When I was growing up, I loved reading science fiction. I collected Star Trek novels, Star Wars novels, the Shannara series, the Prydain Chronicles and Ray Bradbury.
Ray Bradbury was different than the rest. His short stories and longer works like Fahrenheit 451 were so varied in style and topic that I kept reading them over and over. In fact, I still have my original beat-up Bantam paperbacks printed on the cheap pulp paper frequently used twenty years ago. Now, I read them to my kids. One of their favorites is the Fog Horn; the story of a lonely sea monster spurned by a lighthouse.
Many of the other sci-fy / fantasy books that I read had some agenda in the contents; population control was a biggie in the Star Trek books. Ray Bradbury’s stories were no exception and I sometimes roll my eyes at his moralizing about the Catholic Church. Even so, his themes were typically more complex than most other writers. I appreciated that he actually thought about religion and Catholicism specifically, and even though he seemed to regularly misunderstand Catholic theology (the priests on Mars trying to convert the Martians being a prime example), he at least seemed to sense that there was something important about it even if he personally didn’t put much stock in it.
The other thing that I appreciate about his writing is his nostalgia. One of my favorite stories is Farewell Summer, the story of a trolley driver on the day before the trolley is replaced by buses. Ray Bradbury had an appreciation for the past and wrote about it in vivid words that reminded me of Norman Rockwell paintings. Another favorite is The Time Machine, about some kids who find a sort of time machine in a run down house in their town.
Ray Bradbury had the gift of painting with words. All of the places he described, no matter how short the story or what the local – from the jungles of Venus to the marshes where knights jousted at iron dragons, seemed like he had actually been there. In fact, a good portion of each story was usually spent describing the scene – something that more recent fiction tend to skimp on. For example, Melissa Wiley wrote several Little House on the Prairie sequels and our kids were so disappointed when the series was cut short because the publisher thought the books were too long and wanted to replace them with the equivalent of “I can read” chapter books.
If you haven’t ever read Ray Bradbury, I recommend Fahrenheit 451 and some of the short story books such as R is for Rocket and S is for Space. The first is considered his classic novel and is typically grouped with Huxley’s Brave New World and Orwell’s 1984. The second and third are collections of short stories that are collections of different types of stories, unlike The Martian Chronicles which all deal with one basic plot line.
It is fitting that Ray Bradbury died yesterday during a rare astronomical event – the transit of Venus across the sun. While Venus hasn’t turned out to be as amazing as in The Long Rain, the universe is just as wondrous as anything he wrote. Hopefully, this writer who believed that his writing was “God given” will find a home in Heaven.
Requiem æternam dona ei, Domine.
Et lux perpetua luceat ei.
Requiescat in pace. Amen.
Do you have a favorite Ray Bradbury story?
More thoughts on Ray Bradbury’s death: