The October Country

I don’t know why I stopped reading science fiction and fantasy stories. I don’t know exactly when either. Perhaps it was a gradual thing to do with getting older. But when I was a teenager that’s the sort of thing I read all the time. I was a big fan of Michael Moorcock and read book after book of his stories, from the swords and sorcery novellas to the amazing End of Time series, and even the trippy psychedelic 1960s adventures of Jerry Cornelius. I enjoyed Tolkien, Mervyn Peake, Asimov,  Arthur C. Clarke and many others which I usually binge-read by buying everything I could find by a given author and ploughing through them one after the other.

One of the authors I devoured in this way was Ray Bradbury, and his books are among the few that I still like to re-read from time to time. To be honest, I wasn’t all that keen on the pure science fiction books like The Martian Chronicles, but I loved his collections of macabre short stories. Perhaps it’s because I now know how difficult it is to write in that genre that my appreciation of his story-telling skill has if anything grown with time.

I was watching the news last night about the continuing tailspin in the world’s stock markets and it reminded me of one of my favourite collections of Ray Bradbury stories, The October Country. I rummaged around in the stacks of old paperbacks I still haven’t got around to putting on shelves – mainly because I haven’t got around to buying enough shelves – and finally located my copy. It’s a weirdly eclectic mixture of the whimsical and the frightening. The October Country of the title isn’t a specific place. It is many places: “a picturesque Mexican village where death is a tourist attraction; a city beneath the city where drowned lovers are silently reunited; a carnival midway where a tiny man’s most cherished fantasy can be fulfilled night after night. The October Country’s inhabitants live, dream, work, die–and sometimes live again–discovering, often too late, the high price of citizenship. Here a glass jar can hold memories and nightmares; a woman’s newborn child can plot murder; and a man’s skeleton can wage war against him. Here there is no escaping the dark stranger who lives upstairs…or the reaper who wields the world.”

What binds the separate tales together is the way Bradbury conjures up an atmosphere that is both autumnal and alien, both familiar and unnerving, like that of a long-forgotten room where dust gathers on lost artefacts of the past.

But what does this have to do with Stock Markets?

The baffling thing is that the greatest episodes of spine-chilling terror that grip the stock market from time to time also always seem to happen in October. The great Wall Street Crash of 1929 happened in October. More recently, the 1987 crash known Black Monday happened in the same month. Now, in 2008, although the credit crunch has been with us for a significant time, the most dramatic drops in share prices have also been in October.

In order to find the answer to why this is the case I went to Wikianswers and discovered somebody has already posted the question, but so far there have been no answers.

Whatever it is, something about October seems to give investors the jitters.

I blame Ray Bradbury.

3 Responses to “The October Country”

  1. Anton Garrett Says:

    Peter,

    Perhaps October crashes are triggered partly by a bad harvest in the northern hemisphere (where more people with more money live)? Nowadays most people think food comes from supermarkets rather than from soil, but it aint so…

    Science fiction short stories are generally better than novels because in a short story the idea is the thing, whereas a novel can retain interest only if the characters have depth. Characterisation takes literary skill rather than mere imagination, and fewer SF writers have it.

    Science fiction and sword-and-sorcery are very different beasts; I am just old enough to remember the transition in bookshops. Tolkien emphatically saw himself as a late bard rather than a proto-hippie, and was rather nonplussed when stoned people began ringing him from California in the late 1960s.

    My favourite passage from Tolkien is the ending of Akallabeth from The Silmarillion, where it is stated that ships which sail far enough west now just end up where they began. Following the sailing west of a fleet of conquest from Numenor (the isle of men) to Valinor (the realm of the Valar or angels), Iluvatar (the Creator) changed the world. Not only was the fleet trashed and Numenor drowned, but once-flat Middle Earth was made round – except that every now and then a ship is permitted to enter upon the straight path. That is storytelling of spine-tingling genius.

    Anton

  2. Dear Peter – try searching google for “October Effect”, you’ll get some answers. Apparently the effect is more of a psychological expectation rather than a real effect, but I think most of these explanations were written before the most recent crash!

  3. […] of my first blog posts – way back in October 2008 – was inspired by a collection of Ray Bradbury stories […]

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