Now and Forever by Ray Bradbury

Two novellas by Ray Bradbury. “Somewhere a Band is Playing” is a portrait of an unusually idyllic town, and “Leviathan ’99” is a retelling of Moby-Dick set in outer space.

Now and Forever contains two gorgeous gems in one slim volume. I have loved Ray Bradbury since childhood, with The Illustrated Man being my all-time favorite of his. I remember watching the old “Bradbury Tales” TV show in the 80s, which closed with a tag of Bradbury at his typewriter ripping off a sheet of paper. That’s always been the image in my mind when I think “writer.”

I lost myself in the poetry of “Somewhere a Band is Playing,” and came out on the other side feeling puzzled, mystified, and even a bit groggy. There are so many layers in this story, which seems to be only nominally about what it is about. There’s a town, the people are strange, an outsider wants to find out why. And then everything twists, and it is we who are the strange ones, in sort of a reverse goldfish bowl.

“Leviathan ’99” ably updates Moby-Dick without much contrivance. He riffs on Melville’s themes without letting them overwhelm his narrative. As in “Somewhere a Band is Playing,” Bradbury is clearly in love with ideas, keeping his plotting sparse so to leave room for stunning flights of fancy. He does this exceptionally well, yielding an unconventional but fully satisfying reading experience.

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