There is a special fraternity that experienced a crushing loss this year. I count myself a member. We have no old dark house in which to meet. There are no arcane handshakes, or glittering rings on anyone's fingers to herald membership in this particular fraternity.
Ray Bradbury referred to me as an honorary son. I've met others who received this honor. I told Ray that he was my second father. He heard that from a chorus of voices throughout the years. There is a fraternity, but the number is not infinite.
We now live in a world without Ray Bradbury. But memory never dies.
The Bradbury Zone by L.J. Dopp
In my case, I enjoyed a lifelong correspondence with Ray that began in the 1970s, leading to my first meeting with him in the early 1980s. I never imagined that we would become friends, or that four of my books would carry his endorsement (Moon of Ice, Clownface, Worlds of Tomorrow in collaboration with Forrest J Ackerman, and Anarquía with J. Kent Hastings).
When he answered my first fan letter in 1973, it would have seemed a dream that decades later I'd be attending live stage performances of his work, sitting with Ray and introducing other friends to him.
In common with other honorary offspring, I was inspired to become a writer. The Bradbury ray of light also showed many the way to careers in the arts and sciences. But for me, it was always about the writing.
He taught writers to love the short story. We live in a world where those who still read manage to find time for big novels, bigger trilogies, and series without end. These are the people who buy escapism by the pound but never slow down long enough to savor a short story. If there is a decline in good writing, the problem may be nothing more than impatience on the part of writer and reader.
Ray Bradbury makes you slow down. He teaches readers how to actually read.
Those of us most influenced by him always wanted to give something back. How many librarians fell in love with books all over again because of him? How many musicians finally heard the notes? How many poets finally heard the sounds and cadences of their own words?
Whenever I persuaded Ray to contribute poems, or other lovely things, to books and magazines on which I worked, I knew he was providing yet another favor. Jessie Lilley and I cherish what he let us have for Mondo Cult.
But ever since that first letter from him, I had hoped to be part of something for Ray Bradbury that wouldn't simply transform into his doing more favors for his readers. The key idea was about fans. Ray was never shy about his origins and debt to fandom.
The dream came true in 1986, in Atlanta, Georgia.
Years later, in LA, Ray gave me a cherished gift, an Autographed Author's Copy 6 of his bound reissued fanzines from when he was a teenager, Futuria Fantasia by ray d. bradbury -- editor.
I clutched the book, relished the cover art by his friend, Hannes Bok, and thought about 1986.
Then, in 2009, I jumped at the opportunity to write a piece on his early days, "The Illustrated Fan," for the 75th Anniversary Memory Book put out by LASFS (the Los Angeles Science Fantasy Society).
I thought about 1986 again.
That was the year a grievous historical error was corrected. The one and only Bradbury had never been Guest of Honor at a worldcon, the annual science fiction convention at which the Hugo awards are given out. In 1984 and 1985, I burned the midnight oil with other fans of my generation to make things right.
Ray Bradbury and Brad Linaweaver.
In 1986, Ray Bradbury was GoH at ConFederation in Atlanta, Georgia. Robert Bloch and I both wrote tributes in the program book. My contribution was later reprinted in Wonder: the children's magazine for grown-ups, in 1992. And now it appears in Mondo Cult.
Ray was the professional writer who did everything. He wrote the screenplay for John Huston's Moby Dick, which meant his working in Ireland during the project. Then he turned around and wrote his Irish stories and plays from his experiences! A fan would do that.
Ray was the fan who became the poet laureate of the American space program back when this country still believed in the future. He brought all his skills to the effort and converted many to the greatest project of all. A pro would do that.
Look up to the sky and reflect on this: they haven't finished naming things after him. It's only beginning for the man who said that we're the Martians now.
As a young man, Ray could not afford to go to college, and so he read a library! The heartfelt painting by L. J. Dopp accompanying this piece says it all. Inspired by the famous Twilight Zone episode starring Burgess Meredith as the bookworm who is the last man on Earth, but with all the books he will ever need, we see Mr. Bradbury in his own Heaven where his glasses will never break.
(We hope to continue this tribute at Mondo Cult. When Jessie and I manage a fourth issue of the magazine, it will be a Bradbury themed issue.)
The Old-Fashioned Futurism of Ray Bradbury
by Brad Linaweaver
Oh to have strong teeth, with incisors like steel spikes. Or strong hands, even, or a strong mind. Even to have the power to send one's mind out free, as Cecy did. But no, he was the imperfect one, the sick one. He was even—he shivered and drew the candle flame closer—afraid of the dark ... No wonder the family skirted him like a holy man's crucifix. If only the wings would sprout from his shoulder blades. He bared his back, stared at it. And sighed again. No chance. Never.
