"Build your wings on the way down": Ray Bradbury 1920-2012

By Steven Lloyd Wilson | Think Pieces | June 6, 2012 | Comments ()


marsdl.jpg

We lost one of the last remaining giants of the golden age of science fiction yesterday when Ray Bradbury passed away in southern California.

Bradbury was a man of dichotomies. Rejected from the drafts of the Second World War on account of bad eyesight, he made his mark by seeing more deeply than most. Despite living most of his life in Los Angeles, the city built for cars more than for people, he never got a drivers license in his long life on account of witnessing a terrible car wreck when young. Master in a field of ideas, he never went to college, arguing that "libraries raised me... I couldn't go to college, so I went to the library three days a week for 10 years."

Despite, or perhaps because of, his dedication to meditating on the role of technology in society, to the end of his days he remained unconvinced by the Internet, certain that we had too many machines in this new world. He argued at length that the Internet had destroyed our ability to hold conversations with each other, though I like to think he might have found a counterpoint in our comment threads. He thought video games were a waste of time, that cloning humans was silly, and that e-books had no future because they didn't smell like books.

Fahrenheit 451 is his most well known work, and though he is one of the science fiction pantheon, he argued that most of what he wrote was not science fiction, that only Fahrenheit 451 really met the criteria. Science fiction in his view was what could happen, while fantasy was the impossible.

Bradbury was a dreamer with a particular talent for casting poetry as prose. He did not dream of the vast future histories of man like Asimov, nor the philosophical musing of Heinlein. Instead he saw the darkness of man's potential. Bradbury argued that he did not try to predict the future in his fiction, but that he tried to prevent it.

But even though his best known work warns of dystopia and the dark potential of technology, he defied the label of being a cynic or luddite. He waxed poetic of man's potential, of the awesome wonder of this universe that spawned us talking monkeys. "The Universe has shouted itself alive," he insisted, "We are one of the shouts."



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Comments Are Welcome, Jerks Will Be Banned


  • Anna von Beav

    "Smell is the most powerful
    trigger to the memory there is. A certain flower or a whiff of smoke
    can bring up experiences long forgotten. Books smell... musty and rich.
    The knowledge gained from a computer is... it has no texture, no
    context. It's there and then it's gone. If it's to last, then the
    getting of knowledge should be tangible. It should be, um... smelly."

  • Logan

    I always had a love/hate relationship with Bradbury. I loved his books and thought he was a great writer. What made me hate him was that every English professor I ever met thought that science fiction began and ended with him and I worshiped Heinlein.
    In my undergraduate days I even wrote a paper and the basic thesis was that the English professors loved Bradbury because he always wrote about dystopian futures and they hated Heinlein because he always took the opposite view that science and technology would ultimately save us. I still believe in Heinleins view.
    Bradbury was a giant though and that cannot be disputed. His books have stood the test of time and time is the only proof of quality.
    In the old day giants walked the earth and their exploits became legends and legends never die.

  • BierceAmbrose

    Dammit, dammit, dammit, dammit, dammit.

    I saw Bradbury in person once too (or me three) giving the keynote at a technical conference. Presenters got a copy of his then-latest collection of short stories. There they were lined up to get their books signed by The Man.

    Had I known, I'd have done a paper because - Bradbury! I got my ass in line anyway, riffling through the proceedings as I shuffled along. When I got to him, I said: "I didn't write a paper for this conference but this, this paper right here is about *exactly* what you were saying in your Keynote. Would you sign this for me?"

    He read the title and a few lines of the abstract, then said: "Well, I have no idea what this means, but I'm giving it an A+." Somewhere in my stuff is a yellowed conference proceeding bent open to the page that's signed: "A+ - Ray Bradbury."

    Dammit.

  • growler

    “Why
    love the boy in a March field with his kite braving the sky? Because
    our fingers burn with the hot string singeing our hands. Why love some
    girl viewed from a train bent to a country well? The tongue remembers
    iron water cool on some long lost noon. Why weep at strangers dead by
    the road? They resemble friends unseen in forty years. Why laugh when
    clowns are hit by pies? We taste custard - we
    taste life. Why love the woman who is your wife? Her nose breathes the
    air of a world that I know; therefore I love that nose. Her ears hear
    music I might sing half the night through; therefore I love her ears.
    Her eyes delight in seasons of the land; and so I love those eyes. Her
    tongue knows quince, peach, chokeberry, mint and lime; I love to hear it
    speaking. Because her flesh knows heat, cold, affliction, I know fire,
    snow, and pain. Shared and once again shared experience. Billions of
    prickling textures. Cut one sense away, cut part of life away. Cut two
    senses; life halves itself on the instant. We love what we know, we love
    what we are. Common cause, common cause, common cause of mouth, eye,
    ear, tongue, hand, nose, flesh, heart, and soul.” ― Ray Bradbury, Something Wicked This Way Comes

  • comma

     First book I thought of.

