Before I get started on reviewing the stories featured in The Machineries of Joy by Ray Bradbury, take a moment to look at the cover. There’s one flaw in it. I don’t mean the illustration, which I rather like, or the font and design, which are both well-executed. The flaw I have in mind is the blurb “The world’s greatest living science-fiction writer.” Is Ray Bradbury one of the greatest writers now living? I think so. But is he the greatest living science-fiction writer? No, for one big reason: he’s not a science-fiction writer. I bring this up because Ray Bradbury himself doesn’t like to be called a science-fiction writer.
The term “science fiction” doesn’t much apply to him. For one thing, there’s little or no science in any of the stories by him I’ve ever read. The closest thing to a real scientific term or theory is found in the title Farenheit 451, referring to the heat at which paper burns. Apart from that brief instance, Ray Bradbury’s fiction is the product of pure imagination. When he describes spaceships, he rarely uses words more complex than “rocket.” In The Martian Chronicles, he gives one character a gun that shoots out bees. Calling him a “science” fiction writer then is a mistake. Isaac Asimov or Arthur C. Clarke much better exemplify the idea of science fiction. Part of Ray Bradbury’s reason for disdaining of science-fiction as a label is that it’d mean he’d be taken less seriously.
There’s one more reason why the blurb doesn’t belong on the cover: many of the stories barely resemble science-fiction at all.
The Machineries of Joy, a collection of stories written in the early 60s, isn’t by the same Ray Bradbury we all know and love. I was surprised by the nature of most of the stories included here. When I think of his work, it’s usually stories like The Sound of Thunder that come to mind (that’s the story that gave us the term “Butterfly effect”). I associate Ray Bradbury with fantastic ideas and adventurous storytelling. The Machineries of Joy though is written by an altogether moodier writer.
By moodier, I don’t mean worse. Not at all. But different. The stories here feature mainly introspective main characters who experience something bizarre, but don’t necessarily do much. This is a change of pace from his daring leads who will pilot a rocket into the sun or leave Earth for Mars like in his other books. If you’re looking for excitement, I’d sooner recommend you find a “Bradbury Best Of” style book or go find The Martian Chronicles. If you want something that’s deep and sometimes quite bleak while remaining down-to-earth this is the collection for you.
Out of the 20 or so stories collected here, a handful didn’t faze me, a good many amused me, and two were amazing. The two amazing stories were titled “Boys! Grow Giant Mushrooms in Your Cellar” and “The Chicago Abyss.” In “Boys…”, members of a wholesome suburban community start acting strangely when one of the local boys starts growing mushrooms in his basement. The premise is a bit like Invasion of the Pod People with a subtle anti-drug message built in. It was also the most exciting in the collection. “The Chicago Abyss” is a wonderfully gloomy story about a dystopian future where a ruminant man who can’t help waxing nostalgic becomes a menace to the repressive regime who are out to keep life bland and manageable.
If you have limited time, just read those two. If you have a little more time at your disposal, make sure to check out “So Died Riabinouchska” which was made into a classic Twilight Zone episode, “The Anthem Runners” which features a very funny conclusion, and “Tyrannosaurus Rex” which is a nice homage to Ray Bradbury’s friend Ray Harryhausen, the master of stop-motion animation. Ray Harryhausen helped make The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms, a film very loosely based on theBradbury story of the same name (now renamed as The Fog).
Overall, The Machineries of Joy was a satisfying read by a man whose stories never cease to fascinate me. I don’t think I could go more than a few months at a time without reading anything by Bradbury, and thankfully, I’ll never have to. The man wrote so much I could read his stuff my whole life and not read the same tale twice.
—If you like short stories full of little twists and touches of fantasy, please check out my book The Madness of Art: Short Stories available on Amazon.
What do you think of The Machineries of Joy by Ray Bradbury?