The science fiction world, and much of the world at large is weeping today because we lost a giant. I can’t recall when I first heard the name “Ray Bradbury” but in my limited memory, it seems as if I was born with the name, that there was never a time I didn’t know who he was. I’m sure I read some of his stories when I was a kid, checking a book out of the public library, or coming across a story in one of my reading books for school. But the first time I decided to read Bradbury as an adult, with the appreciation of a science fiction fan was in October 1996. I read Something Wicked This Way Comes and I felt like suddenly, my eyes were open. The adventures of Jim Nightshade and Will Halloway kept me breathless. I think I read the book in a single, remarkable sitting, virtually memorizing parts of it as I went. (Whenever someone mentions October, regardless of the context, wild horses can’t keep me from quoting, “First of all it was October, a rare month for boys,” often to strange looks.) Something Wicked This Way Comes became and remains one of my all-time favorite books.
I went on to read other books by Bradbury. I read Fahrenheit 451, and the dreamy and remarkable Martian Chronicles with its echoes of Sherwood Anderson. I read The Illustrated Man which contains one of only two stories that have ever truly frightened me: “The Veldt.” The book also contains what I to believe just about the most perfect short story ever constructed, “The Rocket Man,” which I re-read just a little while ago. Each time I read it, I worry that it will lose some of its magic, and each time, I am both relieved and surprised that the story seems even more remarkable than before. I read other books. I read From the Dust Returned, which I didn’t like so much, but no one is perfect. I read Let’s All Kill Constance, which I found to be wonderfully strange. I read Dandelion Wine and various story collection. Ray’s stories: each one was amazing in its own way. There was a nostalgia in them, sure, but the words came alive. You felt what he wrote.
As a writer, I’ve tried to emulate the style of many writers I’ve admired, but never Bradbury. I knew I just didn’t have it in me, like a young pitcher who can throw a pretty good fastball, but who knows he’ll never hit 90; knows his ball just doesn’t have “stuff.” Bradbury said he wrote every day. Writing every day for seven or eight decades gives someone plenty of practice, but if I wrote for seven or eight decades, I could not do what Ray Bradbury did.
I learned more about Bradbury over the years. I read Sam Weller’s biography of the man. I read Bradbury’s various essays. I read every recent story collection he put out. It was a bit of a thrill for me to find his name, address and phone number listed in the Science Fiction Writers of American’s member directory when I first joined. But I never wrote to him or called him.
I did meet him, however, once at Dangerous Visions bookshop in Sherman Oaks, California, not far from where I lived.
It was December 12, 1998, some fourteen years ago. As I wrote in my diary for that day:
I met Ray Bradbury today! Dan, Megan… and I went to Dangerous Visions at 3pm so I could meet him. I bought 2 books for him to sign–Something Wicked This Way Comes and Ahmed and the Oblivion Machine. I was a bit nervous to really say anything to him, but I thanked him and he wished me a happy holiday.
I already owned two copies of Something Wicked This Way Comes but now I had a signed copy, which of course, I still have on my shelves:
More recently, as I made my way steadily through the first 36 Episodes of my Vacation in the Golden Age, I noted rather somberly, that every author that appeared in Astounding from July 1939 through June 1942 was no longer with us. But then I got to Episode 37, the July 1942 issue, which contained a Probability Zero story by Ray Bradbury, “Eat, Drink, and Be Wary.” It is one of Bradbury’s earliest published stories. I read the issue and wrote the post late in April 2012, and at the time, Bradbury was still alive, making him not only the first author I’d encountered in my Vacation to still be with us, but also the only one that I’d met.
And now he is gone.
When I found out this morning that Ray Bradbury had passed, my first reaction was to hope it was just an Internet rumor, but that hope was quickly dashed when the news was confirmed by his granddaughter and biographer. I then expressed sadness as his passing. A friend of mine said that there was no reason to be sad. He was 91 years old and lived a good life. And to that end, I am not sad. I’m sad that an iconic figure of science fiction–one who certainly had an influence on me–and one whom had been around my entire life was gone. The world is better for having had Bradbury in it. But Ray Bradbury did not write any new words today. And never will again.
It is for that reason that I am most sad to see him go.