"You must stay drunk on writing so reality cannot destroy you." - Ray Bradbury
It’s hard to describe to someone who hasn’t read Ray Bradbury, the experience as a young teenager being allowed into his world. And believe me, when you sat down with a ray Bradbury book in your hand, it wasn’t just any book, and it wasn’t just any “reading experience” (only someone who doesn’t read very often would come up with an expression as stupid as that one - along with the insipid “a good read”), but you were were actually coming into Ray Bradbury’s home, where his stories all whirled around in the air, many interconnected, and you’d be delighted when one story would contain an oblique reference to another one.
When I was a child, my science fiction was pretty much limited to the Superman TV series and Saturday morning’s Fireball XL5 (which primed me for the ,later Star Trek). From the school library I found A Wrinkle in Time and Miss Pickerell Goes to Mars.
After my father was stationed once again to England in 1964, I discovered Doctor Who and Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, and I was corrupted forever. As far as reading went, Tom Swift Jr. (books that don’t age very well), Jules Verne and Robert A Heinlein kept me going.
Returning to the states in 1967, I spent two years at Whiteman Air Force Base and Knob Noster Junior High School in Missouri, which can only be described as . . . well, let’s not. Reading, as ever, got me through many of life’s difficulties.
But it was when I found Ray Bradbury in the base library that I discovered actual writing. I had long harbored fantasies of being a writer - I still do, on occasion - but Bradbury was the first writer who showed me that there is more to writing than just dropping words on a page like offerings in a fast food restaurant, one meal fits all. And even if every story wasn’t science fiction, often it stayed with you, simply because of his mastery of the language. Books full of wonderful short stories.
The Martian Chronicles.
R is for Rocket.
S is for Space.
Like every good liberal, I know Fahrenheit 451, in which he describes a future in which books are burned.
Sadly, though, that seems to be the only work many of my fellow liberal friends know of his - whether they have actually read it or not. The Internet, though, has been lit up with praise from those involved in politics and social causes, who tell us that his words will live on, or sentiments to that effect.
Well, not if you don’t read them.
And Fahrenheit 451, as good as it was, is far from his best work. I have always felt that his true strength lay in his ability to fashion a short story that would stay with you long after you had read it, or that you had to read years later in order to fully understand it.
As a teenager at Zweibrücken High School Germany in the early 1970s, I read a short story, “I See You Never,” which was included in his collection, The Golden Apples of the Sun.
A Mexican immigrant, Mr. Ramirez, is picked up by Immigration because he has overstayed his visa to stay in the United States. Ramirez says to his landlady, over and over, “I see you never.”
“It’s okay, Mr. Ramirez,” she assures him. “Everything will be fine.”
“I see you never,” he repeats.
After Immigration takes him away, his landlady sits at the kitchen table and begins to cry. When her daughter asks her why she is crying, she replies - because she has finally understood - “I just realized that I”m never going to see Mr. Ramirez again.”
Sometimes I tell people about that story and I have to stop for a second before continuing.
Another story I read in high school concerned a town about to be affected by the construction of a new superhighway, which would take divert most of the traffic away from the town. Eventually, it might just whither up and die.
As a kid in high school on an Air Force base overseas you just know you are reading a good story, but it wasn’t until I had spent some time in Shamrock, Texas a few years ago, one of the Route 66 towns devastated by the passing of time - and construction of new highway routes - that the story had real meaning for me.
Sometimes you just read a passage or an entire page over again before going on; sometimes you read it aloud to yourself before going on. If there is anyone else in your house, you often read it aloud to them, just to share the poetry of his words, the magic and the raw, emotional power.
We live in an age when the word “writer” has become almost laughable. Any blogger sitting in Mom’s basement, scarfing down his Pop Tarts and Red Bull, tossing invective at any and all public figures, or reviewing books he may only dimly understand, and hiding behind names like “Freedom Warrior” (or sometime just the ever popular “Sith Lord”) can pound the key board or tiny keys on his “mobile device,” and spread their gospel, telling themselves - and their immediate family and friends - that they are a writer.
If someone dares suggest they are not, there are cries of “elitism.”
If they won’t at least take a creative writing class, then maybe you could give them a copy of something Ray Bradbury-related for their birthday. You could always tell them it’s because his writing reminds you of theirs, I suppose. Maybe something will get through.
I’ve read a lot over the past few days, with prattle like, “The likes of Ray Bradbury will never come along again.” That’s sort of an insult to Bradbury, who inspired not only science fiction readers, but many writers, as well.
I will mis you, though, Ray. It’s time to pull some of your books out and read them again, one more time.
As long as we are intent on passing out copies of Fahrenheit 451 . . .
As I wrote, as a good liberal, Fahrenheit 451 is the Bradbury work I go to of when I think of censorship. But then, it was also far from his best work, in my opinion. If you just want to confine yourself to that one book, you are depriving yourself of a great adventure.
Censorship and the fear of totalitarianism runs deep throughout much of his work. That is why so many were disgusted at the abysmal A Sound of Thunder Chicago dinosaur romp that came out a few years ago.
I think it may also been done on Ray Bradbury Theater on the USA Network years ago, but I missed that one.
If you want to read a really chilling story about choices, and how one tiny mistake can change a whole country, seek the story out. That sound of thunder? Just as chilling now as it was when I read it in Junior High school.
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