Wednesday, June 06, 2012

Ray Bradbury RIP

Ray Bradbury passed away at the age of 91. Sad, sad news. He is one of my all-time favorite writers. One of my few professionally published works was a book review for the newspaper of Green Shadows, White Whale, a novelization of his Irish short stories. Known mostly for his science fiction, he wrote some of the creepiest short stories this side of Edgar Allen Poe such as "The October Game", leaving the most disturbing scene up to the imagination of the reader.

That was the lesson in his writing. He loved words and phrases, but he worked with the reader's imagination. When the father in Something Wicked This Way Comes sees his son and friend running, he sees with the mind's eye how the friend runs, focusing on speed and winning the race while his son runs for the pure joy of running, to feel the wind on the face and the earth beneath the feet speeding by. He describes what cannot be seen so that we can see it in our minds. It's what made either Hitchcock or Serling comment that they'd love to have filmed more of his stories, but what made them great, that love of language and words, made them unfilmable.

Yet, they tried. Something Wicked This Way Comes made into a movie with Jason Robards. "I Sing the Body Electric" on The Twilight Zone. Then there was the Ray Bradbury Theater that did a fine job adapting many of his short-stories. A Sound of Thunder has as much to do with the short story as I Robot has to do with Asimov's work. EC Comics adapted several of his stories into comics, purportedly at first without permission.

He also wrote some great essays on writing (The Art of Writing and How to Feed Your Muse) and life in general. Several decades ago he wrote about how society seemed bent on reducing human interaction, starting off with the automobile where we can close the windows and turn up the radio, shutting out the world. People jog with radios in their ears (an invention inspired by something similar in his novel Fahrenheit 451) And, the world has furthered its way down that path since the essay. How hard is it to call customer service and get a real person on the phone (how often are you directed to email them or fill out an online form)? How many people do you communicate via Facebook instead of face-to-face? ATMs, automated check-outs at stores and automatic gas pumps so you don't have to even deal with a cashier. Then, there's the essay on lost-ness. The reason that we travel is so that we can safely "get lost". That we don't know what's around the corner. We might be a little unsure of the food we're eating. The Horton Plaza mall in San Diego is based a little around that essay and could be summed up by the phrase "you can't get there from here". Built on several levels with an open air center, just going up or down one flight, or getting to a store across the center divide can be an adventure. The builders when designing the stairs and walkways seemed to use an M. C. Escher drawing as blueprints. Yet, on the other hand it's a failure of the lesson of the essay as all the stores are pretty much exactly the same as the stores in other malls all over the country.

His later works became more and more abstract in hard details, but carried simply by the power of images and senses built simply by words. He'd describe a house not by how it looks, but by the wind blowing across it, starting with the wind's origins in the Arctic North and route it takes through various lands and cultures, picking up dust of pharaohs and queens and animals long dead along the way before brushing across the shutters of the house. I figured if he lived long enough, he'd produce a book that was shorn of all narrative structure and be simply an abstract painting of language, words and phrases juxtaposed together to dredge up images and memories from some collective subconscious of a world that never quite was.

You'll be missed.