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