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Ray Bradbury Is Dead, Alas

Ray Bradbury has died, the newspapers all say. I am grateful that he lived so long, and sorry that he's gone.

Ray Bradbury was most famous as a science fiction writer. He deserves to be famous as one of America's great short-story writers, period. I didn't say that he wasn't a science fiction writer, and he wouldn't have said that either. He was a gifted stylist. He could write like Poe in a better mood. What he chose to write about on a given day is beside the point. And when the mood was on him, he wrote 20th-century America's dreams about itself straight onto the page.


Bradbury educated himself in America's public libraries. He made a living as a short-story writer, selling a story every week in the early Forties to keep his "hot-dog and street-car lifestyle" as he put it, going. That profession is impossible today. Even if you could write three or five thousand words of publishable fiction every single week, as Bradbury used to, you could not make even a hot-dog living at it. There simply aren't enough places to mail the stories. Bradbury was one of the last writers, maybe the last, who could live by the short story alone.

At his best, Bradbury writes like someone who has to write a story every week to pay the rent. But he also writes like he can't afford that story to be anything except wonderful: not like he can't risk not making a sale, but like he needs the stories to be magic so he can keep going. A Bradbury story never wastes words, but it never wastes opportunities, either. The prose is clean and concise, but never sparse or bare. There's too much to see. Bradbury moves the story along fast, but never hurries you past a chance to look at our world and marvel.

His writing manages at once to be swift and evocative, energetic and reflective, tight and springy. His stories were driven by images rather than plots, moods rather than characters, but were unerringly and unsparingly shaped, because Bradbury could create a mood in half a sentence better than most writers could with three paragraphs. Bradbury's stories indulged nothing but the reader's imagination. He was a big-hearted storyteller with the unbending discipline of a poet.

He was at his best in short forms. The Martian Chronicles is not a novel, but a group of short stories strung together with bridging material to create something that could be plausibly called a book. (A fixup, in the genre parlance.) It's worth reading that book once through looking at just the interstitial pieces between the stories, often only a page or three long, creating marvelous effects in even less time than Bradbury gave himself for a magazine story. And his most successful novel, Fahrenheit 451, was written in a fierce, sustained burst. Bradbury had no gift for massive structure, and no weakness for sprawl. He was a sprinter. He wrote faster than he could breathe, every foot in the right place, until the end.

We won't see another writer quite like him. They don't make them any more.

One of my roommates said Dandelion Wine was Bradbury's best work, and I've always meant to read it. Something Wicked This Way Comes has to be his best title. The Martian Chronicles miniseries should never have starred Rock Hudson. It played like a Quinn Martin production. I loved The Illustrated Man film.

Ray Bradbury Rode a Bicycle

 

Sci-Fi legend Ray Bradbury (RIP) never drove a car and got around by walking or with roller skates, bicycle, and public transportation in Los Angeles.

As a youngster, he witnessed a car wreck and never liked cars after that. He always advocated for non-car transportation, and he described his own life as “Drunk and in Charge of a Bicycle.”

I noted elsewhere that Andrea Mitchell noted the death of the man who wrote the Martin Chronicles.

Aaaaah, she knew Martin well!

Dandelion Wine was my first encounter with Ray Bradbury.  It was love at first read.

Ray Bradbury, Tea Party Icon
By Jeremy Stahl, Slate, June 6, 2012

[....] It’s probably worth noting that Bradbury himself was a staunch conservative in his final years. In fact, he would have made for a great Tea Party icon.

“President Reagan was our greatest president. He lowered the taxes and he gave the money back to the people,” Bradbury told a Comic-Con panel in 2010. “The next election, [the] November [2010 midterms], and two years from now, we’ll take the government back and give it to the people.”

At one point or another, Bradbury called former NRA president Charlton Heston an “intellectual,” and Bill Clinton a “shithead,” and Michael Moore a “screwed a–hole.” Shortly before 9/11, he said President Bush was “wonderful” and that the country “needed him.”

Prior to the 2010 midterms he even used the inflammatory language of the Tea Party in calling for a new American revolution. “I hope that sometime this fall, we can destroy part of our government, and next year destroy even more of it,” Bradbury said in one of his final interviews with Time magazine [....]

 

 

"I'm a ​man​ conservative ..."  

"Well, nobody's perfect."

It would be nice if all talented people agreed with my political views.

Probably worth noting that Robert Heinlein, a pretty staunch libertarian, was one of Bradbury's mentors and that when Bradbury was coming up, writing for the sci-fi pulps, that the whole genre attracted a slew of very individualist-oriented folks.  Of course, it also attracted Isaac Asimov, as classical a lefty as they come.  But, you know, I can see the appeal of libertarianism to the mind of somebody who might imagine building a rocket ship or time machine in one's basement.  Science fiction is, so often, a celebration of individual ingenuity.

 

Dandelion Wine is one of my all time favorites but  the author, not so much. My opinion comes from a single live interview I heard some years ago. Too long to remember specifics but he seemed, to me, to be a pompous ass. He held much of our culture in deep disdain, call me a kettle, and had scathing opinion of just about any other writer's work. Some he was particularly disdainful of and then admitted he had never read.
 Dandelion Wine, though, is a story that will always stay with me as an idyllic remembrance of childhood. I may read it again. Another story which is the polar opposite of a childhood that was anything and everything other that idyllic but which will also always stay with me is Jerzy Kosinski's Painted Bird. I may read it again too. Or, I may just watch the NBA finals and read some insightful [incite-full?] critiques of our two wonderful Presidential candidates.

The Painted Bird is just devastating.

It seemed to me, from a recent Paris Review interview, that Bradbury's take on other writers is that he tended not to read them (especially younger science fiction writers) and that he took an uncharitable view of Vonnegut.  Heck, some people are just wrong sometimes!

I'm not much of a Bradbury fan, but he seems alright, seems to have a sense of humor and some interesting takes. Would read Jerzy Kosinski over him any day, but that's neither here nor there.

Here's the Paris Review interview. http://www.theparisreview.org/interviews/6012/the-art-of-fiction-no-203-ray-bradbury

I think the thing about Vonnegut was Vonnegut didn't like  him - sounded a bit like an East Coast/West Coast thing, and Bradbury had more of the uncluttered beach & sky California feel. (perhaps a bit like Steinbeck in that way)

Maybe Bradbury was a snob, but in that interview, he seems to be enthusiastic, likes a lot of people, have some interesting insights into what he doesn't like or just what he's never gotten into. I like his comment about math. It is funny that even when teaching kids foreign languages we have an obsession about teaching them numbers first.

Neil Gaiman

Last week, at dinner, a friend told me that when he was a boy of 11 or 12 he met Ray Bradbury. When Bradbury found out that he wanted to be a writer, he invited him to his office and spent half a day telling him the important stuff: if you want to be a writer, you have to write. Every day. Whether you feel like it or not. That you can't write one book and stop. That it's work, but the best kind of work. My friend grew up to be a writer, the kind who writes and supports himself through writing.

Ray Bradbury was the kind of person who would give half a day to a kid who wanted to be a writer when he grew up.

That Gaurdian article is a fine tribute.

A Ray Bradbury story meant something on its own -

I agree completely and am not locked into my impression of the person based on one thing I listened to. I am glad to hear that those close to him were inspired by both his work and his character. Jerzy Kosinski was strongly criticized by some and I am not in a position to rate the validity of those criticisms either, but his art stands on its own. 

 As to writing, I cannot even get my metaphors straight, I referred to myself as 'kettle' when I was playing the roll of 'pot'.

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