Monday, August 2, 2010

The Always Pivotal Ray Bradbury

"People are afraid of fantasy," says Ray Bradbury in an article by Penelope Mesic (a Bradburian character name if I ever read one) at "A lot of intellectuals think science fiction is trivial. And it's pivotal! People are walking around the streets with phones to their heads talking to someone ten feet away. We've killed two million people with automobiles. We're surrounded by technology and the problems created by technology, and science fiction isn't important?"

Science fiction is certainly important; without it, I never would have voyaged to Saturn with the likes of Arthur C. Clarke's Duncan Makenzie or Robert Kleinman, plumbed the depths of the sea with Jules Verne's Captain Nemo, or saved the galaxy with Harry Harrison's Stainless Steel Rat (I'd still love to see someone make a movie out of one of his books, though maybe not; it'd probably get thrashed).

But Bradbury. Quintessentially American and -- unlike Clarke -- willing to focus on the philosophical implications of technology rather than zero-gravity sex which Clarke obsesses over for some odd reason. He's still active. Still writing. Still seeking the "monsters and angels" that make up the stories he writes. This is the kind of writerly life I aspire to. I need to keep on writing, and keep writing, and then when I'm worn out, write some more.

Of his novels, the one that grabs my mind every time I read it is "Something Wicked This Way Comes." Of his short stories, it's "The Man," in which an intrepid crew of spacefarers arrives on a planet populated with human beings only to discover that they just barely missed the coming of Jesus Christ, and thus their visit is made unremarkable. They spend the rest of their time rocketing after the messiah. I think this story is among the root tales that have inspired me to write my novel -- though I'm light years from being as good as Bradbury.

The best writers' advice I ever heard comes from Bradbury. He said, basically, that 95 percent of the stuff we write is nonsense, but you have to get it out of your brain in order for the good stuff to come. Thus the explanation for the stuff I write. I'm still getting rid of the clogs.

1 comment:

carl g said...

It's odd that I've read a lot of sci-fi, and even older authors from time to time, but Bradbury I have not uniformly liked. The Martian Chronicles were ok, Fahrenheit 451 much better, but both were too pointedly social commentary. I never minded it in Heinlein, but in Bradbury is bothers me. Don't know why. And Clarke, the books I've read, I really like. Hard sci-fi. I like the hard stuff.

But in the latter half of my life, to the degree I still read fiction (very rarely), I like really dark authors like Bruce Sterling and William Gibson. Highly literate dystopian future noir. And Neil Gaiman, at least his adult novels. Very gifted, those three.

If you like Bradbury, have you read any Avram Davidson? A writer's writer, but reminds me of Bradbury for some reason. Soft sci-fi with a sharp point. Also very American, or very Jewish American.