William F. Nolan’s book “Nolan on Bradbury” (ISBN 978-1-61498-058-2), is one great writer’s tribute to another great writer and even greater friend. As the back cover says, “Sixty years of writing about the Master of Science Fiction.” It’s Bradbury, of course, who is described as “the Master,” but it would be more accurate to say, “One Master of Science Fiction describes his 60 years of friendship with another Master of Science Fiction.”
We learn such interesting things (unknown to me previously) as the fact that Bradbury initially tooled around Los Angeles on a bicycle. He never learned to drive; later, he was chauffeured everywhere. Or there’s the interesting irony that the man who saw space as the final frontier was, himself, afraid to fly for many years. (He did, eventually, get over his fear of flying.)
Nolan, known as a Living Legend in Dark Fantasy himself and perhaps most famous for co-authoring “Logan’s Run” with George Clayton Johnson, includes many wonderful stories of his own such as “And Miles to Go Before I Sleep,” which he wrote in 1957. This surprise-ending story evokes Bradbury’s typical tale.
In fact, “And Miles to Go Before I Sleep” was so much like Bradbury at his best that Norman Corwin (radio director/producer/writer) once told Bill Nolan that “And Miles to Go Before I Sleep” was his favorite Bradbury story. When Bill informed Corwin that HE, not Bradbury, was the true author of the piece, Nolan then acknowledges, “Without meaning to, I had written a new Bradbury story.”
And what a great story it is!
There is another story, “The Joy of Living” that summons echoes of “The Stepford Wives” or of my own story of a man who builds a robot wife in the attic to replace his own shrewish flesh-and-blood bride (“M.R.M.” for “Maude Replacement Machine” which appeared in “Hellfire & Damnation II,” my 2012 short story collection for which Jason V Brock wrote the Introduction and in Slices of Flesh.) I can relate to all of William F. Nolan’s work, long or short, and I hope he continues writing forever. I could say the same about Ray Bradbury’s body of work.
I can honestly say I had not read William F. Nolan’s short story “The Joy of Living” before writing my own serio-comic take on robots as mates, but I have received great encouragement from this prodigious writer, who has encouraged me even as others were hurling brickbats. In this way, Bill Nolan—whom I first met while interviewing him in 2008 for an online magazine—is also like his mentor Ray Bradbury.
Bradbury provided invaluable encouragement and assistance to Nolan when he was still a struggling but talented author, still trying to make up his mind whether he was meant to be an illustrator (Nolan worked for Hallmark) or a writer.
It is clear to me that Nolan made the right choice in choosing to write. I hope he continues to write books like this one for many more years to come.
There is a great section on Bradbury’s collaboration with John Huston on the script for “Moby Dick,” which Bradbury was hired to write. Written on location in Ireland, Huston could be a hard taskmaster, and Bradbury, who had not read the book before accepting the assignment, read it up to 9 times and rewrote the script up to 30 times, producing 1,500 pages to finally get 150 pages that were filmed with Gregory Peck as Captain Ahab. Twenty electronic whales were used, a process that took 2 and 1/2 years and cost $4,500,000.
Bradbury’s rise from the ranks of pulp fiction and his breaking into the slick magazine ranks of “Saturday Evening Post” and “Collier’s” is celebrated. His success acknowledged his talent and elevated science fiction (and, to a certain extent, writing horror), to a position of far greater acceptance.
Bradbury, the man, emerges as a mentor, much like Nolan himself has been to me and others. An established author, Ray Bradbury took the time to critique the ending of a story that Nolan had written, which became Nolan’s first sale. William F. Nolan took the time to critique my first novel “The Color of Evil” and suggested edits for the end (which I incorporated) making it the first (of 3) in the successful “The Color of Evil” series. (“Khaki = Killer” will come out in March and “Red Is for Rage,” Book #2, came out this year). The first book led Stoker recommendations in the YA (Young Adult) category with recommendations all year. It did not make the final cut for reasons that would provide enough plot for another novel, when we want to concentrate on Bradbury’s miraculous Martian stories here.
I will never forget William F. Nolan’s kindness to me when some others were anything but kind or fair. Bill’s association with rising young talents Jason V (and Sunni) Brock —(who also eulogizes Bradbury at book’s end)—demonstrates that he is an established writer who recognizes and nurtures talent whenever and wherever he encounters it. He doesn’t require the individual to be someone important in the field—someone who can somehow benefit him politically. William F. Nolan is about the work, as was Ray Bradbury. He gives of his own remarkable talent generously, in the Bradbury tradition, as he experienced it over nearly 60 years of friendship.
I was deeply touched by Bill’s story of his final meeting with his old friend, shortly before Ray Bradbury died at 91 on June 12, 2012. In poor health, weakened, slightly deaf, senses failing, Ray grasped William F. Nolan’s hand and said, “Thank you for being in my life.” I could say the same to William F. Nolan.
I just spent 9 hours at my 95-year-old mother-in-law’s side as Hospice came to counsel someone dying from congestive heart failure and pneumonia. In helping her to her feet (she can no longer walk, as both hip replacements have failed and one hip is entirely out of the socket), she grasped my hand and kissed it. Trying to honor her wishes to die at home, we have been present daily, caring for her and watching what I call “the long, slow, fade to black”–a final chapter that eventually comes for all of us. It is hard. I’ve buried both my parents and been through this twice before. It does not get easier, especially if, as with my father, there IS no hospice and you are caring for a man terminally ill with liver cancer in a very small town with very little help.
I could repeat that exact same sentence to Helen. (I will soon try, if I can keep from crying as I say it.) The steady parade of hospice workers asking uncomfortable questions about funeral homes (“Which funeral home do you want to go to, Helen?”), inquiring about “do not resuscitate” orders, bringing in oxygen machines—all this made this particular very small part of Bill’s book so touching that I actually broke down in tears.
I had to set the book aside for a while. I hope it was not too long a delay, because this is a truly enjoyable read and in no way somber for the average reader.
For example, Bill repeats a delightful story about how Bradbury used to wait outside the studio gates to get autographs of famous movie stars like Douglas Fairbanks, Gracie Allen and W.C. Fields. W.C. finally scrawled his name (Bradbury still had the autograph) and said, in W.C. Fields fashion, “There you go, you little SOB.”
For most of the pages of this wonderful tribute to a good friend, comrade and mentor, you will read new stories and old and learn things about Ray Bradbury’s interaction(s) with the world that you probably did not know. You will marvel, once again, at the output of BOTH of these creative geniuses; it will not sadden you at all.
The only part I would have liked to have seen omitted were these end comments by S. T. Joshi (p. 255): “It is a bit sad to note that the best of his (Bradbury’s) work had largely been written, with rare exceptions like Something Wicked This Way Comes by the late 1950’s. Bradbury, more than most authors, has written far too much and has also in some senses believed his own press and become a self-consciously literary author. Little that he has written since the 1960’s is of any account…”
THAT I could have lived without, S.T. Especially after you admit to never having met the man. Hard as it was for me to accept, even Richard Nixon was eulogized warmly after death.
With a talent this remarkable, a man who died shortly before publication of this book picking apart Bradbury’s later stories before he is cold in his grave just comes off as mean-spirited and petty, when the subject of this book and the author who wrote it are generous and giving.
The harsh criticism—even though it is just a few paragraphs at the very end of the Eulogies— could, perhaps, have waited for another day and another book.