Friday, June 08, 2012

Ray Bradbury and I, an Odd Tribute

I am weird about Ray Bradbury. I don't think there is any author I love so much that I don't really read.

Okay, I do read Bradbury. I've read Farenheit 451, and the Martian Chronicles, and Something Wicked This Way Comes twice (except for the two chapters that is the old man expounding on the nature of love, which I could only read once. GOWTSS [Get On With the Story, Silly]). I've read a few stories of Dandelion Wine and From the Dust Returned and a couple others. Well, I suppose you could call that reading a lot, but I guess it's what I haven't read that makes the point. Quite apart from the 583 other short stories he's written, I have had I Sing The Body Electric on my shelf for almost twenty years, and never read more than a page. It's the 2/3 of Dandelion Wine and From the Dust Returned that I never got to. There is no other author I like so much who has so much unread book on my shelf.

Bradbury is one of the last of his generation -- if not the last. And he's always had a special place for me. Heinlein, Asimov, and Bradbury were always on another plane of existence from other writers. Heinlein was gone when I was a kid, Asimov left us some years ago, now Bradbury is gone, too.

Bradbury was different. He was the lyrical side. Where Heinlein was adventure, and Asimov science, Bradbury was poetry. I actually read my first Bradbury stories in elementary school. One was actually in the text, third or fourth grade, a story about the wonder of a new pair of sneakers. I didn't know it was Ray Bradbury until I read Dandelion Wine in college and -- heh! I know this story! I had the same experience with a story of a vampire family that I found in a beat up old paperback lying around the house. I think I was in fifth grade. I really like the book, it seemed a more sophisticated collection of "monster stories" than I was used to. That one I didn't find again until more than twenty years had passed, and it was the same experience, meeting an old friend again.

To say that I admire Ray Bradbury is an understatement. His stories just hang with me. I've never had that rediscovery experience with any other writer. I think Farenheit 451 was, in some ways, more prophetic than the more famous dystopias from Orwell and Huxley. The Martian Chronicles was haunting. Something Wicked This Way Comes taps into some strange reservoirs of fear and awe. These are no merely good books.

When I was working on my high fantasy novel, I had a real hard time with the first chapter, "The White Arrow." I knew what happened. But how could I tell it, how could I open it. And then for some reason I thought of Bradbury, and his voice, and I wrote "The awakening from nightmare begins with the realization that it must happen." The story I told is drawn from my own life, from falling asleep on a couch at work, and realizing I was asleep, and finding myself paralyzed and unable to do anything to wake myself except breathe. The experience was mine, but still on my hard drive the final version of that chapter is named "Ray Bradburys White Arrow.doc."

So why don't I read the rest of those books? I don't know. They don't draw me back. But if you compare that to the other unread books on my shelf, you can see the difference. I never finished Children of Dune. I got bored, put it down, and never even wanted to come back, to that or other Frank Herbert books (well, maybe I'll reread the original Dune). I have a fair bit of unread Ursula LeGuin, who was once my favorite author. My tastes changed, and now she is too overtly "making a point." GOWTSS. Bradbury is different. Even though the stories lost me, I am still in awe of them. Probably the closest to Bradbury is Candas Jane Dorsey, whose Black Wine I never finished, despite loving the beginning and still feeling awe of the great things she did. Maybe the real problem is books with "Wine" in the title.

Thanks, Ray. I'll miss you.