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

By Steven Lloyd Wilson | Think Pieces | June 6, 2012 |

By Steven Lloyd Wilson | Think Pieces | June 6, 2012 |

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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Steven Lloyd Wilson is the sci-fi and history editor. You can email him here or follow him on Twitter.