Some Brief Notes About Ray Bradbury

While cleaning out files I came upon this brief essay on Ray Bradbury, which I don't believe ever saw the light of readers' eyes. In the unthinkable event that you don't know about Bradbury, check this:


Bradbury is certainly considered one of the great masters of science fiction, even though his work does not always fit neatly into the genre. As an example, when I was a kid reading this stuff, the Big Three names were Isaac Asimov, Robert Heinlein and Arthur C. Clarke. Bradbury, while appreciated, was never counted their equal. In part this is because he became science fiction’s first breakout writer, one who was appreciated by the larger literary community. To his credit, he never renounced science fiction, unlike his contemporary, Kurt Vonnegut.

One of the many reasons why Bradbury was the first sf writer to find a wider audience was that his work was more accessible than that of some of the more traditional genre writers. Some might argue that it was better written on a sentence to sentence level, although that is a matter of taste, since the Bradbury style tends to be flowery. I think it may well have to do with how Bradbury understood the enterprise of science fiction. While the Big Three, Heinlein certainly and to some extent Asimov and Clarke, probably thought that the futures they were writing about might actually happen, and thus expended their considerable imaginative resources on informed extrapolation from current conditions, I don’t think Bradbury ever bought into the idea that what he wrote about might actually happen. He used the furniture of science fiction as literary tropes. The Mars of his Martian Chronicles is not so much another planet as it is an imaginary landscape, rich in metaphor. It is no more (or less) real than Oz. The machineries of science fiction never got in his, or his readers’ way. Who knows or cares how his rockets worked? In this, his methods anticipate those of some of today’s literary writers who dip into genre waters.

With Bradbury, as with many other writers, the work of a specific time span is what we most remember. In his case it is the decade from 1946-56. Of course he continued to publish right up to his death. What are we do to with the work of his last fifty years, some of which hits his own high standard but some of which is, not to put too fine a point on it, self-indulgent? To some extent his successes in Hollywood draw our attention away from the lesser literary work of his later years.

Having typed the above, I have to acknowledge Bradbury’s influence on my own work. When I see the term “Bradbury-esque” or “reminiscent of Bradbury’s work” applied to my fiction, I take it as a term of the highest approbation. One of my best known stories “Bernardo’s House” is an homage to his heartbreakingly wonderful portrait of a dying house – yes, house – in “There Will Come Soft Rains.” And possibly my favorite line in any of the reviews of my work, is this from Booklist about my Nebula winning novella BURN: "Besides its fireman hero (a reversal of Montag in Fahrenheit 451) and its would-be-utopian setting, the warm humanity and rural sympathies of this affectionate, winsome short novel will make many recall Ray Bradbury at his best."