There is a word not often used nowadays: cherubic. Perhaps this is because there are few people one meets to whom the word applies. Ray Bradbury in this, as in so many other things, is the exception. One look at his bouncing stride and boyish grin, topped off with a wave of senior citizen white hair, and you know that there is something special about him. It is not only that he has kept the child's sense of wonder alive throughout his long career, but that his work also offers the wisdom of an adult. Take the above passage from his O. Henry Award-winning story, "Homecoming." Point of view is everything. A belief in the normal is necessary before an artistic inversion, a casual treatment of the abnormal, can have artistic power. Ray Bradbury is so comfortable a resident in what his friend Forry Ackerman calls "the Imagi-Nation," that he takes a matter-of-fact approach to the most unusual of subjects—but it is never superficial in treatment. He finds the
fantastic in the commonplace (e.g., Dandelion Wine ), and a comforting nostalgia in the bizarre (e.g., The Martian Chronicles). He does all this because the ground he stands upon is firm.
In "Homecoming," we have a boy who is unhappy that he is the "weirdo" of the family; an experience not entirely unfamiliar to science fiction fans. Only Bradbury turns the situation around, with a family of the fabulous, and a mortal child. He teaches both sides the transcendental quality of humanity.
The outsider, student of opposites and metaphor-builder, Ray Bradbury grew wings with which he soared to a position of prominence within the science fiction field; and then went beyond that, to the larger world. It has been said that he is the ambassador of science fiction.
But the journey has not been without cost. Bradbury is so famous and successful that a whole brood of naysayers burn the midnight oil in an attempt to diminish his stature: Something Critical This Way Comes!
Yet, like mad Ahab pursuing the great white whale, Bradbury's critics are driven to frustration in their pursuit of his shining fame. They cannot see that this man stands athwart our age, refusing to submit to over-specialization. Before the books were ever burned in the world of Fahrenheit 451, we learned that most people had stopped reading anyway. In the midst of the greatest information explosion in history, all our knowledge and all our technique won't buy one ounce of wisdom if people stop caring to see, to taste, to learn. Because he has made this the central concern of his work, Bradbury is a candidate for the most important writer of the Twentieth Century.
When the reader picks up one of Bradbury's books, he enters a universe of character and mood, of feeling and detail. None of the five senses is slighted. The seasons—oh God, the seasons—live as they do with no other writer. Here is an example from "The Emissary": "Martin knew it was autumn again, for Dog ran into the house, bringing wind and frost and a smell of apples turned to cider under the trees. In dark clock-springs of hair, Dog fetched goldenrod, dust of farewell-summer acorn husk, hair of squirrel, feather of departed robin, sawdust from fresh-cut cordwood, and leaves like charcoal shaken from a blaze of maple trees. Dog jumped. Showers of brittle fern, blackberry vine, marsh grass sprang over the bed where Martin shouted. No doubt, no doubt of it all, this incredible beast was October!"
To naysayers who would complain that the above is an over-written passage, one can only observe that the actual, living world is over-written.
In a Ray Bradbury story, the background is important, be it a spaceship or a time machine, haunted house or Irish pub, a jungle full of dinosaurs or a robot house empty of its owners—but in the end, still a background, still secondary to the human condition that is at center stage. And the people are always memorable, often eccentric, as if Bradbury goes along with G. K. Chesterton's belief that there is no such as "the Common Man"—if you get to know each person whom you meet.
"Heresy!" one can almost hear the cry from the very bowels of popular fiction. Yet by avoiding the clichés of stock characterizations of hack writing—Bradbury has enriched the vision of science fiction. We reach the future, but we do so carried by the past. Science fiction becomes a bridge between yesterday's aspirations and tomorrow's achievements.
Who but Ray Bradbury could have the past realize itself anew in futuristic settings: in "Usher II" and "Pillar of Fire": in "G.B.S.—Mark V" and "Forever and the Earth?" These are stories that demonstrate two truths: love is remembering, hate is forgetting.
A character in his play, "The Pedestrian" says: "In the olden times, men had eyes and ears. They saw and heard what they wanted. And if they got bored, they had to do for themselves to keep from boredom. Was that time better? They lived short lives, died miserably, in want. But life was a riverboat then, passing the slow banks."
