Science Fiction

More on the Death of Ray Bradbury

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Ray Bradbury, who it seems was nearly every Americans' favorite writer for at least briefly when they were kids, is dead, as Peter Suderman discussed here earlier today.

A few thoughts from a fan since reading "The Sound of Summer Running" in a grade school lit book at age 7 and a fellow Los Angeles resident.

That last part seems important if you live here; for all his Illinois childhood nostalgia, which Bradbury sold with all the mad vigor of a carnival barker from his own imagination, he was also a great patriot for the home of most of his life, Los Angeles (he made downtown cafeteria Clifton's a legend to me long before I had the pleasure of living here).

You'd see him regularly doing signings at local bookstores and libraries, because he believed in the power and necessity of local bookstores and libraries. It did indeed seem that he was a living legend that was going to continue to stress the "living" part, and indeed he made it far into the future he imaginedat age 91, though never far enough. The last time I saw him, appropriately, was behind a desk at the great local bookstore Bookfellows/Mystery and Imagination, a couple of years back.

He was also a great patriot for his imaginative kingdoms of science fiction and fantasy, pretty much a yearly fixture at San Diego Comicon and always reliable to a good word in the media for both science fiction and the place where science fiction most closely intersected the real world, space travel.

Like most of his readers, I both stopped reading him much when I hit my thirties and stopped following his newer work for the most part. This may have been my loss, and is irrelevant; he's got dozens of stories and a couple of novels that will clearly live, and not just in the minds of genre enthusiasts. He did his homeworld of science fiction a great favor by helping normalize it as "real lit" (not that all science fiction insiders appreciated it) and paving the way in his way for later Ballards, Le Guins, and Dicks.

Some words from Ray that I think sum him up. What he sold best, even in his social critic mode, was love: love for past ways and a mystically imagined future, love for childhood, love for wonder and innocence, love for science and curiosity and the fate of mankind.

This from an interview from 1979 with Bradbury in Charles Platt's excellent book Dream Makers: The Uncommon People Who Write Science Fiction:

"I went down to Cape Canaveral for the first time three years ago. I walked into it, and yes, I thought, this is my home town! Here is where I cam from, and it's all been built in the last twenty years behind my back. I walk into the Vehicle Assembly Building…and I go up in the elevator and look down–and the tears burst from my eyes…..I'm just full of the same awe that I have when I visit Chartre or go into the Notre Dame….It was like walking around in Shakespeare's head….

The dream remains the same: survival in space and moving on out, and caring about the whole history of the human race, with all our stupidities, all the dumb things that we are….I try to accept that: I say, okay, we are also the ghosts of Shakespeare, Plato, Euripides and Aristotle….So what we are going to try and do is move on out to the moon, get on out to Mars, move on out to Alpha Centauri, and we'll do it in the next 500 years, which is a very short period of time, maybe even sooner….and then, survive forever, that is the great thing. Oh, God, I would love to come back every 100 years and watch us.

So there it is, that's the essence of optimism: that I believe we'll make it and we'll be proud, and we'll still be stupid and make all the dumb mistakes, and part of the time we'll hate ourselves, but then the rest of the time we'll celebrate."

While he was the least scientifically rigorous of the great romantic visionaries of human life in space, that romanticism helped create the cultural world in which, as with the SpaceX adventure he lived to see by a week, the human race seems likely to live up to Uncle Ray's fondest hopes for us. They'll be reading him on Mars, and even Alpha Centauri, you can be sure.

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  1. As David Boaz over at Cato points out, he could make elegant statements against modern censorship as well. He saw that the cure for speech you disagreed with was always more speech.

  2. When I was in middle school I read Dandelion Wine. One of the few books I remember fondly from school. Not a sci fi book. But it is great portrait of a lost age. A great read.

    1. Me, too. I think it’s a Federal Law? that you have to read DW in high school.

      This subsequently led me to Farenheit 451 (LOVED IT!) and Martian Chronicles (LOVED IT!).

      Never read The October Country – I will now do that in his honor. Plus re-read DW, since I don’t remember the story.

      RIP, Ray Bradbury

  3. If teachers and grammar school editors find my jawbreaker sentences shatter their mushmilk teeth, let them eat stale cake dunked in weak tea of their own ungodly manufacture.

    What a good sentence.

  4. I loved all his stuff. But his story The Lake has haunted me since I was about 9 years old.
    Tally, oh Tally!

  5. In our earlier discussion of Ray I forgot to add that I fully enjoyed watching The Ray Bradbury Theater when I was a kid. He introduced each episode himself, and it was really quite good.

    1. I remember that! That was so cool! Anthology series FTW!

  6. Loved his work when I was younger, especially the short stories that were set in my little home town on Lake Michigan, north of Chicago. Sad to hear of his passing.

  7. Did you know his short story The Rocket Man is what inspired Elton John’s song of the same name?

    The Martian Chronicles and The Illustrated Man are story collections I can read over and over.

    1. The Veldt is one of the greatest short stories of all time.

  8. Still, the best Bradbury story has to be when they landed a rover on Mars, and some idiot was asking him about how there wasn’t any life there, and if this sucked for Bradbury, a guy who wrote about life on Mars.

    His response:”There is life on Mars. It’s us.”

    1. That’s actually how Martian Chronicles ends. Some earth settlers on Mars take their kids on an excursion to see some ‘real Martians’. IIRC they looked into their reflections in water and the Dad told them they lived on Mars and so they were all real Martians now.

      1. There’s also the one where the colonists turn into Martians.

        1. I mean really, not metaphorically.

  9. My favorite Ray Bradbury short story isn’t sf at all, but a little pub story entitled “The Anthem Runners” about a pubsters who run out of a movie before the national anthem plays in a contest to see who will get there first. It’s funny, sentimental and a little gem.

    My favorite of his novels, hands doen, is “Something Wicked This Way Comes.” I love the movie, too.

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