Ray Bradbury, 1920-2012

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bradbury office Ray Bradbury, 1920 2012

The Los Angeles Times has reported on the passing of Ray Bradbury.  He leaves behind 11 novels, over 400 novelettes and short stories, at least 45 collections, numerous dramatizations, and various work.  Wikipedia has an incomplete bibliography, and the Grand Comics Database lists the various comics adaptations.

Among his many accomplishments:

  • Two awards named for him (The Ray Bradbury Award for Outstanding Dramatic Presentation, bestowed by the Science Fiction Writers of America for screenwriting (recently won by Neil Gaiman; The Ray Bradbury Creativity Award, administered by Woodbury University, which bestowed upon him an honorary doctorate in 2003.)
  • An impact crater on the Moon, named “Dandelion Crater” by Apollo 15 astronauts.
  • An asteroid, 9766 Bradbury.
  • An Emmy Award for “The Halloween Tree“.
  • The Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters Award, awarded in 2000 from the National Book Foundation.
  • The National Medal of Arts
  • From his peers: the World Fantasy Award for life achievement, Stoker Award from the Horror Writers Association  for life achievement, Science Fiction Writers Association  Grand Master, SF Hall of Fame Living Inductee, First Fandom Award, and Science Fiction Poetry Association Grandmaster.
  • In 2007, a special citation from the Pulitzer Board, “for his distinguished, prolific and deeply influential career as an unmatched author of science fiction and fantasy.”  (John Coltrane was also so recognized.)
  • A starship (and starship class) on Star Trek.

However, his greatest honor will probably be the Butterfly Effect, originally presented in his seminal 1952 short story, “A Sound of Thunder”, first published in Colliers.  The idea: a small deviation (for example: .506 instead of .506127) can create a far-reaching ripple effect much later.  While the Effect is now demonstrated by the flapping of a butterfly’s wings nearby can cause a chaotic event to occur later much farther away, Bradbury wrote the story nine years before Edward Lorenz’s metereological discovery and subsequent paper.  It is also a fundamental theory of time travel fiction.

His influence is widespread, as one of the prominent writers of fantastic fiction, first published in 1941.  While it is not uncommon now for writers of science fiction or comics to write in a variety of other media, Ray Bradbury was the first, writing for magazines, movies, television, comics, sometimes as a science fiction pioneer.

Little known, though, is his stature as a God of the Geek Pantheon:

  • Like many geeks, he spent a lot of time at libraries, even educating himself as an adult when he could not afford to attend college.
  • As a member of the Los Angeles Science Fantasy Society while still in high school, he was considered obnoxious by other members.
  • Renting a typewriter at UCLA’s Powell Library for ten cents per half-hour, he spent $9.80 to write what would later become Fahrenheit 451.
  • He self-published his work via fanzines, published by himself and others, until he sold his first story in 1941.
  • Owning his work, he adapted his stories to a variety of mediums: film, television, comics.  He frequently appeared on-screen, or heard as a narrator.
  • No matter how respected he was, he never gave up his childhood loves.

There’s an interview which appeared in the Spring 2010 issue of the Paris Review.  It is well worth a read.  At the end, he speaks of romance, and adventure, how dreams can fuel reality, and his meeting Mr. Electrico:

BRADBURY

[...]You can’t kill a dream. Social obligation has to come from living with some sense of style, high adventure, and romance. It’s like my friend Mr. Electrico.

INTERVIEWER

That’s the character who makes a brief appearance in Something Wicked This Way Comes, right? And you’ve often spoken of a real-life Mr. Electrico, though no scholar has ever been able to confirm his existence. The story has taken on a kind of mythic stature—the director of the Center for Ray Bradbury Studies calls the search for Mr. Electrico the “Holy Grail” of Bradbury scholarship.

BRADBURY

Yes, but he was a real man. That was his real name. Circuses and carnivals were always passing through Illinois during my childhood and I was in love with their mystery. One autumn weekend in 1932, when I was twelve years old, the Dill Brothers Combined Shows came to town. One of the performers was Mr. Electrico. He sat in an electric chair. A stagehand pulled a switch and he was charged with fifty thousand volts of pure electricity. Lightning flashed in his eyes and his hair stood on end.

The next day, I had to go the funeral of one of my favorite uncles. Driving back from the graveyard with my family, I looked down the hill toward the shoreline of Lake Michigan and I saw the tents and the flags of the carnival and I said to my father, Stop the car. He said, What do you mean? And I said, I have to get out. My father was furious with me. He expected me to stay with the family to mourn, but I got out of the car anyway and I ran down the hill toward the carnival.

