Wednesday, June 06, 2012

Ray Bradbury 1920-2012

Ray Bradbury scared the hell out of me when I was a kid and I've been affected by it my entire life. I saw his story "The Veldt" on an episode of Ray Bradbury Theater and it scared me to death. I read the story, thinking maybe it would exorcise that fear, and it compounded it. And now, at the age of 35, I'm still far too terrified with my overactive imagination to walk down the halls of animal dioramas at the Field Museum. Can't do it. No way. Even thinking about it now is making my breathing speed up and my heart start to palpitate. And that's all your fault, Mr. Bradbury.

Well, he was just that good a writer.

I've always thought so. As I've said many times, my Mom got me into science fiction at an early age, and one of her favorite books was The Martian Chronicles, so he was one of my earliest exposures to the literary side of skiffy. And, like a lot of sophomores in high school, reading Fahrenheit 451 changed the way I thought about literature itself.

I'm sorry to see he's passed on, though I think he lived longer (nearly 92 years) than I can expect to. He leaves behind a great body of work that has always been rewarding to me. In a way, I thought of him as the last living Grand Old Man of science fiction. His death may mark the end of an era. And if I may say so from the point of view of someone who was born too late to be there, what an era it was.

4 comments:

Cal's Canadian Cave of Coolness said...

When I taught junior high english Bradbury was the gold standard for imaginative fiction.

Tallulah Morehead said...

I saw The Veldt the first time, when I was 17, live onstage as a one-act, in an evening of one-acts titled The World of Ray Bradbury. The "room" was downstage, with the kids onstage looking out over the audience at The Veldt, so you never saw anything. You just had acting and sound effects (But on speakers arranged so that when the lions charged it sounded like they were charging down right on top of our heads.)

IT WAS TERRIFYING!

I was already used to being scared by Ray Bradbury. When I was 8 years old, I vividly recall being in the backseat of our old station wagon, on a family vacation, creeping up a twisty mountain road past views of incredible beauty and majesty, and ignoring it. My nose was stuck in The Martian Chronicles, and I was reading the chapter Mars is Heaven, and all the beauty of the Pacific Coast Range could not quell the growing chills creeping up my spine.

The night I saw The World of Ray Bradbury (In which The Veldt was act 2, yet they trusted we would bravely venture back in for act 3, The Pedestrian) became highly memorable, because when the performance ended we were informed that Mr. Ray Bradbury was present in the theater, and in a few minutes would come out on stage and answer questions.

Now I grew up in Southern California, and meeting famous people comes with the territory. By 17 I had met movie stars, TV stars, radio stars, had been on TV myself, and had even seen Walt Disney in person at Disneyland.

But I had never met a real writer before, let alone a novelist that I'd been reading voraciously since I was 8 years old. I was more excited than I'd ever been before by anyone except possibly Walt Disney. This wasn't Ray Bradbury; this was RAY BRADBURY! This was the man who's taken me to Mars and scared the crap out of me doing it. This guy had sold me my ticket to Coogar & Dark's Panademonium Shadow Show and given me a ride on a merry-go-round I'd love to ride backwards now. This was the guy who taught me that fireman existed not to put out fires, but to burn books.

Meeting Ray that night, getting his autograph on my program, and speaking with him, inspired me like no one before and few since. As you know, I've gone on to become a published novelist myself. Some of that I trace back to that night, and to meeting Ray and finding him more glamorous than any movie star.

As it happens, Ray was the very definition of "accessable." We both lived in Los Angeles and we both hit sci-fi conventions, fantasy conferences, and book stores, so I got to meet Ray a number of times over the years. Horrible to think those meetings are now over forever.

On my bedroom book shelf sits a stack of his books, almost all of them signed. Of special personal significance is my copy of Dandelion Wine. As you know, my real name is Douglas. "Douglas" is Ray's middle name. He was Ray Douglas Bradbury. The hero of Dandelion Wine is also named Douglas, and Ray named him after himself as he represents the youthful Bradbury. On my copy of that book he made a point of signing his full name and telling me that it was a special "Douglas" book just for we Douglases, but we kindly allow non-Douglases to read it also. In most of the books he signed for me, he always included his middle initial in his signature to emphasize the bond of two Douglases.

A world without Ray Bradbury in it seems a dull, wretched place.

Goodbye, Doug. Thanks for droppng by earth and leaving so many presents.

Tallulah Morehead said...

"First of all, it was October, a rare month for boys. Not that all months aren't rare. But there must be bad and good, as the pirates say. Take September, a bad month: school begins. Consider August, a good month: school hasn't begun yet. July, well, July's really fine: there's no chance in the world for school. June, no doubting it, June's best of all, for the school doors spring wide and September's a billion years away.

But you take October now. School's been on a month and you're riding easier in the reins, jogging along. You got time to think of the garbage you'll dump on old man Prickett's porch, or the hairy ape costume you'll wear to the YMCA the last night of the month. And if it's around October twentieth and everything smokey-smelling and the sky orange and ash-gray at twilight, it seems Halloween will never come in a fall of broomsticks and a soft flap of bedsheets around corners.

But one strange wild dark long year, Halloween came early."

- From Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury. (How ironic, in light of this passage, that he died in June.)

DrGoat said...

I was 11 in '61 when I first read the Martian Chronicles. Loved him ever since. We lose another great one.