Please bear that passage in mind as you read the following contribution by Bradbury in Mars and the Mind of Man:
The journey is long, the end uncertain, and there is more dark along the way than light, but you can whistle. Come with me by the wall of the great tombyards of all time which lie a billion years ahead. What shall we whistle as we stroll in our rocket, hoping to make it by the vast darkness where shadows wait to seize and keep us? Follow me, I know a tune… We cry out to the Reaper: Beware of our rocket, which will shatter your scythe and scatter its bits to the stars.
Is there a contradiction between the two passages? No. Obviously we can have the savor of the past and the adventure of the future, without sacrificing either. Instead of either/or, we should think as the collector does: addition forever! Because he has preached this moral throughout his career, Bradbury has been called anti-technology. It figures.
Ray Bradbury is difficult to classify in terms of subject, but always recognizable in terms of style and attitude. He has brought his highly individualistic approach to science fiction, fantasy, horror stories, mysteries, regional fiction, and humor. He has reached widely divergent audiences through all media: books, magazines,
comics, radio, television, movies, live theater, and even amusement parks. He is a short story writer, a novelist, an essayist, a public speaker, and poet. He is a C*E*L*E*B*R*I*T*Y!
Ray Bradbury has even been cursed with being taught in schools. There is a scene in the film Monty Python's The Meaning of Life, where John Cleese plays a teacher vainly trying to engage his students as he makes love to his wife in full view of them. The point, for anyone who has suffered in front of a classroom, is that the most interesting thing in the world may pale when made a required subject. It is not Bradbury's fault that he is being taught in schools, but proof of his truly broad appeal. The smart money is betting that he has become part of American Literature.
"He's not a science fiction writer, but a fantasist," say authors of engineering diagrams, when confronted by his work.
"He's not a fantasist, but a horror writer," say authors of multi-volume series plagiarized from finer works that have been reduced to base formula.
"He's not a horror writer, but a satirist," say authors of interchangeable novels about soap opera housewives being terrorized by kitchen appliances and sound-effects from next door.
"He's not a practitioner in the highly literary form of the satire, but one of those sci-fi guys," say the less flexible members of the literati.
On and on it goes: when Bradbury writes about Mexico, there are readers who say he should stick to Mars. When he writes about Mars—the Mars of the mind—he's in trouble again with the tech-boys.
The answer to all this intransigence is perfectly straightforward: Ray Bradbury is an original. He transcends categories. If a label must be applied, let it be that he is an American Writer… a designation that used to mean something. The Frontier. Progress. Democracy. These are the great questions to which the American experiment was to provide an answer: and they are Bradbury's stock-in-trade.
When Oscar Wilde said, "Life imitates art, he might have been anticipating Marshall McLuhan; but certainly was predicting science fiction fandom. What Ray Bradbury learned from fandom was a specifically American obsession with role-playing. We are what we set out to be. If our best Halloweens lie ahead, then Ray Bradbury will have helped to make it so.
This century has seen man go from the horse and buggy to the moon. One living generation was witness to this change. Science fiction is, as John W. Campbell used to say, more relevant to this world than any other kind of fiction. Unfortunately, most science fiction has not been taken cognizance of the slow and reluctant—albeit real enough—shift in the general population's outlook. When Bradbury first started writing about people with routine jobs coming into contact with a disorienting future, he built a bridge between science fiction's utopia and the people who would actually live there. Yet even Campbell, the greatest editor in the history of science fiction, didn't understand the appeal of Bradbury's stories at first. He thought their subjects were too small, in a field where everything should be big. Times change. Today, it's as if Bradbury's stories have become too large, as certain areas of science fiction have narrowed to a point where you need a microscope to find them.
Ray Bradbury is a Romantic. Side by side with his deft portraits of everyday life, he also proffers a gallery of larger-than-life figures: Mr. Dark, Mr. Stendahl, Jim Nightshade, Father Peregrine, The Illustrated Man, Captain Wilder, Ylla the Martian, Spender, Dudley Stone, and Aunt Tildy ... to name but a few. Many of Bradbury's characters actually have ideas, and even apply them to their lives. There is no room here for pessimistic graduates of the "naturalism-and-defeatism" school. There are no rambling, pointless examinations of people who have no sense of the past or a clue to the future. The characters in Bradbury's tales—which dramas Sir Alec Guinness referred to as "admirable and curious and disturbing"—have big ideas even when their circumstances are small. They live to the fullest. From such as these come the only kind of progress worth having.
Odd though it sounds, Ray Bradbury is an old fashioned futurist. We must never forget—as Fred Pohl once captured brilliantly in the title "The Way the Future Was"—the tradition that lies behind the idea of a viable progress. Let us learn from the giants who precede us and break bread at the table they have prepared for us. And we can truly say that we are welcome home.