Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Ray Bradbury, 1920-2012

Just this morning on the subway ride to work, I was reading an interview in Filmfax magazine with writer/editor Dr. Samuel J. Sackett. Decades ago, he had sent his first story to author Ray Bradbury to get his opinion on it. Bradbury "rewrote the first two pages into one page to condense it and, of course, it was all in his style which was not my style, so I had to rewrite that page as I would have written it," Sackett told the magazine. "But there was one sentence I simply couldn't rewrite because I couldn't think of another way to put it, so there's one sentence by Bradbury in that story. But I don't remember which sentence."

Upon arriving at work, I learned that Ray Bradbury has passed away at the age of 91. As they say, the death of an old man is no tragedy – meaning, as I take it, it's neither a surprise nor too soon. But that doesn't mean it is not an occasion for sadness and happiness; to lose someone who crafted tales of great poetry is a loss and at the same time a reminder that this weird human species is capable of producing someone who can make a martian pulp story into poetry.

I believe Fahrenheit 451 was the first of his books that I read, probably back in junior high school. (I was just making reference to the wall-sized TV screens in a conversation with a friend last week.) Sometime later, I read his epic book The Martian Chronicles, a book that is inescapable as a lodestar for later writers tackling the topic of former civilizations on Mars, just as one can't write about robots without either referencing or being seen to avoid referencing Isaac Asimov's robotic laws.

Bradbury was an unusual genre writer in many ways. Unlike the hard-SF writers or the new wave SF writers, Bradbury's stories were a gentler, more humane sort. It says something good about the science fiction world that his stories were not only read but celebrated within it. I think they will be celebrated for many years to come, and their influence will be sustained, even if later generations "don't remember which sentence" of the continuing narrative about Mars came from Bradbury. He's woven himself too much into the stories.

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