August 22, 1920 – June 6, 2012
Critics say the Golden Age of Science Fiction was from 1938-1946. Readers have often said the golden age of science fiction was when you ‘re twelve. That seems right to me, and that’s when I discovered Ray Bradbury. As news of his passing spread, other writers posted their touching tributes (Neil Gaiman for one). Others may have know him more or better but nobody loved his stories more.
I discovered him in the public library, something he would have enjoyed, being a lifelong supporter of libraries. I couldn’t tell you the first story I read, it may have been “The Swan,” later a chapter in Dandelion Wine (and first published in “Cosmopolitan”, of all places). It may have been “The Veldt” his masterpiece that shocked me with it’s brutal ending. It may have been “The Fog Horn” the story of a lonesome sea monster doomed by passion (a favorite of Christopher Moore’s too) I know by 15 I’d forever fallen in love with carnivals because of Something Wicked this Way Comes: and I had stumbled onto “The Scythe” (from October Country)and carried it in a dark corner of my heart ever since. The truth is, I could go on and on listing Ray Bradbury stories I loved as others have done since his passing. But you owe it to yourself to discover your own favorites. The Martian Chronicles has been read by many precocious 8 year olds, but really you can start anywhere. My advice? Read it all.
Critics have said that his stories are sentimental and nostalgic, and I would agree. But having sentiment is not something I would condemn; Bradbury’s stories may seemingly be about aliens and ghosts, robots and dinosaurs, but mostly their about people (and others) struggling to find their place in the world. Bradbury stories are not meant to be coldly analyzed or over-critically reviewed. They are meant to be lived. They are meant to get under your skin, to shake you up and open your eyes. If given a chance, they live with you forever. As for nostalgia, as a teenager I didn’t notice and as an adult I am now at that age where I walk with one foot in the past.
In recent interviews he had become increasingly cranky and conservative, which is why when I heard about his death, I warily picked up a copy of Dandelion Wine. I had not looked at it in at least 10 years; it had been one of my favorites once upon a time; what if it wasn’t what I remembered?
The cover opens and I am instantly 12 again. My grandparents are still alive, in fact I’m at their house. It’s late, the house is still, the only noise is the creaking of my old chair and the occasional rumbling of a passing train. I am hunched up in the chair, telling myself that to read just one more chapter, just one more. But Lavina Nebbs is crossing through the Ravine, with the Lonely One somewhere out there in the darkness. How can I sleep until she’s home safe?
What happens next?
Ray Bradbury once said that if he had not discovered writing, he would have become a magician; to me he was both. As someone who lives in both worlds, I think I can say (as so many others have) that he was a genre unto himself. So while the golden age of science fiction may have passed, and the age of Bradbury may have passed, he has left behind for us a gift.
A box. Open it, but carefully, it’s dangerous. It is a magic box, filled with detectives and ghosts, robots and banshees, astronauts and explorers. There are mothers and sons, fathers and daughters, sea monsters and Martians. It is a box filled with dreams. And every time I open it, I am twelve again.