BookPage: In the history of socially conscious fiction, the shift from the realism of Uncle Tom's Cabin and Hard Times to the speculation of 1984 and Fahrenheit 451 reflects the growing difficulty of the moral imagination to keep pace with techno-political advances. This acceleration is dramatically evident in the debate over human cloning, which could now—if made legal—be accomplished through a relatively uncomplicated medical procedure. Could the manufacture of a cloned person ever be politically (if not ethically) sanctioned? If so, could cloning be undertaken through governmental control? These questions are no longer the stuff of science fiction, but the substance of academic debate. Political implementation never lurks far behind. And so, Steven Polansky's fable of a man who meets his own clone—a creature processed under a classified U.S. government cloning program for the purposes of organ harvesting (for those citizens who can afford to pay for it)—may be projected as vintage 2071, but there is no reason why the unnerving scenario could not happen in our own lifetime, as so much else has. The title of The Bradbury Report is a tribute to the author of 451. "Ray Bradbury" is the pseudonym of the narrator, an old, disappointed and dying man, through whom Polansky plays an age-old literary trick: The teller has no muse inspiring him to speak, but only an absolute necessity to bear witness to the horror he has experienced (behold the Ancient Mariner). Artless as the narrator pretends to be, there are passages here that stand unsurpassed in the catalogue of speculative fiction for pure, shattering pathos. The existential quandary of Samuel Beckett's characters cannot hold a candle to the cosmic despair of Alan, the clone, when he discovers who—or rather, what—he is. Just as in Beecher Stowe, Dickens, Orwell—and yes, Bradbury—Polansky's outrage against human arrogance and cruelty is overwhelming, all the more so because the suffering human being in this case has no existence at all, apart from that which human arrogance and cruelty have bestowed upon him. The Bradbury Report shows us supremely well that to be human is to weep, and to weep is to be drawn in the first place from the womb, and no place else.
Alan J. Couture: In 2071 A.D., clones are grown for spare parts. They live like subhumans in harsh conditions in the Clearances, a vast area run by a nefarious and secretive government. Virtually no one thinks about his or her clone, or the ethical issues involved with their horrific treatment. But when a clone miraculously escapes and is recovered by a small resistance group, a plot hatches to have it meet its Original — an encounter so inconceivable to the citizenry that the group believes the resultant report by the Original will create an outcry and end the barbarous cloning program. The narrator is a lonely elderly man who is contacted by Anna, a resistance member and an old flame from his college days. She has met his youthful clone, who is scarcely more than a savage. Anna must convince her former friend to put his life at risk for the clone's welfare and to write the blockbuster book about his encounter with his young replica. He only reluctantly agrees to meet the clone but has no intent to write the book, and he does not like being pushed around by the resistance or the shadowy government figures on their trail. Only after he has spent a year on the run with the clone and Anna does he begin to truly understand what he has been asked to do, and how his interactions with this strange modern Tarzan have changed him profoundly. The author's fiction has been published in The New Yorker and Harper's and other periodicals. His short-story collection, Dating Miss Universe, won the Sandstone Prize and the Minnesota Book Award. He writes succinctly, and his use of dialogue among the handful of characters moves the story along crisply. But for the existence of the clones, the story seems to have been set in today's world, with the technology — automobiles, televisions, and microwave ovens — that we currently use. The author makes virtually no attempt to convince the reader that the characters truly inhabit a futuristic world, with the extreme changes in technology that sixty years will surely bring. Perhaps this omission is intended to bring the moral implications of cloning closer to home. This book is a psychological novel, not an action tale or suspense thriller; for those interested in the development of an eerie and complex relationship between a dying old man and his much younger self, this story is first-rate.
The LA Times: You've damaged your lungs with too much smoking, or a valve in your heart blows out — what do you do? If you're living in the United States in the year 2071, rather than turn to a strange inventor like Dr. Madeleine, you simply take the organ that you need from a clone living in a government-controlled zone in the Midwest. That's the scenario confronting Ray, the narrator of Steven Polansky's novel The Bradbury Report (Weinstein Books: 326 pp., $24.95). Yeah, I know, interesting choice of names, isn't it? Polansky's story feels familiar and new all at the same time, and perhaps it should go, like the Steampunks, on a shelf of its own. There you'll also find Brave New World and Eric Garcia's The Repossession Mambo (made this year into the film Repomen). All of these books treat the human body as a cheap commodity in the future — something easily fixed with drugs and interchangeable parts. Today we call this fantasy, but some future generation of readers may of course call them prescient.
Julie Schumacher: The Bradbury Report is thoroughly compelling: fast-paced, thought-provoking, and richly detailed, this is a marvelous work of literary speculative fiction in the tradition of Margaret Atwood, Kurt Vonnegut and Ursula LeGuin.
Pioneer Press: Polansky is really telling the story of lonely people, of what it means to be human, of the moral choices in advances of technology. And he does it with gorgeous, unhurried writing that makes us ache for all the characters.
Christian Century: The Bradbury Report draws on the tradition of dystopic and speculative fiction, fiction like George Orwell's 1984 and Ray Bradbury's Farenheit 451 to probe deeply into questions about human nature, purpose and embodiment. It's a beautifully rendered story, never overplaying its cards. At the same time, it's a harsh and difficult piece of work. . . . The book is, among other things, an indictment of what Polansky calls, via Ray, society's "staggering narcissicm"— its belief that all other things could be created for our benefit apart from love, that love can be entirely removed from the conversation. But, as Polansky's clone teaches us, love can be removed only if distance is created so that we never meet, never speak or interact with one another. While familiarity may breed contempt, it also contains the only seed of hope: that in knowing one another we might come to love one another. The actions of the characters remain dystopic. In Polansky's universe, there are no heroes. Yet each character becomes more human, more vulnterable and more determined as the book progresses toward its startling conclusion.
