Is Playing" was begun over 40 years ago. "Leviathan '99" began
life as a radio play script that was never produced as television
started to grow. Aged though they may be, this is the first they
have seen the light of day, finally dusted off, polished and
presented to the reading world. As with most of what Ray Bradbury
delivers to us, they are gems --- beautiful gifts of wonder and
humanity that pull and lure until we, as mere readers, are within
the story and seeing it side by side with the characters.
"Somewhere a Band Is Playing" is a tale of eternal youth, of ghost
towns and havens, perhaps even heavens, for those fortunate enough
to find their way. Sumerton, Arizona isn't found on any map. It is
a quiet town in the middle of the desert, soon to fall under the
coming onslaught of time and industry as the Interstate will bury
it under concrete. James Cardiff arrives in Sumerton to warn its
residents, though he does not know why he chose to come or what he
can really do. While there, he begins to find a world he never
imagined --- a world without death, of cemeteries filled with
gravestones bearing birthdates but no mortal dates, an existence
with no children, of long-lost stories of history that have been
archived for all eternity.
Katharine Hepburn was the inspiration for the story and for its
character Nef, who never ages. In his introduction, Bradbury says
that he worked on the tale for years, finding inspiration in movies
and life, hoping one day to have it ready for Hepburn to star in on
stage or screen. She would not see it completed, and Bradbury's
admission colors the story with more sorrow and more beauty.
Likewise, "Leviathan '99" was begun in the hopes of having it
directed for radio broadcast by Norman Corwin. It was never to be,
though Bradbury would eventually continue to redraft the original
work until he felt it was suitable for the stage. It failed in that
medium, and he tried to rework it back to its more original form
until he included it in this book.
The novella came on the heels of his screenplay for MOBY DICK, and
it is nothing more than that classic story reworked for a different
age. Set in the year 2099 aboard the starship Cestus 7, Ishmael
Jones is a crewman caught between his desire for survival and his
duty to follow his Captain. Standard exploratory orders have been
ignored, and the Captain, blind and mad, pursues Leviathan, the
most devastating and impressive comet the universe has ever known.
This unnamed Ahab hurtles his crew into certain destruction in his
bid to destroy the beast before it can pulverize the Earth ---
which is a misguided belief.
Both stories shine, and though so completely different in tone and
setting, they bear the trademark Bradbury style. There is a
simplicity to the tales, even where a more complex issue or thought
is explored, and it permits the reader to just exist within the
story. With a writing style so smooth and hypnotic, Bradbury never
loses an audience or leads them to believe they are reading ---
they experience the story. Were it that more writers could
be so brilliant. Then again, that would only serve to undermine
what an exquisite storyteller Bradbury has always been and
continues to be.
Reviewed by Stephen Hubbard on January 13, 2011