Via io9 this morning, I found out that one of my favorite writers has died. Ray Bradbury was 91.
There are so many things I could say, but time and space won’t allow. Is there a story in that phrase? A title, at the very least. Ray Bradbury sucked us in with his titles alone. You couldn’t look at the cover of Fahrenheit 451 without being burningly curious to see what lay within. And when you cracked it, you found…not so much science fiction per se, and not even really a vision of the future (although he certainly did get right our preoccupation with the mental junk-food of so-called “reality TV”) as it is a poetic meditation on what happens when books become not merely unfashionable, but illegal.
Of course, there’s no chance that Ray Bradbury’s books would ever be either of those things. They are too popular, and too much in a class of their own. Even if the major media ever found them threatening enough to merit bans (and firemen like Guy Montag were ever charged with burning them), there would be smugglers (or, in the words of another great SF author, Walter Miller, bookleggers) who lovingly preserved them in the event of a coming revolution.
And what they would preserve! Everyone has their favorite stories. I could rhyme them off by the titles alone: “The Fog Horn”; “The Crowd”; “The Wonderful Ice-Cream Suit”, and my personal favorite, “The Big Black and White Game”, in which racism gets deconstructed in a good old all-American baseball game that pits black against white. (Guess who loses. And guess who I cheered for!)
And if a blazing novel and countless excellent short stories were not enough, there was also his poetry. He made his poetic début in Harlan Ellison’s anthology, Again, Dangerous Visions, with “Christ, an Old Student in a New School”, and proved just as able a poet as he was a fiction writer. His radical premise: What would happen if Jesus stepped down off the cross — and urged everyone else to do the same?
Ray Bradbury’s stories and poems were not so overtly political for the most part. And perhaps that’s just as well, because his thoughts on Dubya would make you palm your face with dismay, and wonder how such an otherwise humane and intelligent man could praise such a stupid, racist mass murderer as “brilliant”. (I’m going to just chalk that one up to advancing age and a concomitant loss of perspective. I suggest everyone else do the same.)
But perhaps one of io9’s commenters put it best when he quoted the man himself: “We know all the damn silly things we’ve done for a thousand years, and as long as we know that and always have it around where we can see it, some day we’ll stop making the goddam funeral pyres and jumping into the middle of them.”
Amen. And thanks for all the mind-fires you lit, Ray. You will be missed.