Shadow Show Is Ray Bradbury's Most Fitting Epitaph
When the amazing collection of authors contributed to Sam Weller and Mort Castle's new Ray Bradbury-inspired collection of short stories, Shadow Show, the master was obviously still alive. He would die just a month before the book was published, but the stories inside seem to eerily refer to a world where he was already gone. Such a macabre coincidence is of course the exact sort of thing Bradbury would've wanted on his literary tombstone.
It really is a Who's Who of the absolutely best in modern literature. Margaret Atwood, Alice Hoffman, Neil Gaiman, Joe Hill and Harlan Fucking Ellison all appear to state definitively just how the work of Bradbury inspired each of them. The result may be the greatest collection of short stories ever compiled.
And yet, there is so much sadness in the pages. Sam Weller's own "The Girl in the Funeral Parlor" is an absolutely heartbreaking tale of a flower-delivery man who falls in love with a beautiful dead girl that he arranges a display for while she is laid out for viewing and all alone.
I don't mean he falls for her in some creepy Katie Vick way, I mean that he is just haunted by her face and the life she could have lived. He pictures himself in an alternative universe where they'd met and were together. It's a poignant look at an often pointless world, and somehow it manages to sum up everything about the loss of Bradbury. Is there a plane of existence where sheer affection for the man kept him alive and making magic?
Harlan Ellison, himself no spring chicken, tackles the idea of weariness in the story of the same name. It's one of the shortest in the book, and according to Ellison in the after notes, it may be his last. With Bradbury gone, only Ellison is his living equal in terms of short story brilliance.
Yet even he takes the opportunity in the final pages of the collection to have far distant aliens of perfection face the void at the end of all things. They stare, frightened at first, but with increasing understanding at the ultimate end of the story. It's part ode to a good life lived, part cry for help as strength fails and part goodbye. Ellison and Bradbury had a bet about the afterlife, and Ellison jokes in his notes that there's no way to declare a winner. To quote him from his own work, "There's a moral in that, somewhere."