The Small Assassin by Ray Bradbury

I’ll let you in on a secret. Despite my library loving, independent book store supporting rhetoric, I still shop on Amazon (a lot). I have the best of intentions, but I am constrained by both reason and finance. Reason being why would I pay $34 for a hardcover when I could pay $14? And finance…is the exact same thing. This is not to say I don’t support independent book stores. I do, but I can only do so – reasonably – for about 20% of the books I buy (so save the stern looks, I already have enough guilt to go round). If we’re going to break it down into percentages, 60% of the remaining books are bought from used book sales and 20% are bought through Amazon. My latest acquisition, which was unavailable through my local independent shop and nowhere to be found on the used book rack, was purchased through the company that is likely trying to take over the world.

Small Assassin

Ray Bradbury’s The Small Assassin is not an easy book to find anymore, but thanks to said giant retailer, I am now the proud owner of these 1962 short stories. It’s a collection of haunting tales of horror by a master storyteller. Or at least it’s billed as such. It is composed of 13 short stories ranging from murderous newborns to honeymoons in a cemetery to unfortunate events involving a lake. I’d had every intention of reading this around Halloween, but apparently the copy I purchased had to ship from West Sussex (even though the seller is listed in the US). So I had to wait weeks for it – three and a half weeks, to be precise. I wish I could say it was worth the wait, but it wasn’t.

I’m never sure how to classify Ray Bradbury. During his heyday, I imagine he was to science fiction what Stephen King is to horror – the one name everyone knew from that genre. However, I don’t think of Bradbury as a science fiction writer, I think of him as more of a talented fabulist (and wordsmith) who could also be damn funny, at least by Green Shadows, White Whale standards. That’s why this particular collection was such a letdown. While The Small Assassin (the first story from which the collection takes its title) is rather creepy, I found the rest lackluster.

To go with what’s good, I’ll stick with the title story. In “The Small Assassin”, Alice and David are planning for a child. All is going according to plan when Alice delivers a seemingly healthy little boy, although the delivery itself was quite difficult. Alice is convinced that the baby is trying to kill her. Is she suffering a breakdown? Postpartum depression? Or is the little boy hell-bent on seeing the demise of his mother? Bradbury never answers the question outright, but he manages to instill fear just by making you wonder. Because what if?

“But suppose one child in a billion is – strange? Born perfectly aware, able to think, instinctively. Wouldn’t it be a perfect set-up, a perfect blind for anything the baby might want to do? He could pretend to be ordinary, weak, crying, ignorant. With just a little expenditure of energy he could crawl about a darkened house, listening. And how easy to place obstacles at the top of the stairs. How easy to cry all night and tire a mother into pneumonia. How easy, right at birth, to be so close to the mother that a few deft manoeuvres might cause peritonitis!”

Aside from that story, I found the rest mediocre in terms of horror. The short stories were well done, as Bradbury is a lovely writer, but I don’t think they accomplished what he set out to do, which is haunt the reader with tales of horror. Further, it bothered me that nearly all the women were the ones who were hysterical, anxious, or insane while few of the men were. On a positive note, he uses little to no gore to be disturbing and instead uses the possibility of insanity quite effectively (even if there is a bit of a gender bias). What he also did well was to make the reader question everyday, mundane things. He didn’t write what would typically scare you – vampires, werewolves, and the like – he wrote about childbirth and car crashes and honeymoons (though, if you were to ask me, I find the idea of childbirth downright terrifying – so maybe he was on to something). Each story has a fun twist at the end*. 4/5 for “The Small Assassin”, 2.5/5 for the other 12 tales (“The Man Upstairs” and “The Cistern” are two of the best). If you’re a Bradbury fan, you’ll enjoy the writing.

Have you ever read anything by Ray Bradbury? Do you buy from Amazon? If you do, do you feel guilty about it? I do. But sometimes I think it has more to do with my (now lapsed) Catholic upbringing than any sort of real repentance for my book purchase. I’m kidding. Sort of.

Lemon Ice

Serve with lemon ice, as was served at a little boy’s birthday party – just before he went insane.

*I suppose this depends on how you define fun.

