“The World’s Greatest Living Science Fiction Writer”

Ray Bradbury has died and with him goes part of my childhood.

I remember the day I spotted the cover of The Golden Apples of the Sun in my school library. I was, perhaps, ten years old.  I hadn’t borrowed many books but something about this one drew me, perhaps the brazen declaration (right below the title) that its creator was none other than “the world’s greatest living science fiction writer”.

To me, science fiction was “Star Trek” and some of the old creature features they sometimes played serially on my favorite after school program. But right from the first pages of The Golden Apples of the Sun, Ray Bradbury made me see that science fiction wasn’t just about the future and that the world around me was filled with magic and mystery, it was all in the way I looked at it.

Ray was wary about the science fiction label anyway—he thought he was a fantasist and he was absolutely right. Science fiction is too constricting for a mind as wide-ranging and imaginative as his.  He was our small town Borges, the last surviving Grimm brother.  Friends and acquaintances testify to the kindness and civility of the man, and his novels and short stories always provoke a warm, nostalgic glow. But there is much darkness in his work, a real sense of menace present in his masterpiece Something Wicked This Way Comes; happy endings were infrequent.  The loneliness of the creature in his tale “The Fog Horn” is palpable.  It is the last of its kind, doomed and suffering. A serial killer haunts the pages of his much-beloved Dandelion Wine and books burn by the millions in Fahrenheit 451.  Temptation and sin torment his characters and all too frequently they surrender to their baser natures. Ray might have had a sentimental streak but he wasn’t unaware or indifferent to the conflicts that rage inside us.

Ray Bradbury expired at the ripe old age of 91.  The last few years must have been difficult—there were strokes and he lost much of his eyesight. But he kept working, we’re told, his determination to put words on paper nearly out-living his physical body. He graced this planet for over nine decades but never forgot the wonders and terrors of childhood, the desire kids have to discover the mysteries and secrets of the hidden world of adults.

He was, and remains, an original, inimitable, a one and only.

Thanks, Ray.

From that skinny, timid child of long ago and the forty-eight year old man he’s become.

Bon voyage.

4 comments

  1. mikes75

    Stories by Ray Bradbury was the first grown-up book I checked out of my town library, when I was old enough to escape the children’s section. I keep a hardcover of that next to my bedside the way some people keep a Bible, and it’s served me just as well over the years. Thank you, fellow traveler, to the October Country.

  2. Cliff Burns

    It’s going to be a sad day. I’ll always regret never getting a chance to meet the man and thank him for what he meant to me.

  3. chandlerswainreviews

    What a fine memorial to one of the truly human voices of American letters. I had a seventh grade English teacher who lent me his copy of “The Illustrated Man” with the thought I would find it interesting. I have no idea what the man saw in my ill formed character that such a gift was appropriate but he subsequently lent me every volume of Bradbury published up to that time as my appetite for the wonders of his writing became as insatiable as that of my very intuitive mentor. Not a day has passed where I probably haven’t stopped to remember that fortunate collision of dedicated guidance and extraordinary visionary that entered, informed and forever altered by life.

  4. Cliff Burns

    Thanks for that recollection—there are certain authors who reach us at exactly the right moment in our lives. Ray Bradbury was one such writer. I’ll always be grateful to him for firing my imagination and reminding me that growing up doesn’t require leaving that little boy inside me behind. His child-like sense of wonder was one of his greatest attributes and I believe he retained it to the very end.

    Here’s to Ray.

    A toast…tall, brimming glasses of (you guessed it) dandelion wine.

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