Booklist: Ambitious. . . chilling. . . heartbreaking. . . Polansky does an extraordinary job of imagining the condition of being a human copy, while challenging readers to consider the ethicality and inhumanity of such human engineering.
Iowa Press-Citizen: The result of such technological and ethical speculation could have been a very didactic story that merely preaches the dangers of cloning rather than develops characters and connects with readers. But Polansky has that same mix of lightness and directness about his story that made the real Bradbury into such a household name. And contrary to Ray's assertion that his report will be a substandard literary account because he's not a very good writer, The Bradbury Report will prove to be equally appropriate (and welcome) reading for courses on novel writing or bioethics.
Kirkus Reviews: An inventive, cerebral thriller... Polansky does a fine job of wrestling with the moral dilemmas posited by writers like Philip K. Dick and others, and his characterization of Alan is sublimely witty and soulfully sympathetic.
The New York Times: The main character in this collection's title story, a cab driver, doesn't actually date Miss Universe. He trails a mere finalist, Miss Thailand, and calls out to her at Rockefeller Center's ice-skating rink. After the pageant's bouncers rough him up, he becomes contemplative. "The things in this world you love, be they beauty or whatever, your wife, your kids if you have got them, the place you live, they can knock you around for." Steven Polansky makes that point often in this inventive and sometimes moving book. Most of his characters are men who are past their prime. They're realizing that they haven't called the winners right and that the things they've loved have rendered them irreparably vulnerable. In "Leg," a father takes passive aggression to new heights, neglecting a badly infected wound in order to attract his son's attention and concern. The two brothers in "Alarm," one of whom is fleeing his marriage, brace themselves for the worst when visiting their elderly mother. Several of the stories in Dating Miss Universe have appeared in publications like The New Yorker and Harper's Magazine, but the best of them, "Beard," has not been previously published. It's about a writer in his 40's who accepts the limitations of his gift, and of giftedness itself, during a workshop with a younger, more successful author. Their encounter, deftly drawn, is sobering yet hilarious. Glimpses of scaffolding remain in this book's final two stories — the rest seem effortlessly built — but by then you're already turning back to reread the others.
Publishers Weekly: With the surgical skill of his literary forebear Raymond Carver, Polansky cuts away the skin of conventional relationships and love as it's normally described to reveal in nine smart (and smarting) stories the cankers that infect us all. The ineffectual and frustrated father of "Leg" refuses to treat the scrape he gets from a pointless slide into third in a church group baseball game. He turns feverish and stiff, afflicted to the bone, but won't see the doctor until his disdainful and uncommunicative teenage son comes to him in tears. Punning with a gentle smirk, the story "Sleights" tells of a dead magician who, omniscient, watches as his daughter Judith absents herself from his funeral. Aware but unrepenting of some crime he committed against her — one suspects neglect at best — the magician does not defend himself when Judith claims in a letter to her estranged cousin that she hates her father and is not sorry he has died. In "Coda," Lack and Rosenthal, acquaintances, not friends, come into an uneasy and quickly dissolved intimacy when Rosenthal tells Lack the story of his sexual depravity. Polansky's dialogue is clipped, the stories brief. Suspenseful and riddled characters, both distressed and repressed, dwell in these neat plots pulled together with nooselike finality. Here, the last laugh belongs to Polansky and it's a devastating, ironic twitch of a smile.
Kirkus Reviews: Polansky's debut volume of skillful, and skillfully familiar, stories is winner of Ohio's Sandstone Prize in Short Fiction. Leading off is "Leg," which, though included in The Best American Short Stories 1995, may merely anger some in its telling of a religious family man who lets his injured leg go untreated until it needs amputation, all seemingly in orderby nursing this Christ-like scourge to gain the respect of his sullen teenaged son. Other family dysfunctions occur in "Sleight," with its pun on sleight/slight, a near-hyper-researched story about a magician whose daughter estranges him; and in the also ambiguously titled "Rein," in which a man feels both trapped and made guilty by his wife's clinical depression, a situation that's little assuaged by a visit from the dashing, handsome horse-breeder who was once her lover, now enviably free. Less ambitiously symbol-structured pieces occur in "Acts," another father-son tale, this time about athletics and courage; and in the title story, told by a Manhattan cabby who, briefly and with only purest intentions, stalks Miss Thailand around town. Caution is given in "Beard" that stories should never be written about writing stories, though breaking that rule a 40-year- old man is winner of a fiction contest results in Polansky's best and richest piece here, especially in its portrayal of the nationally known writer who comes to offer a master class to the winners. Less good overall is "Pantalone," about a Prufrock-like English prof, his own marriage on the rocks, who falls in love with a beautiful student who has a scarred face; his passive inertia (he loses both wife and girl) may be central to the story's theme, but it gives no pleasure to the reader, as neither does his scarcely believable insensitivity. Conscientiously wrought fiction, always capable in scheme and technique, less often strongly involving.
Antonya Nelson: Steven Polansky's stories deserve and demand to be read word by word, moment by moment, with senses prepared for surprise and delight. This book is surefooted, quirky, disturbing and memorable.