29 thoughts on “The Small Assassin by Ray Bradbury

  1. Have you tried shopping You can get great prices on books at bargain bin prices, and you don’t have to deal with the guilt because you are shopping from brick-and-mortar independent bookstores. Some books are new, some are used, but you can shop around for condition and shipping. I find that extremely popular books and extremely niche books (like foreign language books) tend to be cheapest on – so you are supporting the small businesses and saving yourself some dough.


  2. I love Bradbury and I’ll buy almost anything I can find in used book stores. I don’t always like it – I couldn’t even finish “From the Dust Returned” – but I love my little growing collection.


    1. My favorite, which is usually everyone else’s least favorite, is Green Shadows, White Whale. I loved that one. I should reread Fahrenheit 451, I read it for an assignment, which tends to negatively color my opinion.

      I’m the same way with Stephen King, I’m actively trying to own all of his traditionally published titles.


  3. I still shop Amazon, but like you, I buy a ton of my books from my local indie and library sales. The books I buy through Amazon are the ones I probably would not have bought at all were their prices not so low, so I don’t necessarily feel like I’m taking a sale from somewhere else. Like when The Goldfinch was $11 for pre-order? I mean, I already had an ARC, but I couldn’t pass up a beautiful hardcover for that price. Would I have paid $30 for one anywhere else? Not for a book I already had.


    1. I love my local indie and I enjoy going there, but their books are SO, SO expensive. I might literally bankrupt myself if I bought all of my books there. So Amazon saves the day for me…


  4. Ohhhh I read his short story collection S is for Space early in the year. Sorry most of these were just kind of ehhhh though. Love the drink suggestion, ha!


    1. Most of them are solid stories, but the were scary at all, which is why I picked up the book in the first place. It was mildly disappointing, but not so much that I ever considered abandoning it.

      Lemon Ice is always good.


  5. The only Ray Bradbury I’ve ever read is Fahrenheit 451. I thought it was good, though not amazing, and haven’t really felt the inclination to pick up any of his other work.

    As for Amazon… I don’t buy from them unless I win a gift card or something. Since I read so much from the library and only actually buy a few books a year, I’m happy to give all my business to my local bookstore… even though my sales are hardly what’s keeping them in business.


    1. I buy a lot of books, too many really. I blame this mostly on used book sale bag day, when however much you can fit in you bag is only $5. I can usually get at least 20 or so books in there. I can never move again, just for fear of the amount of books I might have to move/give up.


  6. Boo. Too bad this one wasn’t fabulous. Because it sounds like the stories have that potential.

    I’m a huge Amazon fan. I do buy from indies, too, but Amazon is usually so much cheaper. I know, supporting the massive company. . . but I buy organic food from a small grocery store, so maybe that helps a little evening out the economy?


    1. Some of them (the three I mentioned) are good, I think they make the collection worth owning – especially since I paid only about $1.00 for my copy. Totally worth it.

      I like Amazon too, both as a buyer and a seller. I’m part of a food co-op and shop local for a lot of things, so hopefully it does balance it out… 🙂


  7. Oh man, it’s disappointing that most of the book isn’t very good, but that first story sounds terrifying. I really need to read more Bradbury, I always like what I read of his.

    I don’t feel too bad about buying from Amazon… I buy from used stores when I can (mainly my library’s used bookstore), I use Paperbackswap, and I buy from B&N as much as possible, but there aren’t really any good indie bookstores in my area. Also, the Amazon guy (Bezos?) doesn’t seem evil to me either. In fact I think it’s pretty cool that he’s he created Blue Origin and is trying to encourage human spaceflight.

    WALMART is where the real evil, trying-to-take-over-the-world company is at. I hate Walmart.


    1. Walmart IS evil. I won’t even go in it (luckily I have that option).

      It’s definitely one that makes the idea of parenthood terrifying. Because really, you never know what you’re going to get.

      I didn’t know about the human spaceflight, that’s sort-of neat in a terrifying/fascinating sort of way.


