A review that originally appeared in The Third Alternative #30:-
FROM THE DUST RETURNED
Earthlight hb, 204pp, £16.99
Bradbury’s first genre novel in almost twenty years, according to the publicity handout. Actually it’s a fix up of short stories, some of them written as long ago as 1945, padded with new or previously unpublished material, telling the saga of a weird family who bear a more than passing resemblance to the Addams brood.
The Elliotts are a gleefully oddball assortment, from Einar who is a winged man and may drink blood, to young Cecy, who can take up residence inside the minds of other people, from ancient grandma standing motionless in the attic to young Timothy, who is cursed with normality and fated to chronicle all that occurs. We follow their adventures over the course of many years, as the family try to adapt to a changing world, one where science comes increasingly into its own, casting the cold light of reason into previously unknown corners, threatening the Elliotts and all their kind with extinction.
The prose, not surprising when you consider that this book was over fifty years in the making, is rather patchy. The earliest sections, written when Bradbury was young and filled with creative fire, such as the standalone pieces ‘The April Witch’, with sad Cecy experiencing love by proxy, and the poignant ‘Uncle Einar’, in which the winged man must make an accommodation with disability, are just as marvellous as they were the first time around, shot through with the author’s highly individualistic take on sense of wonder and rendered in that pyrotechnical prose style so uniquely his own that has the characters jumping off the page and turning somersaults in front of the living room fire. Others have tried to imitate him, but Bradbury remains one of a kind. Sadly though, the later stories and many of the bridging passages show the differences in style that arise over fifty years, sound in fact like someone trying to imitate Bradbury and not getting it quite right.
Looked at as a whole the book lacks cohesion, the attempt to provide a viable framework requiring the shoehorning in of much disparate material. The result is an ungainly structure with bits and bobs sticking out here, there and everywhere, a narrative that seems fragile and sometimes loses sight of its own ends.
Do you want to buy this book? Well for all its flaws there are moments of true wonder. The good bits are very good indeed and, while they pale in comparison to Bradbury at his peak, the other bits aren’t wholly bad. Important things are being said, about the value of fantasy in our lives, a recurring theme in Bradbury’s work, the dark dreams that necessarily go hand in hand with the brightest of visions, the deep seated need human beings have to believe in something other than themselves, even if it’s only vampires. And serious efforts have been made to produce a book that is also appealing as an object, with eye catching cover art and interior illustrations. Finally, most importantly, it is a new book by Ray Bradbury, the guy who wrote Fahrenheit 451, Something Wicked This Way Comes, The Martian Chronicles, Dark Carnival and all those other wonderful stories that turned whole generations of us on to fantasy. I don’t usually approve of special pleading, but there are times when sentiment and brand loyalty should outweigh objectivity. We owe this man big time. So go and buy the book. Help keep Unca Ray comfortable in his old age (just let them try and use that as a back cover blurb).