I know that no one lasts forever, and that death is a fact of life. But it’s still no fun to hear about the passing of an artist who demanded one’s deepest respect. This morning’s news brought word of the passing of Ray Bradbury, and I am seriously bummed.*

When I was growing up, there was The Bookshelf in my father’s office.** The Bookshelf reached almost the ceiling, and when I was really little and still monkey-limbed, climbable.*** And on The Bookshelf was all kinds of business – everything from my mother’s college textbooks, to a big set of books on how to take and develop photographs, to a full set of World Book Encyclopedias (you remember when encyclopedias were on paper and bound in fancy covers and took up a bunch of space, right?)  And nestled into the shelves was my father’s science fiction collection –  Heinlein, Asimov, Robert E Howard, Anne McCaffrey, Ursula K LeGuinn, Ray Bradbury, and a bunch of others. I made it my task to gobble up as many of those books as I possibly could, while avoiding the Conan the Barbarian paperbacks, because they seemed a little sketchy to me.† I like think that I got a right good education from that Bookshelf.

My favorite, from an early age, was Bradbury. Dark They Were, and Golden-Eyed, originally published as The Naming of Names in the book The Martian Chronicles, literally changed my life. From the moment I finished that story, my perspective  was different – I wanted now to find mystery in ordinary things, and sought it out at every chance. I also made it my business to read as much Ray Bradbury as I could possibly get my paws on.

One of my favorite quotes from Ray Bradbury, which I heard sometime in the nineties,  was this:  “I’m not a science fiction writer. I’ve written only one book of science fiction [Fahrenheit 451]. All the others are fantasy. Fantasies are things that can’t happen, and science fiction is about things that can happen.” I heard the quote while I was reading Orwell’s 1984, and the book before that on the syllabus had been Huxley’s Brave New World. The book after 1984 was to be Fahrenheit 451. (For the record, that was a terrifying semester; we also read Zamyatin’s We.) The Bradbury quote has echoed through my head over the decades since, and has informed my own writing deeply.

May you rest gently and peacefully, Mr. Bradbury. Thank you for Mars. Thank you for the Venus where it never stops raining. Thank you for the Veldt. Thank you for the robots and the spaceships, and the temperature at which paper combusts with all of our fears and truths. Thank you for showing us ourselves from as far away as space, and as close up as our own names, our own faces. Thank you for your distinctions, and your sense of humor, and the reminder that toys are best in plain sight on the desk while writing. I have learned so much from from you, and I am deeply grateful for the knowledge and the pile of stories you left behind for us.

***

*The guy lived to 91, and was celebrated right up to the end – just last year (the year before?) saw video tributes from young nubile thangs – you could do a lot worse.  Seriously.
2 Things before you watch the video: 1) THIS BUSINESS IS NOT SAFE FOR WORK 2) Ray Bradbury thought it was pretty funny.

**Adjacent to the wall with the closet stuffed full of  back issues of National Geographic and one of the first Pong machines hooked up to the old black and white teevee. That office was well and truly Heaven.
***I remember the moment when I got too big and standing on a chair became necessary. I remember distinctly, placing my foot on a lower shelf and feeling it wobble, and being appropriately terrified. For reals, I’m lucky I never pulled that stuff down on top of myself. I would have been seriously hurt, yeh, sure, whatever – dude, my father would have had a litter of lizards.
†I have no idea why, except that perhaps the cover illustrations weirded me out or something. In short: I was significantly spooked by the shelf of  Conan books.

Aside note:
Our Man Cub and I have a ritual of reading together every night before bedtime. Last year we read MT Anderson’s Feed, and after that Man Cub was jonesing for more sc-fi. We went on to read The Illustrated Man together next. Reading it with him was one of the coolest experiences – I had been afraid that because it was written so long ago, that it would feel dated, and that Man Cub would lose interest, but to my delight, that wasn’t the case – we spent a lot of time talking about the stories as we read them together. The Veldt was as terrific to him in 2011 as it was to me in high school – and from the perspectives of parent and child reading together, it was kinda amazing, actually – I highly recommend the experience to parents of ‘tweens.

Advertisements