Occasional blogging, mostly of the long-form variety.

Wednesday, June 06, 2012

Ray Bradbury (1920–2012)

Ray Bradbury has died, at the age of 91. He was a prolific and highly influential writer of speculative fiction (he preferred the term "fantasy" to science fiction), and one of the most enthusiastic advocates for public libraries the world has ever seen. Especially as he aged, he had his cranky, curmudgeonly side, but whenever he talked about stories, his face lit up and he became a little kid, full of wonder, excitement and the joy of imagination. Every book he described reading was in his telling the best book ever, every film he remembered seeing was the most wonderful movie ever. His enthusiasm was infectious. I heard him speak several times, once to a packed crowd at my local public library (he was a long-time Angeleno) and a few times introducing adaptations of his plays (which friends of mine appeared in). Even though the productions didn't make a lot of money or even lost it, he loved the theater, just as he loved the movies and the written word. He didn't have the money to go to college, so he got his education by going to the library constantly and reading voraciously. He also rented a typewriter for a dime an hour at the UCLA library to write what would become Fahrenheit 451. He knew how special libraries were, and the magic of getting lost in a story.

His physical ailments as he aged became considerable (he had a stroke in 1999, was diabetic and used a wheelchair and braces), but once he got going, he became an animated, inspiring speaker. Not all of his work is great, and he eschewed revisions, preferring to move on to the next thing. He generated, by some counts, 27 novels and over 600 short stories, in addition to dozens of teleplays and scripts. The number of pieces adapted or derived from his work bump that number up considerably. Bradbury's work, a staple of junior high and high school curriculums, was surely the introduction to science fiction and fantasy for many a young reader. With Bradbury, it's the gems, the extensive corpus and the general inspiration that matter. His greatest work is among the best in the genre and will last long after him: Fahrenheit 451, "The Pedestrian," "A Sound of Thunder" and the stories that make up The Martian Chronicles. Film adaptations of Fahrenheit 451 and Something Wicked This Way Comes remain the most memorable, but the TV series Ray Bradbury Theater adapted 65 of his short stories fairly successfully, and the "Bradbury 13" radio adaptations are quite effective.

The obituaries and remembrances abound: his official site, The Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, The Washington Post (which also has photos, video and a set of favorite quotations from him), i09, Locus, The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction, driftglass (who uses a Bradbury line on his masthead), Blue Gal, Tom Levenson at Balloon Juice, Lance Mannion with that very funny and NSFW Bradbury tribute video, and NPR pieces one and two. Local NPR station KCRW has some great material, including videos and remembrance from Joe Mantegna, biographer Sam Weller, and Steven Paul Leiva, who organized the 2010 Ray Bradbury Week out here in L.A. There's also a 1960s video profile of him. The Week collects some quotations, and Boing Boing has video of him reading his poem, "If Only We Had Taller Been." And don't miss Mark Evanier's remembrance: "Ray Bradbury gave me all that time and encouragement. I can't waste that."

(My signed copy of Fahrenheit 451.)

I wrote more about Ray Bradbury and Fahrenheit 451 in 2008 for Banned Books Week, when, in supreme irony, a parent sought to prevent high school students from reading the book. (I also asked the question: if you were going to memorize a book to save it for posterity, which book would you choose?)

I'll probably update this post as I find other good pieces. If you wrote something on Bradbury, feel free to write me or link it in the comments. Regardless, his best work will endure and his spirit will be missed.

Here's Bradbury thanking his fans on his 90th birthday, and advising that 'the essence of life is love':

(One of the blog's past "Read" posters.)

Update: Here are some more posts on Bradbury, from Crooked Timber (with a good thread), P3, Thinking Aboot, Chicago Guy and Neil Gaiman.