Ray Bradbury died today. He was 91. A ripe old age. A good run. All those things. And yet it feels very sudden and strange and sad to contemplate the fact that he’s not in his house typing something. Or painting something. Or off generously sharing his insights with peers or fans or students.
Ray Bradbury is one of the writers who first caught my attention and held it. When I finally figured out that I was a writer, he was one of the ones I looked at and said, “I want to write stuff like that.”
It started with The Martian Chronicles, which is sometimes mislabeled a novel but is really a collection of loosely related stories. It was either in middle school or early high school. I remember it was the imagery and the sheer style of the writing that I loved. Still is. Every time I pick Bradbury up it’s only a paragraph or two before I run across a sentence that makes me pause, smile, and reread in appreciation.
I thought Ray Bradbury was a science fiction writer. Because that’s what it said on the cover of The Martian Chronicles and, hey, it had to do with Mars and spaceships and aliens and stuff. Except it really had more to do with us. The nature and direction of humanity. As I read and learned more about him, I learned he was actually something of a technophobe.
Ray Bradbury was really a fantasy writer who sometimes wrote tales that were set in the future or set on other planets or included aliens. But they were all devices, masks, funhouse mirrors – and if you looked closely enough, you’d see us. Maybe even yourself.
Some of his best masks and mirrors are dark indeed. The October Country is one of the most highly regarded volumes of 20th century horror fiction. So is Something Wicked This Way Comes. Nightmares aplenty. Because that’s part of the nature of humanity, too.
But I think that what perhaps defines Bradbury most is his optimism, his affection for the human race (flaws and all), and his belief that we’re part of something bigger than ourselves. If there’s an overriding theme to the portion of his catalog that I’ve read (there are more than 27 novels and 600 short stories after all), than that’s it.
I met Ray Bradbury only once. It was at a screening of The Wonderful Ice Cream Suit in Chicago over a decade ago. He came in after the film had started and then moved up front afterwards to speak for awhile and answer questions. Then he signed books and I brought my copy of The Martian Chronicles forward. I’m glad I had the chance to thank him for his work.
Read this good, lengthy LA Times obituary to learn more about Bradbury and his remarkable contribution to American literature.
“Live forever,” Mr. Electrico told him when he was 12. And he will.