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Visionary author Ray Bradbury dies

What I found in a Ray Bradbury books was a sense of wonder, where science fiction and dark fantasy intersected with the realm of literature. He was one of the few authors of the Golden Age of Science Fiction –the 1940s and 50s- who transcended the genre and was able to make it accessible to all readers, not those who just loved science fiction. As the Los Angeles Times noted, Bradbury had the ability to “to write lyrically and evocatively of lands an imagination away, worlds he anchored in the here and now with a sense of visual clarity and small-town familiarity.”

Bradbury passed away here in Los Angles yesterday at the age of 91. Born in Waukegan , a the northern suburb of Chicago that hugged Lake Michigan, his family eventually  settled in Los Angeles in 1934, but the mystery of small town life never left him, as a lot of his novels and short stories where set in Green Town Illinois, his mirror world of Waukegan.

But for Bradbury, he never considered himself a science fiction writer. “First of all, I don’t write science fiction. I’ve only done one science fiction book and that’s Fahrenheit 451, based on reality. It was named so to represent the temperature at which paper ignites. Science fiction is a depiction of the real. Fantasy is a depiction of the unreal. So Martian Chronicles is not science fiction, its fantasy. It couldn’t happen, you see? That’s the reason it’s going to be around a long time—because it’s a Greek myth, and myths have staying power.”

And for me, it was those dark fantasies, those myths he created, like Something Wicked This Way Comes that inspired me not to write –though I’ve often wanted to- but to read even more. Lifelong readers are becoming a rarity these days (“There are worse crimes than burning books. One of them is not reading them.”), and today’s science fiction and fantasy have de-evolved into paint-by-number tales designed for kids and adults who think even Stephen King is too complex.

But reading was important to him, as well as it is to me. He said at one time “Libraries raised me. I don’t believe in colleges and universities. I believe in libraries because most students don’t have any money. When I graduated from high school, it was during the Depression and we had no money. I couldn’t go to college, so I went to the library three days a week for 10 years.”

He also reflected on the year he was born as being an influence on how he wrote, that being born in 1920 helped him create those fantasies worlds in our present world because “the auto was only 20 years old. Radio didn’t exist. TV didn’t exist. I was born at just the right time to write about all of these things.”

And there are an untold number of novelists today who have been greatly influenced by his “lyrical” style. I would say authors like Stephen King, Peter Straub and Neil Gaiman and many others owe a great deal of their fantasy imagination and their take on small town life to what Bradbury was able to access. Even hardcore science fiction writers like Isaac Asimov and Arthur C. Clarke were able to transcend their technical prose and present them in with a literary style and with an accessible clarity.

Much of his short stories were adapted for TV, like Alfred Hitchcock Presents. Over a period of 50 years, more than 35 features, shorts, and TV movies were based on Bradbury’s stories or screenplays. Bradbury also helped legendary director John Houston adapt Moby Dick in 1956, while his short story I Sing the Body Electric was adapted for the 100th episode of The Twilight Zone in 1962. In 1966, Oskar Werner and Julie Christie starred in Fahrenheit 451, directed by François Truffaut, while in 1969, Rod Steiger starred as The Illustrated Man. In 1980, NBC adapted The Martian Chronicles into a three-part TV miniseries starring Rock Hudson. Bradbury said he found it “just boring.”

In 1983, Disney adapted my favorite Bradbury novel, Something Wicked This Way Comes, which starred Jason Robards and Jonathan Pryce. While there is a good film in there, it failed to live up to the novel’s dark and atmospheric nature. Part of the problem was while Bradbury’s original screenplay was more faithful to his novel, director Jack Clayton and Disney wanted a more family friendly version, something that was accessible to all. They brought in John Mortimer to do an uncredited rewrite, and the film suffered due to these two, very different styles of writing. The film was a financial failure for Disney, who at the time, ironically, was trying to break-out of their animated and family film style that was painting them in a corner during the late 1970s and early 80s.

To me, this is one novel –beyond The Martian Chronicles– that deserves a more faithful remake.

Despite the numerous (and often prescient) technological predictions of his novels, he expressed skepticism about the value of the Internet to society, stating that it has reduced people’s ability to communicate and hold conversations with each other. He also exhibited skepticism with regard to modern technology by resisting the conversion of his work into e-books and stating that “We have too many cellphones. We’ve got too many internets. We have got to get rid of those machines. We have too many machines now.”

“And if he should forget, the dandelion wine stood in the cellar, numbered huge for each and every day. He would go there often, stare straight into the sun until he could stare no more, then close his eyes and consider the burned spots, the fleeting scars left dancing on his warm eyelids; arranging, rearranging each fire and reflection until the pattern was clear…”

Rest in Peace, Ray Bradbury. You’ll never be gone, because all I have to do is look at my bookshelf. That brings a smile to my face on this sad day.

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