Is it sacriligeous for me to say that I’m not a huge Ray Bradbury fan? I don’t mean to imply that I thought him talentless, mind you – he was a marvelous writer with a prolific imagination and the accolades poured upon his name are sufficient to summon the respect of even the most cynical critic. That said, in reflecting on the great writer’s passing, I am having difficulty thinking of something he wrote that really resonated with me. He is not, I can say with a degree of confidence, one of my inspirations. Nevertheless, I mourn his passing along with the rest of the speculative fiction world. He was one of the greatest among us; he helped make this genre and its cousins into something more than just primetime radioplay doggerel.
I admit to not having read all of Bradbury’s stuff (there is a *lot* of it, after all). The Martian Chronicles, Something Wicked This Way Comes, and various and scattered short stories of his are all that springs to mind. Many of the titles of these stories have faded from my memory, as well; I think I started reading him in grade school and stopped when I hit other, bigger, more personally inspiring works – Tolkien, Asimov, Heinlein, Howard, LeGuin, Card. I re-read The Martian Chronicles in college for a class, and I remember it paling in comparison to the next read – Herbert’s Dune. If you had asked me a few weeks ago what I thought of Bradbury, I probably would have shrugged and said, ‘eh.’
Then again, upon reflection, I find images from his stories floating up. The image of the dog, mad with hunger, in “There Will Come Soft Rains” always chills my bones, as does the cruelty and selfishness of the children in “The Veldt”. The specific line in that story describing the ozone wafting off the daughter’s clothing as she comes inside has, for some reason, never left me. There is the children of Venus and their raincoats in “All Summer in a Day;” the crushed butterfly in “A Sound of Thunder.”
There is a certain, elemental simplicity to Bradbury’s storytelling that gives it power. It is plain, clear, and devoid of unnecessary embellishment; a kind of spartan, modernist beauty, like the set of a Star Trek episode. When I think of him, I think of the colors of the Golden Age of scifi–silver, gold, gray, brown, red. He is the 1950s, cleft-chin, clear-eyed, faith in science and hope for humanity’s wisdom (even though so much of his work doubted that self-same wisdom’s existence). With him I think of moon rockets and my childhood subscription to Odyssey magazine. I think of lying on the carpet, staring through the skylight, and thinking of astronauts.
Perhaps it is premature of me to dismiss him as an inspiration. Perhaps, instead, the inspiration he gave me runs so deep it has become difficult for me to separate it from the essential nature of my being. I am more than inspired by him; I am built out of him. He gave me, and so many others, a framework upon which to hang our wildest dreams.
May he rest in peace.