Wednesday, June 6, 2012
Ray Bradbury, the Martian chronicler, is gone
Ray Bradbury, one of the masters of science fiction, passed away Tuesday night, at the age of 91. The writer of The Martian Chronicles has gone on to his next adventure, and I hope it's everything he imagined it would be.
When I call him a "master" of the genre, it's only because I can't think of a more superlative word.
Bradbury's style was different from most other scifi writers. The others delved into the machines, the technology of scifi, and often into the politics or the social implications. Bradbury, instead, climbed into the minds of the characters in his stories. The machines and everything else were there, but only as props for the real story, which was happening inside the heads and hearts of living, feeling human beings.
My favorite Bradbury short story was "All Summer in a Day," about a children's school in an earth colony on Venus, and a tragic event that happened there on the one day when the clouds parted for an hour so the sun shone through. "All Summer" was first published in 1954, republished in one of the many Bradbury anthologies in the 1970s, and is now available for free online.
I first read "All Summer" as a teenager. When, as a young father, I moved my family to Oregon, we experienced a sample of the weather Bradbury wrote about in "All Summer": nine continuous months every year of overcast skies, and day after day of endless rain. When the children were sitting inside one day, lamenting the rain that kept them from playing outside, I remembered "All Summer." I dug the anthology out of a box in the garage, looked up the story and read it to my children. It became a family favorite.
(My daughter took the book with her when she married, to read to her own children. I didn't mind a bit. Everybody should read Ray Bradbury to their children.)
Bradbury cited Edgar Rice Burroughs as one of his influences, telling the New Yorker magazine that he memorized all of Burroughs' Tarzan and John Carter stories when he was a boy. Yet Ray Bradbury himself was an influence on two — no, three —generations of writers, in both science fiction and other genres.
Stephen King once channeled Ray Bradbury beautifully. In his short story "The House on Maple Street," published in his collection Nightmares and Dreamscapes, King weaves the story of a dysfunctional family with an abusive stepfather and a house that is growing a spaceship in its innards. King insists that he was inspired by an illustration created by fantasy artist Chris Van Allsburg (in whose book, The Chronicles of Harris Burdick, the story is also published). But the voice in the story, the interactions between the characters, the exploration of their minds and their psyches, and the role played by the technology in the story, is clearly influenced by Ray Bradbury.
In a discreet homage to the master storyteller, King gives the children in the story the surname "Bradbury."