I am not one of those people who jumps aboard the news of every celebrity death. Everybody’s got to go sometime, and I get annoyed the way everybody’s suddenly a huge fan for about a week after any celeb death. Ray Bradbury, on the other hand, is a person whose work had a real impact on me, and I’d like to take a minute to remember the relationship we shared – he as author, and me as reader.
Among the first short stories I remember reading was “The Veldt.” I must have been around ten or eleven, and it was included in an anthology I picked up somewhere. Maybe for school. I never forgot the vivid image of the lions devouring Mom and Dad. As a reader, it’s something you only witness from a distance. In fact, that’s the way much of the story is related – from a distance, with much of the meat of the story told through subtext. It introduced a real sense of danger, of foreboding.
When I picked up “The Illustrated Man” in my late twenties, and encountered that story for a second time, it was like finding a beloved childhood toy in an attic box. Re-reading it, I recognized the DNA of my own writing, or at least what I envision my writing to be.
Bradbury wrote science fiction, but his work was not about space ships and laser guns. He wrote about people, about human nature and society, about the way we are capable of great nobility and great monstrosity. Like most great authors of speculative fiction, he created fictional worlds in order to make statements about the real world. He is one of the great shapers of speculative fiction, and the traditions he created will carry on long after you and I are gone.
Bradbury’s official site at Harper Collins, in its published obituary, recounts this story:
Throughout his life, Bradbury liked to recount the story of meeting a carnival magician, Mr. Electrico, in 1932. At the end of his performance Electrico reached out to the twelve-year-old Bradbury, touched the boy with his sword, and commanded, Live forever! Bradbury later said, I decided that was the greatest idea I had ever heard. I started writing every day. I never stopped.