GOODBYE TO RAY

Published by Gregory Benford on June 6th, 2012

RAY BRADBURY 1920-2012

In the 20th Century he was comparable to Robert A. Heinlein, Isaac Asimov and Arthur C. Clarke. But Bradbury, in the ’40s and ’50s, became the name brand. Now they all, the BACH group, are gone.

He came out of Grimms Fairy Tales and L. Frank Baum’s “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz”, the world’s fairs and Lon Chaney Sr., Buck Rogers and “Amazing Stories.”

Visiting a carnival at 12 brought him face to face with Mr. Electrico, a magician who awakened Bradbury to images of reincarnation and immortality. “He was a miracle of magic, seated at the electric chair, swathed in black velvet robes, his face burning like white phosphor, blue sparks hissing from his fingertips,” he recalled in interviews. “He pointed at me, touched me with his electric sword—my hair stood on end—and said, ‘Live forever.’ Transfixed, Bradbury returned day after day. “He took me down to the lake shore and talked his small philosophies and I talked my big ones,” Bradbury said. “He said we met before. ‘You were my best friend. You died in my arms in 1918, in France.‘ I knew something special had happened in my life. I stood by the carousel and wept.”

He was loud and boisterous and liked to do a W.C. Fields act and Hitler imitations. He would pull all sorts of pranks, as a science fiction fan in the 1930s and 1940s. And he wrote a short story every week, setting a deadline: he would quit writing if he couldn’t sell one in a year. He sold his 50th. We came that close to having no Bradbury in our literature.

It’s telling that we read Bradbury for his short stories. They are stylish glimpses at possibilities, meant for contemplation. The most important thing about writers is how they exist in our memories. Having read Bradbury is like having seen a striking glimpse out of a car window and then being whisked away.

Often reprinted in high school texts, he became a poet of the expanding world view of the 20th century. He coupled the American love of machines to the love of frontiers. Elton John’s hit “Rocket Man” is an homage to Bradbury’s Mars.

Bradbury chalked up his stories’ relevance and resonance to his dealing in metaphors. “All my stories are like the Greek and Roman myths, and the Egyptian myths, and the Old and New Testament…. If you write in metaphors, people can remember them…. I think that’s why I’m in the schools.”

Nostalgia is eternal for Americans. We are often displaced from our origins and carry anxious memories of that lost past. We fear losing our bearings. By writing of futures that echo our nostalgias, Bradbury reminds us of both what we were and of what we could yet be.

Like most creative people, he was still a child at heart. His stories tell us: Hold on to your childhood. You don’t get another one. In so many stories, he gave us his childhood.

So Mr. Electrico was right in a way. His work will live forever.



Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>


5 Responses

  1. Al Kaye says:

    Dear Greg,

    Me again. I read your article on Ray Bradbury’s passing. You mentioned that he was interested in immortality and reincarnation. So, I wonder if he ever showed any interest in cryonics and made any preparations for his suspension.

    Likewise, Heinlein. He also wrote a lot about immortality, but never restored to cryonics.

    Thanks,

    Al

  2. Andrew Kidd says:

    Coincidentally, that’s how my father and I also referred to science fiction’s “Big Four,” as “The BACH Group” or simply as “BACH.” I will always treasure the memories I will have have of reading all of them, such as the summer of 1991, as I was turning 16, reading both Tales from Planet Earth and The Illustrated Man while on the beach on a beautiful summer day in Ontario, or most memorably, being on top of giant red rock in Killarney, Ontario, a most appropriate place to read The Martian Chronicles, as well as People Machines by Jack Williamson and One Man’s Universe by Charles Sheffield. We treasured them when they were still here with us; let us continue to do so, now that they have left us so much to remember them by.