Charles Beaumont was born in 1929 and passed away way to early in 1967 from a “mysterious brain disease.” No one seems quite sure. Speculation ranges from early Alzheimer’s to repercussions from a bout with spinal menengitis at a young age. He was thirty-eight when he died and “looked ninety-five.”

He was one of the great writers on the original Twilight Zone(The Howling Man, Printer”s Devil among others), wrote movies(7 Faces of Doctor Lao, The Masque of The Red Death), and penned numerous short stories. One of his tales was the first short fiction published in Playboy.

In the introduction, Bradbury speaks of their first meeting and the friendship that grew between them. And a sort of competition. The lived in the same area of L.A. and there was a cemetery they often passed in their travels that had a hand-lettered sign that said free dirt. It set Bradbury’ s mind to thinking, speculating, making notes, and finally starting a story. Beaumont showed up out of the blue one day with a new short story titled FREE DIRT. Bradbury’s story never made it out of his files. Beaumont’s is in this volume.

Bradbury talks of the somberness of so many writers and their readers in relation to their works. Of Beaumont, he says,

“So Charles Beaumont is terribly suspect.There he is, out in the middle of the play yard, yelling with delight, chuckling at ideas, building his castle metaphors, and all too obviously enjoying what he does.”

An impressive group of writers used to spend evenings bouncing around ideas. Bradbury says, “Sometimes, of an evening, Richard Matheson would toss up the merest dustfleck of notion, which would bounce off William F. Nolan, knock against George Clayton Johnson, glance off me, and land in Chuck’s lap. Before anyone could grab or knock it again, Chuck would outline the rest of the tale, sketch in the characters, butter and cut the sandwich, beginning, meat-middle, and end.” Who wouldn’t want to be a fly on the wall during those sessions.

There are twenty-two stories in this collection, two never before published and the others from the fifties. Three were adapted for The Twilight Zone. THE BEAUTIFUL PEOPLE(as Number 12 Looks Just Like You): a world where everyone undergoes The Transformation at nineteen. A little nip, tuck, bone adjustment, until everyone looks exactly the same. A young woman wants to stay like she was born and everyone assumes she’s crazy. THE JUNGLE: a man is building a dam in Africa. A witch doctor has threatened him if he goes ahead with the project. Back in New York, he hears jungle sounds everywhere he goes. PERCHANCE TO DREAM: a man with a heart condition is afraid to sleep because he dreams of dying and knows the strain might kill him. But staying awake isn’t doing him any good either.

Lots of other wonderful stories here: the vampire seeing a psychiatrist because of his problems being one of the undead, the physicist who tests that old paradox about going back in time to kill his father before being conceived just to see what happens and gets not at all what he thought, five hundred years in the future where people are tube-born and heterosexuality is a crime, a young couple find themselves sneaking around to avoid the law, a new to the suburbs couple find their neighbors more than passingly strange, a man who loves women and is equipped with a computer and a love potion determines that 563 match his criteria for the perfect woman, setting out to meet and bed them all in a year because a new crop turns eighteen every year, and many more.

A great collection of stories, although Bradbury bemoans the fact that he could have added another dozen. Or two. Or three.