Ray Bradbury (1920-2012) came to me recommended by my brother Michael (see his tribute to Bradbury here); I mostly read Bradbury in Junior High, starting with S Is for Space and R Is for Rocket then moving on to his more famous The Martian Chronicles, Fahrenheit 451, and Something Wicked This Way Comes. I gladly devoured the short stories drawn together in The Illustrated Man.
These stories and novels demonstrated that Bradbury was a master of poetic science fiction. With Asimov, it was the story and the people that really mattered, even when inspired by real or hypothetical science and technology. With Bradbury, it was every jot and tittle that mattered. His words are exquisitely arranged, perfectly selected. He grew up on Shakespeare and the Psalms (KJV, if I recall aright), and the beauty of his own work demonstrates the effect of these beautiful works of art.
When I was in my undergrad, I read his more recent short fiction gathered in Quicker Than the Eye and Driving Blind, and last summer I read his classic Dandelion Wine. Here was everyday life turned magical, mystical, and at times terrible (in the true sense of the word). I remember vividly the wondrous tale of a man who created a symphony out of birdsong (a proper symphony, not that odd ‘modern’ creation of Rautavarra).
Lying just beneath the surface of Bradbury’s fiction is a world of magic and terror, a world waiting to be made visible by scratching the itch of our own. The horror of ‘The Veldt’ and Something Wicked This Way Comes, the fearful plausibility of Fahrenheit 451 — these are the horrors that lie around the corner in our culture, our homes, our souls. In Driving Blind there is a man who can literally drive blind. This is the wonderful magic of human existence, whether in the sands of Mars’ canals or the fields of Illinois.
When he was a boy, Ray Bradbury was told he would live forever. Two days ago, he passed from this life. Yet he will live forever, in his haunting, beautiful, terrible, majestic, ordinary, magical prose that invigorates science fiction as ‘true’ literature and not the ‘sub-literary’ genre it is often mistakenly denigrated as being.
We’ll miss Bradbury, but his words will endure, and our imaginations will be turned to the magical realism that surrounds us on all sides at every turn.