  8. Catholic guilt complex! Yep. I’ve got one of those! (I’m pretty sure you’re stuck with it- I’ve been in and out of church going for years and I’ve never managed to shake mine.) I totally shop at Amazon because I like reading on my Kindle. It’s less expensive to buy digital titles and I’m out of space to store my books. I won’t pirate books, so I figure that Karma and I are roughly even on that front. Maybe? I haven’t read much Bradbury- really only Farenheit 451 I think. It doesn’t sound like this one is a winner, but what else of his would you recommend? I could use some Bradbury about now.


    1. I left the church as soon as I left home and I’ve never gone back. I must say the new pope is kind of awesome though (and this is after years of hating anything that remotely smacked of the papacy).

      I (of course) buy all of my kindle novels on Amazon, which I love a lot more than I thought I would. Hmmm, I like The Martian Chronicles, Green Shadows, White Whale (I might be the only one), and The Illustrated Man.


  9. Buy from Amazon? Yes, because: Kindle. But other than Kindle, no Amazon shopping for me. All of my hard copy books come from my local independent bookshops (I have two excellent ones near me) and I ALWAYS buy hard copies of books written by Australian authors, whether they’re available on Kindle or not (supporting local publishing and local book shops). All of that said, my reading is 60% e-books and 40% hard copy books.


    1. So what happens when you want to own a physical copy of the book, but your local bookstore doesn’t have it? Skip it? Or do they order things for you (mine will)?

      I never thought I would love my kindle, but I really do love it. There are a few writers, especially the smaller ones, that I will go out of my way to support by buying their book full price at the indie shop. I don’t know if actually supports them or not, but I feel better.


  10. I do the majority of my book shopping on Amazon, too, and I’m okay with that. I won’t let anyone make me feel guilty about it, either. The only bookstore in my area is B&N, and they’re now a toy store that happens to sell books. I don’t even like going in there anymore. And like you said, finances are a big decision-maker for me when I’m buying books. So, like you, I get the majority of my books from Amazon, the library, and library book sales.


    1. I also do a bit of book shopping at Better World Books, if I don’t mind going used for that particular book–they’re a great new & used book website that donates profits to literacy programs.


      1. Sometimes I swear I feel guilt just to feel guilt…

        At a library used book sale, I can buy 20 books (in good condition) for $5 and there is not a single (readable) thing I can buy at B&N for that amount – not even their bargain books.

        I hate that toy section at B&N. Not only is it overpriced, but parents expect it to babysit their kids and don’t watch them (personal pet peeve).


  11. I, too, am a shopper of Amazon. I usually feel guilty when I see a book at a local indie that I want but it’s at full retail price. I know they can’t do the cost slashing like Amazon but it’s really hard when you don’t have lots of money to drop $25-$30 on a book when at a different venue (Amazon) it is drastically cheaper. You probably already know about it, but I was recently told about; it does a sweep around the web for the book your searching for. I am currently on the lookout for an out of print book, so I searched there for a place selling it used.

    I’m not an extensive reader of Ray Bradbury. I’ve definitely read Fahrenheit 451 and some stories in college (which I can absolutely not remember). That’s disappointing that the stories were a little lackluster. Perhaps, if they were advertised differently, they wouldn’t be such a bummer.

    p.s. Love the new blog banner.


    1. I’m more likely to buy a book full price if the book is being published by a small (or at least smaller) press (I think the last book I did this for was In the House upon the Dirt between the Lake and the Woods by Matt Bell – very good, very weird if you haven’t read it). I don’t know if it helps, but I feel better.

      I didn’t know about… I feel like a librarian failure.

      And thanks, I haven’t gotten the size quite right yet, but I’m too lazy to fix it at the moment. Tomorrow is my next day off, so maybe then (it’s an inch too long on the right).


  12. I am a fan of Bradbury but definitely agree that classifying him as science fiction feels wrong. He’s a whole different kind of science fiction. I feel the same way about Douglas Adams. Science fiction, except not totally. Its weird.


    1. I’m so happy to see this! I feel EXACTLY the same. He’s not true science fiction to me in the same way Douglas Adams is not. I recently did a video blog for the very first time and I managed to work in a Douglas Adams reference and I don’t think anybody noticed. I was sad. I don’t know why I shared that…


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