    Was there ever a better name for anything than Cooger & Dark's Pandemonium Shadow Show?

  • DarthCorleone

    Thanks for this tribute.  I was very sad to see the headline this morning.

    I was lucky enough to see Bradbury in person on a Q&A panel a few years ago with his good friend Ray Harryhausen (they've known each other every since their late teens or early 20s, I believe) and several others.  Bradbury absolutely stole the show with his wit and energy.

  • Obst N. Gemuse

    In the 60s Ray Bradbury did a TV commercial for prunes.  Search the internets and YouTubes for it -- it's a laffer!

  • pissant

    He thought video games were a waste of time
    Most are.  So are most books.  So are most movies.  So are most X of anything.  But it really bothers me when people like Ebert or Bradbury disregard the entirety of an art form most likely because they have very little knowledge of it.

    that cloning humans was silly

    Debatable, but I'd hardly use the term "silly".

    and that e-books had no future because they didn’t smell like books

    That's just ridiculous.  However, I think I'll start making Kindle/Nook covers that smell strongly of old books.

  • AngelenoEwok

     NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!

    *just found out by seeing this headline*

    I know he was as old as the hills, but I'm still sad. 

  • Patrick the Bunny

    His stories were the first ones to make me love reading. I'll never forget reading The Illustrated Man over a few summer afternoons back when I was eight or so. Rest In Peace.

  • mswas

    Here's a very sweet letter from Ray Bradbury to the assistant director of Fayetteville Public Library. Written in 2006, it's in response to that town's "Big Read" of Fahrenheit 451.

    http://www.lettersofnote.com/2...

  • Drake

    When I was a young fanboy I wrote him a gushing letter and got back a very nice reply. His work showed me that poetry could come in book length form. I'm glad that he had a long, full life, and his legacy will be with us a long time.

  • $27019454

    He gave the keynote speech at my sister's high school graduation. Several years later,  Vincent Price spoke at mine.

    In retrospect, our high school was kind of awesome.

  • Sara_Tonin00

    klingonfreeYour high school was definitely awesome!

  • Sara_Tonin00

    I remember a vacation as a child where my mom played cassettes of some of his Mars stories. They were creepy and scary and entertaining. And even age 8ish, I noticed the irony in them, even though I didn't know what irony was. 

  • Thanks, SLW, this was concise and beautiful.

    RIP Ray.

  • TheOtherGreg

    In my view his best work was not dystopian, not Science Fiction, and arguably not even fantasy. Dandelion Wine is a book I read every couple of years, and always makes me happy. I'm going to go read it now.

  • Serpentlord

    A death is rarely a happy occasion, but whenever you can truthfully say someone has lived a rich, full life, and was taken neither before or after their time, I always find it beautiful.

    My only wish is that all men of Bradbury's stature could have the same gift of life.

  • TherecanbeonlyoneAdmin

    RIP, Ray, you magnificent curmudgeonly bastard.

  • PaddyDog

     He argued at length that the Internet had destroyed our ability to hold
    conversations with each other, though I like to think he might have
    found a counterpoint in our comment threads.

    Au contraire, our comment threads typically show that we either agree like lemmings or when we disagree, yell at each other in print, more or less proving his point about conversation.

    He thought video games were
    a waste of time, that cloning humans was silly, and that e-books had no
    future because they didn’t smell like books.

    Oh, how I love this man.

  • BWeaves

     "Despite, or perhaps because of, his dedication to meditating on the role
    of technology in society, to the end of his days he remained
    unconvinced by the Internet, certain that we had too many machines in
    this new world. He argued at length that the Internet had destroyed our
    ability to hold conversations with each other, though I like to think he
    might have found a counterpoint in our comment threads. He thought
    video games were a waste of time, that cloning humans was silly, and
    that e-books had no future because they didn’t smell like books."

    I agree with everything PaddyDog said.

    I especially like the bit about books.

    I was in my local  Barnes and Noble the other day, when I was accosted by a salesrep harking "the Nook."

    Him,  " Check out the Nook.  It's a wireless book!"

    Me, holding up a real book, "No, THIS is a wireless book."

    Me, "Besides, I like the feel of the paper, the look of the typeface, and the smell."

    Him, quietly, "I know.  I prefer real books, too, but it's my job to sell this thing."

  • comma

     I didn't ask for a Nook either, but I was given one for my birthday. I avoided it for awhile, because a) I don't like having to learn anything, and 2) I had a stack of ink-on-paper Esquires and New Yorkers to get through first. But one of the customer service types had told me about the 1.8 million or so free (public domain) books available with the Nook, and so I took a wander around there. I'm a baseball fan, and when I typed in "0.00 baseball" more than a hundred titles came up, including the wonderful "Pitching in a Pinch," by Christy Mathewson, which is 100 years old in 2012, and a collection of baseball short stories by Zane Grey. I love my library, and I feel like a traitor, but I sure wasn't going to find either of these books there.

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