Ray Bradbury was not my first science-fiction love; that was Isaac Asimov. He was not the writer I read most compulsively; that was (and is) Orson Scott Card. What Bradbury means to me can’t be captured in a simple label. Except, perhaps, most human.
Some fiction inspires me. Some amuses me. Some unsettles me. Bradbury frequently did all three, and he could move me from one to the other within the course of a single short piece. I read Bradbury not to be exalted or brought low, but to come at life from another angle. Often the reaction I have upon finishing a story or essay of his that I’ve never read is: “I’ve thought that way! But I could never put it into words.”
Bradbury gave me those words.
My eternally dog-eared copy of Zen and the Art of Writing holds a special spot on my bookshelves. It’s not a very good book to read if you’re hoping for tips on craft. It’s an excellent book to read if you want to learn to think like a writer. I listened to Bradbury like I listened to no one else, because he was the man who made me think it was possible to sit in a library feeding dimes into a typewriter and bang out prose that some young boy would one day come to think was deathless. Until Bradbury, I had dreams of becoming a writer, but no real hopes.
Bradbury gave me those hopes.
The Martian Chronicles is silly from an objective standpoint. Fahrenheit 451 could never really happen. Something Wicked This Way Comes is about five county lines past the point of acceptable strangeness. And yet his rhythm, his descriptions, his taste for the fantastic brought them to life for me. They still do. Bradbury is a writer I can’t learn to approach critically; his worlds suck me in and absorb me. He approached the human experience at right-angles to my own vector, which was straightforward and somewhat bereft of a sense of life.
Bradbury gave me that sense.
Over the next months, I am going to revisit all of his works. And every time I do, I will breathe a small prayer of thanks that he shared so much with me. A piece of me — a very large one — will always be tinged with the twilight glow of his October Country. Thank you, Ray. Thank you.