Wednesday, June 6, 2012

"I don't try to describe the future..."

One of the very first "real" science fiction authors I read was Ray Bradbury. It started with a few short stories from a literature book in middle school, stories we weren't even assigned to read and, then, Farenheit 451 which came off of our reading list but which, also, wasn't assigned. This was around the time we were studying World War II and the concentration camps and Nazi book burning and all of that stuff, so that book had a pretty big impact on me. It's the book that molded my belief that government (or other organizational) censorship is pretty much always bad. Just because I don't believe or like what you have to say doesn't mean I get to tell you not to say it, and I really believe that. Thanks, Ray Bradbury, for helping me to understand that.

He has a great quote that fits really well with 451: "I don't try to describe the future. I try to prevent it."
I wish there were more science fiction authors writing today that were still trying to prevent the future.

You know, I went to see him speak once. Okay, you didn't know that, but I'm telling you now. It was something like 20 years ago at this point. Well, almost. It was at Centenary College in Louisiana in the gym. Packed. He just sat out in the middle of the gym with a mic and talked for a couple of hours. Even though I don't really remember what all he talked about, he was fascinating, and I remember being pretty enthralled by it all. There was one thing, though; he talked about the story "Besides a Dinosaur, Whatta Ya Wanna Be When You Grow Up?" which is one of my absolute favorite stories by him, because I was that boy. I wanted to be a dinosaur when I grew up, and, failing that, I wanted to be a paleontologist, which I also failed at, because I found out you had to learn about rocks, and I hate rocks. I did, however, fail to get anything signed by him, because I didn't know they were going to allow signing after he spoke (especially considering the whole thing was in  the evening to begin with, and it was, like, 9:30 by  the time he finished), so I didn't take anything with me. I didn't have any editions of his books that I would have considered worthy of a signature anyway.

My favorite of his is The Martian Chronicles. And, now, I want to go read it again. And Farenheit, which my younger son just started reading a few days ago, actually. I figured I'd introduce it to him around the same age I was. I tried with my older son, but he felt it was too weird for him or something back when he was 12ish and wouldn't read it.

There have been a lot of stories I've loved over the years. A lot. But, even if I love them, most of them don't impact me at all. Don't change me. Bradbury was not one of those writers. He wrote stories that have hung around in my mind for three decades. The image of the boy and his sharp teeth and the dog being scared of him will always be in my mind. The weird reproduction of the House of Usher in Martian Chronicles has never faded. And, most of all, my belief that censorship (a fireless form of book burning) is wrong has never been brighter, but Bradbury struck the match that started that flame.

He may be gone, now, but, at least, the things that he wrote will continue on, and he can continue to light those fires in new, young minds. In my own writing career, I think, that's the very most that I hope for, that something I write will be worth going on after I'm gone. Not a Bradbury, but, maybe, just a shadow of him.

In case you don't know, he had a lot to say about being a writer. One of those things was that you jump off the cliff and figure out how to fly on your way down. It makes me wonder if that's where Douglas Adams got that idea, but that bit about flying in Hitchhiker's has always been my favorite part.

And here are a few more quotes to leave you with:

"I know you've heard it a thousand times before. But it's true - hard work pays off. If you want to be good, you have to practice, practice, practice. If you don't love something, then don't do it."

"I spent three days a week for 10 years educating myself in the public library, and it's better than college. People should educate themselves - you can get a complete education for no money. At the end of 10 years, I had read every book in the library and I'd written a thousand stories."

"My stories run up and bite me on the leg - I respond by writing down everything that goes on during the bite. When I finish, the idea lets go and runs off."

And, possibly, my favorite:
"There are worse crimes than burning books. One of them is not reading them."


  1. He was a major influence for a lot of writers and one of my favorite authors.
    And just so long as an idea doesn't bite my ass, I'm good.

  2. I didn't really like Bradbury. Probably because in school they made us read "Dandelion Wine" which I thought wasn't that good. I also read "A Sound Like Thunder" mostly because of the Simpsons Halloween skit based on it. The one "Twilight Zone" episode he wrote is one of my least favorites because it was just so hokey and sappy.

    But at some point I should try Fahrenheit 415 and see if that changes my opinion.

  3. I never really got into his books for some reason or another (maybe it's time to give them another try) but I absolutely ADORE his short stories. My parents gave me a copy of October Country when I discovered, in college, that it was easier to read a short story or two in downtime than to get wrapped up in a full novel. And since then I suspect I've read every one of his short stories -- the ones I could find, anyway!

