So I’m away from the internet for a day (yesterday’s post about gay comic characters was pre-scheduled) and what happens: Ray Bradbury dies at age 91.
Oddly enough, I first heard the news from my Mom, who told me when I dropped by at my parents’ after school, “Did you hear that a science fiction writer died? It was just on the radio news.”
Naturally, I asked her which SF writer had died. She didn’t remember the name, she said, but he was very old. In his nineties.
That narrowed it down, so I asked her, “Jack Vance, Frederick Pohl, Ray Bradbury? Which one was it?”
“I think the last one…”, she said, “…but I’m not sure. What did he write?”
So I rattled off a list of Bradbury titles and when I got Fahrenheit 451, she said, “Yes, that’s definitely the right one. They listed a book with Fahrenheit in the title.”
“And you’re sure it’s Bradbury?”, I asked, “Shit. This is unexpected. He just had an essay in The New Yorker this week.”
Everybody has been sharing their memories of how they first encountered Ray Bradbury’s work or even of how they met the man himself, so here’s mine:
The only problem is that I’m not sure when I first heard of Ray Bradbury. I suspect that it was either in John Clute’s original Encylcopedia of Science Fiction (which I bought as a teenager in a Rotterdam department store for the exorbitant sum of 80 Dutch guilders and used as a guide to discover SF books and authors that sounded interesting) or in one of my coffee table books about SF films from the 1980s, which I used for the same purpose before I found the Encyclopedia.
At any rate, I already knew who Ray Bradbury was when I bought The Martian Chronicles sometime in the late 1980s. Then, a bit later, I bought Fahrenheit 451 in a Reclam foreign language edition, because it was the only one I could get at the time, and also picked up a used copy of The Golden Apples of the Sun at one of the places that sometimes sold used English language books. I guess I bought it as much for the swirly psychedelic cover art as for Bradbury’s name. I also remember an essay by Ray Bradbury (which I later realized was an excerpt from the marvelous Zen and the Art of Writing) in a dog-eared paperback on writing science fiction, fantasy and horror that I reread a lot, because I loved it so much.
But my first exposure to Ray Bradbury’s work was actually the Francois Truffaut’s 1966 film adaption of Fahrenheit 451, which a teacher made us watch shortly before the summer holidays, when all tests have been written and the grades are fixed and there’s nothing to do in school except watch movies. Initially, I was happy to get a science fiction movie and one that was not about nuclear war and the end of the world (being forced to watch On the Beach scarred me for life – I still hate both book and film), too. But then there was that scene near the beginning where Montag and colleagues discover the secret library and burn it up along with the old woman who has hidden the books away. And I watched as the old woman burned and thought, “This is me. This is me in sixty years or so” and had a veritable freakout right in the middle of a classroom full of twenty-four sweaty kids. As a result, it took me several years until I could even bring myself to read my Reclam copy of Fahrenheit 451.
And here are tributes and memories from Barack Obama, John Scalzi, Neil Gaiman (there’s another one here), Sherwood Smith, Julie Ann Dawson, Lynn Viehl, Sarah Hoyt, MeiLin Miranda, Jeff Vandermeer, Chuck Wendig, Michiko Kakutani, Tobias Buckell, Orson Scott Card, Stephen Hubbard and Aliette de Bodard.
What is remarkable about all those tributes is not just how many lives were touched by Ray Bradbury’s works, but also how different those lives and people are. Barack Obama, John Scalzi and Neil Gaiman on the one side and Sarah Hoyt and Orson Scott Card on the other will likely never agree on anything, but they do agree that Ray Bradbury was a great writer who touched their lives. Only Only Nick Mamatas has something to complain about, as usual, though he doesn’t complain about Ray Bradbury but about the fact that some of those offering their memories and tributes fit his mental stereotype of catpiss geeks who can’t appreciate Bradbury.
Finally, the Guardian reprints a 1990 interview with Ray Bradbury, while the Paris Review has dug up an unpublished interview with Ray Bradbury and completed the old interview with some new questions. Lots of good stuff there. Oh yes, and he calls Edgar Rice Burroughs “the most influential writer in the entire history of the world” and John Irving “the bore of all time”.
So rest in peace, Ray. You will be missed.