Tribute to Ray Bradbury
As some of you may know, Venus passed between the Earth and the Sun on Tuesday, causing a sort of eclipse called a transit in which Venus visibly moved across the Sun. This event, occurring only four times every 243 years, is rare; this is the last time anyone living will have seen a transit. The next one will not occur until 2117. One particularly visionary man imagined a fictitious rarity on Venus in a short story called “All Summer in a Day”. He wrote that “there had been a day, seven years ago, when the sun came out for an hour and showed its face to the stunned world.” The author was Ray Bradbury.
Perhaps his most famous work was his novel Fahrenheit 451, a highly critical examination of both censorship and dominance of technology in our daily lives. Many of his other works—mostly comprised of short stories—decry the penetration of technology into our society and uphold the need for individualism and dependence not on technology but rather on literature and free thought. Despite his advocacy against technology, many of his imagined gizmos have become a reality, from portable music to big-screen televisions.
But beyond his political and social criticisms are the rich and compelling stories he told with accessible eloquence. From the adventures of The Martian Chronicles to the unsettling tales of “A Sound of Thunder” and “The Veldt”, Bradbury built delectably short yet engrossing plots. His language goes unmatched by any other writer in science fiction, leading some to consider him one of the best writers of the twentieth century. Some examples:
The dark porch air in the late afternoon was full of needle flashes, like a movement of gathered silver insects in the light.
Each lower leg was a piston, a thousand pounds of white bone, sunk in thick ropes of muscle, sheathed over in a gleam of pebbled skin like the mail of a terrible warrior.
–“A Sound of Thunder”
The psychiatrist moved in the beehive of offices, in the cross-pollination of themes, Stravinsky mating with Bach, Haydn unsuccessfully repulsing Rachmaninoff, Schubert slain by Duke Ellington.
When life is over it is like a flicker of bright film, an instant on the screen, all of its prejudices and passions condensed and illumined for an instant on space, and before you could cry out, “There was a happy day, there was a bad one, there an evil face, there a good one,” the film burned to a cinder, the screen went dark.
Without a doubt, Bradbury is incredibly talented, but what I find most compelling are the snatches of depth that speak of a man well-read. “The Golden Apples of the Sun” takes its name from a poem by Yeats; “Usher II” follows up on a short story by Poe. His diverse knowledge base ranging from music to science to history indicates his love for learning through reading. Perhaps even more telling of his passion for reading is Fahrenheit 451, which relates Bradbury’s horror at the notion of censorship and the burning of books.
Earlier this week, on June 5th, Bradbury passed away. While we no longer have one of the greatest science fiction authors of all time, his stories remain with us, conveying his love for words and his passion for simplicity, reminding us of the importance of free thought and ideas.