Now and Forever: Somewhere a Band Is Playing & Leviathan '99
by Ray Bradbury
Cover Artist: Tim O'Brien/lottreps.com
Review by Cathy Green
William Morrow Hardcover ISBN/ITEM#: 9780061131561
Date: 01 September 2007 List Price $24.95 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /
Ray Bradbury is an acknowledged grandmaster of American literature. He has also reached the point in his long and successful career where he has started to re-examine projects that had been set aside earlier in his career. The two novellas in the book are such material the former being an adaptation of a screenplay written with Katherine Hepburn in mind for the lead and the latter being a space opera reimagining of Moby Dick, first written after Bradbury worked as screenwriter on the Walter Huston movie adaptation of Moby Dick. In this instance, it was worth the trouble to get them out of the drawer, unlike with the short story collection The Cat's Pajamas, where the "new" material, while not awful, did not really add anything to Bradbury's ouevre.
The first novella "Somewhere A Band Is Playing" opens with a reporter getting off a train in a small town that seems stuck in time around the first part of the 20th century. We follow the reporter around as he discovers the town's secret. We also discover that the reporter has a secret that will affect the future of the town. There is also a bit of a crisis when it turns out that the reporter was followed by a rival from another paper hoping to scoop him. Bradbury is not one to leave dangling threads in his storytelling tapestry, so the various crises that have been set up are all resolved satisfactorily. The story is primarily a mood piece reflecting Bradbury's love of small town America of a certain vintage, as expressed in the Green Town stories. The point is more to be swept along by descriptive passages rather than to be concerned about how Bradbury will solve the problems he's set up for the characters. While Bradbury wrote the piece with Katherine Hepburn in mind for the female lead, I was unable to picture her as the Nefertiti character except perhaps in a radio play. On the other hand, Hepburn always had enormous presence on screen, and perhaps that is what Bradbury had in mind for the character, since the reader is supposed to believe that the reporter, James Cardiff, feels an instant, intense connection with Nefertiti when he first meets her at the Egyptian Arms hotel in Summerton, Arizona.
In the second novella, Bradbury has transferred Moby Dick to outer space with an alien playing Quequeg and a comet substituting for the white whale. We follow spaceman Ishmael Jones from Cape Kennedy where he first meets his shipmates through to the intsertellar ship Cetus 7's fatal encounter with the comet Leviathan. Bradbury very quickly establishes a palpable atmosphere of dread once the ship is launched. Bradbury originally intended the novella to be a radio play (and a version was produced by the BBC with Christopher Lee as the Captain), and its origins show through in that the story is dialogue intensive, and even most of the descriptive passages could easily be turned into dialogue. It would be quite interesting to see what an old-time radio fan club could do with Leviathan. I suspect it would make a popular program item at World Fantasy or Worldcon.
The novellas both have introductions by the author explaining how they evolved. Like many readers, I find it interesting to read about the author's creative process, and Bradbury is not afraid describe what went wrong along the way to publishing the novellas. While these novellas may not make the best introduction to Ray Bradbury (the short story collections The Illustrated Man or The Martian Chronicles or the novels Something Wicked This Way Comes or The Halloween Tree make much better jumping off points), Now And Forever is worth reading and not just by Bradbury completionists.