A Pleasure to Burn
by Ray Bradbury
Edited by DonnAlbright, Volume Editor
Jon Eller, Textual Editor
Review by Cathy Green
Subterranean Hardcover ISBN/ITEM#: 9781596062900
Date: 31 March 2010 List Price $35.00 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /
The central themes of the latest Bradbury collection from Subterranean Press (edited by Donn Albright and Jon Eller) are censorship and book burning, which should come as no surprise, given the title of the collection. A Pleasure To Burn is anchored by the novellas "Long After Midnight" and "The Fireman", both shorter versions of what would eventually become the novel Fahrenheit 451.
Albright and Eller have gathered stories both well known and obscure for this collection. Most readers, regardless of whether they are Bradbury aficionados, will be familiar with the story "Carnival of Madness" in which the wealthy William Stendhal spends his fortune building an Edgar Allen Poe themed house on Mars in which classics such as "Murder in the Rue Morgue" and "The Pit and the Pendulum" are re-enacted with robots and which he uses to slaughter the censors who burned his library. Readers may be less familiar with stories such as "Bright Phoenix" in which a small town fights the censors by addressing each other by the names of banned authors and quoting their writings.
"The Reincarnate", the first story in the collection, does not quite fit with the other stories in the collection, being a short story about a dead man who wakes and briefly reunites with his still-living fiancée before going back to the grave and being reincarnated as his fiancée's son. It does, however, neatly segue to the next story in the collection, "Pillars of Fire", in which William Lantry awakes angry and undead to find that the world is burning its past including its graveyards, disinterring the corpses and incinerating them, the better not to have an unpleasant reminders of death.
Possibly the saddest story in the collection is "The Mad Wizards of Mars" in which fictional characters and long dead authors are living on Mars, right up until the first astronauts to land on Mars celebrate the triumph of rational science and the human race by burning the last copies of works by Shakespeare, Poe, and others. One giant step backwards for mankind.
The collection also includes three bonus stories, "The Dragon Who Ate His Tail", "Sometime Before Dawn" and "To The Future", which are not about censorship or burning (except in the sense of an implied possible future nuclear holocaust) but rather about people fleeing the grim future for what they imagine is the more idyllic past of pre-WWII twentieth century America.
The most significant part of the collection is the two novella length versions of Fahrenheit 451. It is interesting to read them back to back and note the differences, such as which book Montag saves from the fire, and speculate as to why the change was made. Bradbury aficionados may want to follow reading A Pleasure To Burn with a reread of Fahrenheit 451 so that a side by side comparison of all three versions can be made (make a day of it, rent the movie too).
While I was provided with an ARC to review, when reviewing a Subterranean Press book there should be some discussion of the overall look of the final product, since this is part of the reason people are willing to pay the higher sticker price of Subterranean editions. Given that Bradbury started off pounding away on a manual typewriter and submitting to pulp magazines, it is fitting that the typeface used for the story titles and the page numbering is designed to look as if they were typed on a manual typewriter. Also, the cover art is up on the Subterranean Press website, and it fits perfectly with the theme of the book, given that it features a knight wrapped in the armor of the written word with flames in the background. Subterranean has produced a very nice collection of Bradbury stories.