    All the recent information about him, people talking about how his writing affected them, makes me think I might like the Martian Chronicles.

    It's very awesome that you got to hear him speak, even if you didn't get a chance to get anything signed.

  4. Oh, and I wanted to add that I read Farenheit in high school, and that was my first exposure to Bradbury. It was a good book to discuss in English, and I suspect people who mightn't enjoy it on their own might enjoy it more as a "studying literature" book. Perhaps your older son will read it in school when he's older and enjoy it.

  5. He was definitely one of my favorite writers, and in fact, my greatest inspiration to write socially relevant satire.

    "There are worse crimes than burning books. One of them is not reading them." - one of my favorite quotes as well.

  6. I love the idea that he wants to be buried on Mars.

    I talked about Ray Bradbury on Monday as if he had passed away. And then he passed away. I am sorry if I had any involvement in that.

  7. My introduction to Ray Bradbury was when I got a hold of "The Illustrated Man" at too young an age -- probably 8, or 9 -- and read it and got the beejeebers willied out of me, or something.

    I can still recall EVERY SINGLE STORY in that book, from the guys on Venus in the rain to the people drifting slowly through space forever (... which may have, ahem, helped inspire certain other things I wrote...)to the robot husband that puts the real husband away OH MAN I AM STILL FREAKED OUT BY THIS.

    I read "Something Wicked This Way Comes" a while back, and thought it was okay. I've never read all of 451; it bored me in high school. But maybe I'll make that my next classic to read on Sundays.

    He was a great writer though, no doubt about that.

  8. Alex: I actually like the unspoken idea there that the idea continues to gnaw on him as long as the writing is unfinished.

    Grumpy: You should definitely read Farenheit. I like "Thunder" even if it's not what I believe about Time Travel. But that wasn't really the point of the story.

    Callie: Martian Chronicles is a lot more like a series of connected short stories than it's like a novel. You should check it out.

    ABftS: Yeah, it's an awesome quote!

    Pish: We, also, were talking about him at the time he passed away, because I was talking about my son reading Farenheit to my wife. The next morning we found out he's died. I wonder if it was one of those... well, I don't know what to call it.

    Briane: I haven't read Illustrated, but I need to. Although, I do remember the story about the robot husband... I wonder what I read that in? Now I need to find his story about people drifting in space.

  9. I love Ray Bradbury's writing. Fahrenheit 451 and From the Dust Returned are the only two books by him that I've read, but they're among my all-time favorites.

    Great quotes!

  10. I've been meaning to read Fahrenheit 451 for ages. I read it in high school, but I've been wanting to pleasure read it. No time like the present. Some great quotes from a fascinating man.

  11. I've only read Fahrenheit 451. It's one of my favs. Also love the bit he included at the end about writing. Don't have my copy with me or I'd quote it. He did have a lot of no nonsense things to say about writing.

  12. I never read much Bradbury, but the one story that does stand out in my memory was "The Pedestrian", which was written the same year I was born. It was a great depiction of the alienation of the modern age and a bit prescient of places like where I live where neighbors hardly interact and everyone hides away in their houses.

    I've lived in the L.A. area for 21 years and in that time Bradbury was frequently mentioned in the paper as being one place or another. I probably should have gone to one of his appearances but never did. He was very well regarded in L.A.

    Tossing It Out

  13. I loved Ray Bradbury. Love. How nice that he lived so long.

    He influenced my writing.

  14. I was the one that was lucky enough to go with Andrew to hear Ray Bradbury speak. Thanks for taking me, Andy.

  15. Golden: I'm not even sure what all I've read by him. His short stories appear in so many collection combined in so many ways, I have no idea anymore.

    Shannon: I think I'm going to re-read it when my son finishes with it.

    L.G.: He did!

    Lee: He certainly seems like someone that gave a lot back.

    JW: Yeah, it is. I actually had no idea how old he was until he died.

    Stephen: Well, I'd say any time, but there are obvious problems with that at this point.

  16. I'm a quote person, through and through, and these are so going in my notebook. The last, especially, is fantastic.

  17. Alyssia: I used to have scraps of paper all over the place with quotes on them. At some point, I realized that I never looked at most of them again, after writing them down, so I quit doing that. These days, I tend to just look up what I'm looking for.

  18. What a great Ray Bradbury quote. It really touches on his feelings of social responsibility.

  19. Maurice: It is a great quote, but, then, he had a lot of them.