Roundtable on Ray Bradbury

Cat Rambo

I came to Bradbury as a kid, having read the wonderful story about a virus taking over a kid, which was wonderfully terrifying.

To me, having read his stuff was antidote to some of the less weighty and more bull shitty stories that I’d experience as part of getting an MA in writing. I knew that stories could be wonderful and rich and deep and very satisfyingly story-shaped primarily because of his short stories, in fact.

Everyone in my program was trying (and failing) to do Carver, Lish, or Gilchrist stories while I was testing the fences (or so I’d like to think) in order to wander into the same territory Bradbury had been walking for so long.

I try to swap around the stories I use when teaching from year to year; right now we’re doing a LOT of Bradbury, including one of my all-time favorites, “There Will Come Soft Rains.”

F. Brett Cox

My first thought upon hearing that Bradbury had died was to think of all those Bantam paperbacks that were among the building blocks of my youth.

The second was a memory of one of my graduate literature classes–Theory of the Novel, to be exact–and the professor surprising the class, and delighting me, by asserting that, in terms of real-world influence, the most influential 20th century British novelists were not James Joyce and Virginia Woolf, but rather D.H. Lawrence and H.G. Wells. I’m not sure Lawrence’s impact on 20th-century lifestyles was as significant as my professor believed, but the point still holds. And in that context, one could argue that the two most influential SF novels of the 20th century were 1984 and Fahrenheit 451. Now that’s a legacy.

I certainly agree with everyone’s assessment of the darkness of Bradbury’s vision. Like Heinlein, he had a vivid sense of pre-World-War-II America, and like Heinlein, that sense was darker than we think, to coin a phrase. (Was there ever a grimmer evocation of the deep terror of childhood than “The Playground”?) Come to think of it, never mind Heinlein. Think of Garrison Keillor, whose cheerful vision of good souls in the Upper Midwest is built on a foundation of anxiety and darkness.

And the third thing I thought was a comment from Peggy Noonan, of all people. Upon the occasion of Michael Jackson’s death, she suggested that it hit the public hard because “no one will ever be that famous again.” I think that’s true with Bradbury as well, also noting that with his loss, Fred Pohl and Jack Vance are the only remaining living connections with U.S. SF in the first half of the 20th century.

He sent me a card, once, when I sent him a copy of a fanzine I had done as a teenager. “Brett! Thanks and good luck!” In all caps, of course.

Paul Witcover

I first read The Martian Chronicles and The Illustrated Man when I was 13 or 14, and while I was fascinated and troubled by some of the stories, they did not launch me on a Bradbury jag (though “The Long Rain” stuck with me). Nor did Fahrenheit 451, which I read in high school. I didn’t read The October Country, Dandelion Wine, or Something Wicked This Way Comes until I was in my 30s and 40s. What struck me then, besides the lyrical prose and the (to me) surprisingly dark if loving portrait of Americana, was how these books spoke directly to the younger reader in me. I wonder if Bradbury might not be one of those rare writers able to reach young readers of any age.

Elizabeth Hand

I think that Bradbury’s work was the gateway drug for several generations of SF/F readers and writers. His best writing was accessible on so many levels and to so many different kinds of readers, regardless of age, race, gender, politics, education, you name it. I doubt we’ll see another SF writer of his impact and influence in our lifetimes.

Gary K. Wolfe

I think I hit Bradbury at just about exactly the right age and in the right place–growing up in a small town in the Midwest in the 1950s. When I was a kid, Sedalia was about the same size Waukegan had been in the 1920s, and had similar enough geography that I immediately recognized a lot of the settings in the early short stories and Dandelion Wine. Years later, I discovered that Sedalia had also been the birthplace of Charles G. Finney, whose Circus of Dr. Lao had been such a huge influence on Bradbury, as well as on other writers.

I’m fairly sure that The Illustrated Man was the first SF book I bought, if not the first one I read. I came across it in a sort of junk shop that had tables full of used shoes and one table of paperback books in the back. Later I tracked down The Martian Chronicles and The October Country, which remains my favorite Bradbury book, partly because it retained much of the contents of Dark Carnival, but with the edges burnished a bit. Despite the success of the Chronicles and Fahrenheit 451, the arc of Bradbury’s career that most interested me was the one which led from Dark Carnival to The October Country to Something Wicked This Way Comes. When that novel appeared, I somehow felt that my childhood duties as a Bradbury fan had been discharged. I continued to read the next couple of story collections, but by then had moved on to a wider spectrum of SF, and was beginning to sense that Bradbury’s choreography was beginning to seem a bit familiar, if not repetitive. When he later returned to this early material with From the Dust Returned and Farewell Summer it didn’t work for me at all, but when I reviewed the 100 stories collected in Bradbury Stories, I was surprised at how many of the stories I recalled vividly, even though I hadn’t read some of them in decades.

I do remember one odd reaction that came from entering SF by way of Bradbury. Not long after making my way through as much Bradbury as I could find, I picked up a novel by Asimov (probably The End of Eternity), and found it rather hard to get into. It wasn’t the plot or the SF hardware, though–just that Asimov’s prose was rather flat, what we would today euphemistically call “serviceable”–not at all like Bradbury’s sentences. The same thing happened when I tried Hal Clement. It was probably my earliest awareness of the importance of style, and for a good while my SF preferences ran to writers like Sturgeon and Simak, who also paid attention to their sentences. I suspect that bias is still there to some extent, although today even some of the hardest SF writers can write beautifully. But at the time, I think part of what Bradbury taught to young readers like me was that SF involved not only cool ideas; it involved language as well.

Guy Gavriel Kay

I feel much the same as Gary, but I’m not sure how far the lesson penetrated in the genre as a whole. And whereas it is always possible to ‘get a cool idea’ and convey it ‘serviceably’ it isn’t just a matter of wanting to, the ability to be eloquent. We could easily segue here to the 50s fight in the genre among those who thought ‘good writing’ was a sort of pandering to mainstream taste, and those who wanted to demand it and critique on that basis. Judy Merril and van Vogt were opposite champions, but Bradbury was surely the best-known on the ‘the writing matters’ side in North America back then. The UK had different exemplars. Does anyone know (Gary? Russell?) if Bradbury ever actually weighed in on any of this?

2 thoughts on “Roundtable on Ray Bradbury

  • June 14, 2012 at 7:20 pm

    I first read Bradbury when I was twelve or so. Nostalgia for an ideal American past means nothing to a child of that age, and what I was immediately aware of (and drawn by) was the ambivalence and outright darkness is his vision. The first story of his that I read was “Pillar of Fire,” and it’s invariably the one that comes to mind of when I think of Bradbury. It is sentimental in its own way, but like the rest of his best, it’s sentimental in the way that Jack the Ripper must haven been. I met Bradbury a couple of times in the mid 70’s, at the late lamented Change of Hobbit bookstore in Los Angeles. I remember him once talking about his love for Edgar Rice Burroughs and saying that he’d give anything to see Barsoom created on the screen with great, modern (1970’s!) special effects. I didn’t get around to seeing John Carter myself, but I hope Ray did, and I hope he loved it.

  • July 20, 2012 at 9:30 pm

    Utterly composed articles, thanks for selective information. “Life is God’s novel. Let him write it.” by Isaac Bashevis Singer.


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