Bookbanter Column: Ray Bradbury Remembered (June 11, 2012)

On June 5th, 2012, we lost one of the greatest writers of our time: Ray Bradbury.

He lived to the impressive age of 91, and continued to write and do signings and readings well into his eighties.

He is perhaps best known for some of the most important science fiction novels of the twentieth century, such as The Martian Chronicles and Fahrenheit 451, which continue to be read not just by fans, but by high school students across the country.

One of the early pioneers of science fiction, up there with Isaac Asimov and Robert Heinlein, his short stories are unique and unforgettable.

The short story was Bradbury’s true forte, with his incredible ability to encapsulate so much within a limited number of pages.  His lyrical prose, compelling characters, and moving plots made him a writer not just to be categorized in the genres of science fiction and fantasy, but to be enjoyed by mainstream readers across the globe.

Bradbury in 1999

I got to meet Ray Bradbury at a signing and reading in the fall of 1999.

It was at California State University Long Beach, where I was currently working through the second semester of my Bachelor’s.  Coincidentally, it was also the first date with this new girl I’d met recently; that girl has been with me ever since, and this year we celebrated our eighth wedding anniversary.  The reading took place in the university theater and my wife had been asked to control the spotlight, which was a great bit of hands on experience for her lighting class.

As we sat there in the booth, watching and listening to the great Ray Bradbury talk, I can remember being torn between showing my interest in this new girl in my life, but also wanting to listen to this incredible writer talk.  It was an intimate moment in every sense of the work.  At the end of the reading, my wife got her book signed, as well as one for her dad, who had introduced this great author to her at a young age.

It was a very special event I shall never forget.

With an average reading of a hundred books a year, there are a few rituals I have incorporated into my reading throughout each year.

One is the reading of A Christmas Carol during the week before Christmas.

The other is the reading of Ray Bradbury’s The Halloween Tree before Halloween each year.

Even though the book was published in 1972, there is a timelessness about it, as Bradbury perfectly encapsulates the exciting feeling of Halloween, no matter what age you are, and then takes you back in time through a history of origins for this celebrated night known throughout the world.  It is a magical tale that’s a delight to read every year.

The Martian Chronicles is my favorite Bradbury novel, and I can remember reading it for the first time in my science fiction class in early 2000, and found it fascinating that Bradbury was pushing the boundaries in so many ways with this book, not just with science fiction, but also with the development of the science fiction novel.

Bradbury, like many of the other science fiction greats, began as a short story writer publishing in the science fiction and fantasy pulp magazines that were so popular at the time.  But with the development and growing popularity of the genre novel, he turned to the longer form.   

The Martian Chronicles was one of those unique books that began as a bunch of published short stories that Bradbury converted into a novel by writing “linking” stories to make the collection feel more like a seamless novel.

Ray Bradbury will be missed by many.

He was not simply a delight to read for so many fans, but an inspiration for many writers, and continues to be so.  Stephen King had this to say on his passing:

“Ray Bradbury wrote three great novels and three hundred great stories. One of the latter was called ‘A Sound of Thunder.’ The sound I hear today is the thunder of a giant’s footsteps fading away. But the novels and stories remain, in all their resonance and strange beauty,”

while Neil Gaiman said,

“The landscape of the world we live in would have been diminished if we had not had him in our world.”

But then the beauty of the written and published and print word is its ability to last long after the author has left this world.

While we have lost one of the giants in the world of writing, whose beautiful prose will be long missed, we can all still enjoy his stories and books for the rest of our lives.  And for future generations, they can discover the alien red worlds of Mars in The Martian Chronicles, or learn of a doomed dystopian future in Fahrenheit 451, or feel the strong emotional pull of the great leviathan in “The Fog Horn.”

But it is up to us to keep Bradbury’s work alive and read.

I know I will continue to tell family and friends and eventually my children about this great author who thrilled, delighted and entertained the world with his incredible stories, and about the one time I even got to meet him.

Originally published on Forces of Geek.

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