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Ahmed and the Oblivion Machines
Ray Bradbury
illustrated by Chris Lane

Avon Books, 64 pages

Ahmed and the Oblivion Machines
Ray Bradbury
Ray Bradbury is one of the greatest SF and fantasy writers of our time. Born in Waukegan, Illinois in 1920, he authored such classics of the genre as The Martian Chronicles (1950) and Farenheit 451 (1953) by his early thirties, and continues to produce important work today.
During Mikhail Gorbachov's 1990 summit meeting in New York, he made a special trip to visit "my favorite author," who he claimed to have read in the original versions. Bradbury is American fantasy's great ambassador.

ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: Driving Blind
SF Site Review: Something Wicked This Way Comes
SF Site Review: The Illustrated Man
The Illustrated Man Excerpt
The Ray Bradbury Theatre
PENDULUM by Ray Bradbury and Henry Hasse (1941)

Past Feature Reviews
A review by David Soyka

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When I was in the fifth grade, I was enamoured of a sort of "Hardy Boys in outer space" series of books that featured a young boy (naturally) and his adventures as a cadet in the Space Patrol. My good friend Randall made fun at my taste in literature. "You call that junk science fiction?" he sneered at me after I had the nerve to bring one of my cherished sagas in for an oral class book report. Then he tossed me a dog-eared Bantam paperback that featured a big orange circle on a white cover. "Read this. This is real science fiction."

The book was The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury.

Of course, at the time I didn't know I was reading a parable about the nuclear arms race. I just thought it was a cool bunch of stories about the future and going to another world. The future is where I wanted to go, if only because in the future I'd be out of fifth grade.

The book changed my life, an experience I wouldn't be surprised I shared with many SF Site readers. Ray Bradbury is how I got interested in "real" science fiction and why I became a writer. I can only hope that he's having some sort of similar effect on my daughter's generation.

Which is the market segment at which Ahmed and the Oblivion Machines is aimed. Described as a "fable for adults and children alike," this illustrated book is heavy on the mythologizing (to the point where younger readers might find it hard going -- more on that later), but cast in that wonderful Bradburian worldview. And, just like The Martian Chronicles and much of his work since, it is about realizing dreams for a better future.

Ahmed is a 12-year-old boy (naturally) stranded in the desert. Beneath the sands lies an ancient god called Gonn-Ben-Allah (perhaps suggesting that belief in God, or higher realms of being, is "gone"), who Ahmed inadvertently awakens with his tears. By discovering the inner courage necessary to prevent Gonn from disappearing again, Ahmed saves himself and finds his way back to his father. Ahmed's visions of the Machines of Oblivion (various unsuccessful attempts, beginning with Icarus, by humanity to fly) paradoxically provides Ahmed with the strength he needs because:

"..There is never failure in trying. Not to try is the greater death...you must toss feathers in the wind and guess their directions to all points of the heart's compass. It means you must jump off cliffs and build your wings on the way down!"
"And fall? And never fear?"
"Fear, yes, but brave beyond fear."
"That is a big thing for a boy."
"Grow with its bigness, let it burst your skin to let forth... Refuse no sight. People fall but to rise again!" whispered the Great God of Time and Storms. "Open your eyes!"
Ahmed blinked and saw the curve of the earth where a kite was flung up in a cloud stream...Ambling over and down with the tidal winds, he soared up like a wild exclamation point.
"I fly," he cried, "I fly."
...But hearing his high laughter at conquering hills of cloud and storm, a hundred men did mutter in their sleep, and shout confusions to deny his high trajectory. Hid from his upward truth, slammed their eyes shut, erased his flight as if it never were, and with empty guns and empty minds fired the sky.
I think Bradbury had a lot of fun writing this. Also, Chris Lane's illustrations add a dimension that, curiously, Bradbury's own magical descriptions don't convey; namely that the god apparently looks like some tousled and overweight WWI aviator. I haven't quite decided whether that adds or detracts from the story.

I also don't know if Ray is going to get through to the intended audience (although their parents might enjoy it). Good fables are usually anchored in some concrete narrative that can hold young readers' attention even while they may not get -- save by unconscious intellectual osmosis -- the higher symbolism. Just as The Martian Chronicles entranced me without my knowing its "true" meaning because I got hooked by the story. But, in Ahmed and the Oblivion Machines, Bradbury overdoes the symbolism at the expense of the story.

My test subject seems to confirm this. Sydnie is eight years old, and quite able to handle some fairly sophisticated material. This was one of the few books she didn't want to finish. The fact that this particular book is by one of my heroes pains me, even though I understand what her problem with it is.

No matter. In a couple of years she'll be in fifth grade and ready for The Martian Chronicles. And then the real fun will begin.

Copyright © 1998 David Soyka

David Soyka is a former journalist and college teacher who writes the occasional short story and freelance article. He makes a living writing corporate marketing communications, which is a kind of fiction without the art.


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