Saturday, June 23, 2012
Wednesday, June 13, 2012
It's no secret that I love the work of Ray Bradbury. I was in France when I read that he passed away. Many many blogs and news sites have already done great obituaries and tributes to the late great author, so I will just say how he influenced me.
When I was in middle school, I heard from my grandmother about a book where "firemen" burn books. I loved books, so the notion was strange, dangerous, and exciting to my young imagination. I picked up Fahrenheit 451 at the library and began a journey down the path of science fiction that continues to this day.
Later, I picked up The Martian Chronicles during a silent reading session in High School. I couldn't put it down. The stories were fantastical, but also poetic, lyrical, and echoed earthly concerns about life, death, conquest, love, creativity, destruction, and the nature of humanity. It addressed our best and worst natures. Pretty heady stuff for a bunch of sci-fi short stories. Science fiction in the 1990s was mostly laden with grimacing muscle bound super men and busty bombshells with little or no intelligence, or it was nihilistic characters with one-note concerns about revenge or some other banal angst-ridden motivation. Bradbury's work was literature. It was an inspiration.
Later, I saw a poster from the illustrator David Grove for the movie "Something Wicked This Way Comes." It triggered a memory of seeing the Disney film and finding it scary in a more philosophical way than "scarier" movies of the time. Also, it was an amazing poster. I bought the book, and was thrilled that it contained even more terrifying notions of aging, the transitory nature of life, and generally dark themes that I found very interesting and entertaining.
Finally, one day I was sitting in my truck listening to a short story on the local public radio station in Bakersfield California. The reader was telling a tale about a man who was an astronaut and came home to see his son on leave. His son was thrilled to see his mysterious father, to see his space suit. To be with his Rocket Man dad. Then the father died falling into the sun. The boy and his mother couldn't look at the sun without remembering the Rocket Man's tragic death. I believe I teared up hearing the reading, which was one of the only times a story has done that to me.
Part of my relation to the story was that it was a sad tale told well. The other aspect is that that story contained elements of my own life that I could relate to. When I was young my father was away often, working long hours in a dangerous place. Bradbury's stories contained these real-world parallels. His stories were so much more than spacemen and robots. They toyed with, affirmed, and tested our real-world concerns while giving them a grand setting as free as imagination itself.