I’m going to be one of a bazillion bloggers writing about Ray Bradbury today, and I probably won’t be saying much new, but he was an important writer to me and I want to say something.
I’m not much moved by the cult of fame. Like a lot of modern life, it really, really annoys me. Many celebrities don’t do much by way of justifying their exalted status. Authors in general do more to deserve approbation than some of our planet’s famed sons and daughters, toiling away on their own, but even they can be less talented than they believe, and can let their success, should the fickle vagaries of fate bestow it upon them, go to their heads. You’ll not see many posts like this from me.
Ray Bradbury was one of those who thoroughly deserved the plaudits heaped upon him, and more besides. He was one of the loose handful of SF writers whose work transcended their favoured genre and can genuinely, whole-heartedly be described as art.
Bradbury apparently had a great love of life, but what always stays with me from his work is the sense of melancholy at life passing that it evokes. Long summer nights giving way to autumn days, the bittersweet exchange of childhood for adulthood, of youth for middle-age; the thrilling slip of experience as it runs through our hands, inevitably dragging time and, ultimately, the cessation of experience behind it. Naturally, the brassy light of apple days is predominant in works he wrote later in his life, but it was always evident. Something Wicked This Way Comes epitomises these feelings for me, whose teenage hero literally sees his childhood end, as does the Martian Chronicles, where the venerable Martian civilisation has to make way for something new, as do all things in their due time.
This was a powerful message for my teenage self. I read many of his short stories and novels in the late ’80s as my own boyhood ticked closer to its conclusion. They infused my own utterly indulgent and somewhat risible sense of adolescent sorrow with a touch of nobility.
Bradbury was one of the great prose stylists of 20th Century American fiction. He had a knack for phrases that stick long in the mind, and a powerful way with imagery. There are moments from his work aplenty that have taken up permanent residence in my head – A man planting trees on Mars and an automated house’s valiant attempts to survive post-apocalyptic Earth in The Martian Chronicles. Alien guns that fire bees (bees!) from the same. Calliopes, a carousel of wishes and the balloon-borne Dust Witch sniffing her way over town in Something Wicked This Way Comes, the warped writing and chemical tang on the air encountered by returning chrononauts in “A Sound of Thunder”, Guy Montag discovering reading in Fahrenheit 451. And of course that golden sunlight.
Bradbury died yesterday, on my 39th birthday. I never met him, but I did speak to him on the phone. I tried to arrange an interview with him while on a US trip, from the LA offices of Alliance Atlantis who had produced Ray Bradbury Theater. This was in 1999, and he had not long before suffered a stroke. If I recall correctly, it was my foolish insistence on a picture (magazine policy, but a more experienced me would have known to disregard it) that prevented our meeting. Such a wasted opportunity, and one I will forever regret. Still, I feel privileged to have spoken to him at all.
My book Champion of Mars was very much inspired by Bradbury, although my talent (I’m cringing inside even using that word in relation to my own work) is like a molehill to his mountain. He’s one of the writers that opened my eyes to the fact that books could be far more than just entertainment, and how truly magical writing can be. If it weren’t for him and others like him I wouldn’t be a writer at all, and I’ll always be thankful for that.
I don’t have any reviews or pieces about Bradbury’s work directly, but here is a review of the 1980 TV mini-series The Martian Chronicles. I loved it as a child and loved it again recently, although Bradbury himself famously called it “boring”.