It didn’t occur to me at the time, but I was running away from death, wasn’t I? I was running toward life. And there was Mr. Electrico sitting on the platform out in front of the carnival and I didn’t know what to say. I was scared of making a fool of myself. I had a magic trick in my pocket, one of those little ball-and-vase tricks—a little container that had a ball in it that you make disappear and reappear—and I got that out and asked, Can you show me how to do this? It was the right thing to do. It made a contact. He knew he was talking to a young magician. He took it, showed me how to do it, gave it back to me, then he looked at my face and said, Would you like to meet those people in that tent over there? Those strange people? And I said, Yes sir, I would. So he led me over there and he hit the tent with his cane and said, Clean up your language! Clean up your language! He took me in, and the first person I met was the illustrated man. Isn’t that wonderful? The Illustrated Man! He called himself the tattooed man, but I changed his name later for my book. I also met the strong man, the fat lady, the trapeze people, the dwarf, and the skeleton. They all became characters.

Mr. Electrico was a beautiful man, see, because he knew that he had a little weird kid there who was twelve years old and wanted lots of things. We walked along the shore of Lake Michigan and he treated me like a grown-up. I talked my big philosophies and he talked his little ones. Then we went out and sat on the dunes near the lake and all of a sudden he leaned over and said, I’m glad you’re back in my life. I said, What do you mean? I don’t know you. He said, You were my best friend outside of Paris in 1918. You were wounded in the Ardennes and you died in my arms there. I’m glad you’re back in the world. You have a different face, a different name, but the soul shining out of your face is the same as my friend. Welcome back.

Now why did he say that? Explain that to me, why? Maybe he had a dead son, maybe he had no sons, maybe he was lonely, maybe he was an ironical jokester. Who knows? It could be that he saw the intensity with which I live. Every once in a while at a book signing I see young boys and girls who are so full of fire that it shines out of their face and you pay more attention to that. Maybe that’s what attracted him.

When I left the carnival that day I stood by the carousel and I watched the horses running around and around to the music of “Beautiful Ohio,” and I cried. Tears streamed down my cheeks. I knew something important had happened to me that day because of Mr. Electrico. I felt changed. He gave me importance, immortality, a mystical gift. My life was turned around completely. It makes me cold all over to think about it, but I went home and within days I started to write. I’ve never stopped.

Seventy-seven years ago, and I’ve remembered it perfectly. I went back and saw him that night. He sat in the chair with his sword, they pulled the switch, and his hair stood up. He reached out with his sword and touched everyone in the front row, boys and girls, men and women, with the electricity that sizzled from the sword. When he came to me, he touched me on the brow, and on the nose, and on the chin, and he said to me, in a whisper, “Live forever.” And I decided to.

And he will, for his fictions are filled with human truths, some unsettling, some uncomfortable, as many truths are.

Comments

  1. Ray Bradbury 1920 ~ Forever

  2. Also worth mentioning are his predictions of reality TV, live chases, flat screen TVs, and cell phone addiction.

  3. also, the seashell Radio in Fahrenheit 451 anticipates the Walkman, and later on, the iPod.

    Thanks for this nice remembrance. The power of the stories goes far beyond any specific technology.

  4. Well said Matt.

  5. Thanks for the overview and the link to that interview, Torsten.

  6. He was a great man and his contributions will be forever remembered, built upon, embraced and even educate generations. A life that was well-lived.

  7. James Van Hise says:

    Interestingly Bradbury originally submitted “A Sound of Thunder” to the then new magazine FANTASY & SCIENCE FICTION. They rejected it because Bradbury didn’t explain the technology behind the Time Travel safari or why the death of a butterfly would change history. So Bradbury instead sold it to Colliers–who censored the ending where the guide kills the man who stepped on the butterfly! Sometimes you just can’t win. This is why the EC Comics adaptation lacks that scene, not because EC censored it but because that’s the way it appeared in Colliers magazine. Bradbury soon resold the story intact to PLANET STORIES (in 1954) and to PLAYBOY.

  8. I remember reading “A Sound of Thunder” in a special issue of Playboy (one of their “Best of” series.

    Topps corrected that in, with a story drawn by Richard Corben!

  9. That’s quite a step up … FANTASY & SCIENCE FICTION rejects the story, so you turn around and sell it to COLLIER’S.

  10. Al™ says:

    I had picked up some of his later story collections at used book sales in the last few years. I can tell you that he retained his imagination and curiousity and demonstrated them in those later books. They contain brilliant concepts, idea sketches, scenes, and all kinds of playful experiments. Worth picking up if you see them.

    Thanks for the great reading, Ray!

  11. He looked really frail at his last appearances at Comic-Con.

    Here’s Mark Evanier’s memorial:
    http://www.newsfromme.com/2012/06/06/ray-bradbury-r-i-p/

    RIP and condolences to his family and friends.

Trackbacks

  1. [...] At The Beat, Torsten Adair recounts many of the honors Bradbury received over his lifetime. He influenced pop culture in all its forms, including comics and their creators. [...]

  2. [...] essays, obituaries, reflections and tributes, the following being just a sample: Margaret Atwood, The Beat, Gregory Benford, BookRiot, John Crowley, Junot Díaz, Neil Gaiman (also, the introduction he [...]

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