By Dean Goranites
The Tonawanda News
— Ray Bradbury may be the most famous science fiction writer, ever.
Such bold statements are always debatable, and buffs of the genre may be quick to rattle off names more deserving of recognition. Yet with titles like “Fahrenheit 451,” “The Martian Chronicles” and “The Illustrated Man” under his belt, along with having his hands in countless other television productions, movie scripts and more, it’s not hard to reason Bradbury as one of the best.
Bradbury is credited as the author of 27 novels and more than 600 short stories, so the well of possible works to read by the author won’t run dry any time soon for most readers, even his most dedicated fans. One of his more well known short stories, “The Playground,” stands as a great introduction to the author, his style and his ability to grip readers with strong plot, characterization and frequently some well planned twists.
“The Playground” initially ran as a primer to “Fahrenheit 451,” having been printed as part of the first hardcover edition of the novel when it was published in 1953. While it hasn’t been included since, the short story has recently been approved as the first work by Bradbury to be sold in ebook format, and is now on sale exclusively for the Amazon Kindle. Hopefully more of Bradbury’s shorter works — as well as more short stories in general, which have always had a hard time selling in traditional book stores — will follow this path, as such a delight of a read is one heck of a bargain for less than a dollar.
Bradybury’s “The Playground” revolves around Charles Underhill — a recent widower who is now very protective of his only son, Jim. Charles walks past his town’s playground every day to and from work, and pays special attention to the cruelty children commit to one another while playing on it. The father vows to never put his child through such pain, going so far as to state he would home school his child if it meant saving him the pain of ridicule and bullying Charles witnesses on a daily basis.
Such a synopsis sounds like a pretty “normal” story, perhaps a better fit among literary fiction readers rather than science fiction fans. “The Playground” wouldn’t be a Bradbury work if this was so, and readers can rest assured that the story leads up to a wild twist that may not be science fiction-based per say, but certainly leads the story away from realism and places it squarely in the realm of fantasy and “what-ifs.” Think “The Twilight Zone,” but in written form.
“The Twilight Zone” isn’t a wild comparison for most Bradbury works, as the author had ties to the show’s creator Rod Serling — even writing an episode for the TV series that would later turn into another short story, 1962’s “I Sing the Body Electric.” A large majority of Bradbury’s works follow a similar plot structure as the hit TV program, often times connecting a bizarre, science-fiction based situation to otherwise ordinary characters, allowing them to sort things out and make sense of their situation to the best of their abilities.
“The Playground” mimics this formula in many regards, centering the story around a “what-if” scenario that, unlike in the real word, actually takes place. In doing so, Bradbury is able to find a back door entrance to more serious topics and themes. While the story revolves around an outlandish twist, readers are able to find more realistic questions concerning adult life. Questions on morality in parenting, children’s social interactions, and the extent of allowing one’s past experiences to dictate another’s upbringing all come into play in “The Playground,” a title whose name may sound light-hearted and fun, but whose story digs at issues much deeper.
Those who have yet to explore the world of Bradbury will find ‘The Playground” a great introduction, and clocking in at around 30 pages, it’s relatively commitment-free. Others who find themselves to be committed Bradbury fans will find plenty to like here as well. When an author pens more than 600 short stories, some are bound to be flops. “The Playground” isn’t one of them.
Dean Goranites publishes weekly video book reviews at unleashthis.tumblr.com, and can be reached through Twitter at unleash_this.
• WHAT: "The Playground"
• BY: Ray Bradbury
• GRADE: B