The Man behind the Science Fiction
Ray Bradbury writes books. Upon opening one of these books the reader is greeted with Martian landscapes or the rainy planet of Venus where the sun never shines. In some books the reader can become a boy whose father’s space ship falls into the sun or a fireman who starts fires, or merely a boy in the summer of 1926 who helps his grandfather make wine out of flowering weeds. These books contain the secrets of life creatively hidden between the plots of science fiction stories. To finish one of his books is to finish a stage in the life of one of his characters. He brings them through a specific cycle. The cycle usually includes some great catharsis. Usually it is a stage in which the protagonist realizes that they are alive. The realization that life is precious and beautiful. That the little things in life that we take for granted in fact, form the sweetest things. Dandelion wine, a drink that I have never tasted, is described by Bradbury as a drink that he made out of memories. The pieces of his childhood summers represented by each dandelion picked for the wine, which will ferment in the cellar of his house to be opened on a cold winter’s day as a release of the memories and the warmth of summer. As I read one of these great works I often wonder "who is the man behind the science fiction?" Now, I have merely decided to find out.
Ray Bradbury was born in Waukegan, Illinois on August 22, 1920. His family volleyed from Illinois to Arizona several times before finally settling in Los Angeles, California in 1932. Bradbury’s childhood greatly affected his decision to write. He learned early on (in about 5th grade) that you can’t listen to all those "damn fools" in your life. This was when he began to write. (Jepsen, 1)
He published his first story, “Hollerbochen’s Dilemma,” at the age of 18 in a fan magazine called Imagination! He also published four issues of his own magazine, Futuria Fantasia, which he contributed to mostly himself. His first paid publication was Pendulum in 1941. In each of his stories Bradbury tends to pay great detail to the cities. He has a strange and admirable affection for cities. In an interview with Robert Couteau he can be quoted as saying:
"When I was eight years old and saw the covers of science fiction magazines [I] became intrigued by cities. They’re all architectural. We love science fiction because it’s architectural. All of the big science fiction films of the last 20 years are architectural. 2001, when you see the rocket ship flying through the air, it’s a city it’s a big city up there. And in Close Encounters of the Third Kind, when the mother ship descends, it’s not a ship, it’s a city. It’s so beautiful. And when the aliens come out of the ship, you want to go back with them; and go away forever. And when one of the characters does, your heart goes with them." (Couteau, 39)
Bradbury does more than just write stories. He lives them. He awakes in the morning and the stories are already there. He says that the "voices in his head" start talking the moment he wakes up. He does have his limits; however, he only writes for four hours a day, at most. (Jepsen, 3) He refuses to use computers
. It seems he has always had an aversion to technology. He is perfectly happy to write on his electric typewriter and get information from the library
. These reservations are self-evident in his stories.
Bradbury graduated from Los Angeles High School in 1938. After graduation he began to teach himself. He used the archaic building which we call a library. In Bradbury’s case it was much more; it was the place where dreams were born. Though Bradbury does not believe that a writer can write on dreams alone he can imagine things that we have never believed could exist.
Once he saw the remains of an old roller coaster near a beach. He turned to his wife and asked her what a dinosaur was doing there. His wife did not answer. She must’ve realized that an idea was being formed and she wanted to watch it grow. In the middle of the night Bradbury awoke knowing why the "dinosaur" was there. In the background a foghorn cried out its lonely call. The idea had become the short story: The Fog Horn. The plot: A foghorn sounds it’s desperate call and a creature that has been asleep for a billion years responds to the cry. (Bradbury, 5-13)
Bradbury has quite an imagination and a pretty decent sense of humor. This compliments his incredible desire to encourage people to read and heed the warnings that his writings hold. When asked where he got his imagination Bradbury laments: "God, here and there, makes madness a calling." (Johnston, 1)
Bradbury writes about the future for basically two reasons. He tries to warn people of the dangers of the future and to give them hope for a happier ending.
"People ask me to predict the future, when all I want to do is prevent it. Better yet, build it. Predicting the future is much too easy, anyway. You look at the people around you, the street you stand on, the visible air you breathe, and predict more of the same. To hell with more. I want better." (Johnston, 2)
Bradbury just wants to show us all that we rely too much on the future and often forget the here and now. He shows us examples of this in his writing. Fahrenheit 451
is a prime example of his soapbox writing. He uses historical events from communism in Russia to create a future society in which books are burned instead of read. Ironically events occurred that included having his book banned
and rewritten by the publishers. In the coda of the more recent edition of the book he addresses these issues.
"I discovered that, over the years, some cubby-hole editors at Ballantine Books, fearful of contaminating the young, had, bit by bit, censored some 75 separate sections from Fahrenheit 451. Students, reading the novel which, after all, deals with censorship and book-burning in the future, wrote to tell me of this exquisite irony. (Bradbury, Coda)
The most important thing that I’ve wondered about Ray Bradbury is how he does it? He has written books, stories
, and screenplays
. He has his own TV show. Everything he writes is on an old electric typewriter. All his ideas seem new and fresh to me. Each page of his stories is unexpected and full of wisdom. He compares himself to a pomegranate
. He says that he is so full of ideas that he is just bursting and that the ideas spill out from there. (Johnston, 4) My favorite description of how he comes up with stories goes like this:
"My stories run up and bite me in the leg-I respond by writing down everything that goes on during that bite. When I finish, the idea lets go and runs off." (Johnston, 4)
A friend of Bradbury’s , Cal McNelly, smiles as he describes his friend as a “consummate liar.” As evident in the following anecdote Bradbury has the tendency to overembellish. Each time he tells a story he adds more detail and more exaggeration. In 1952 while telling a story about his childhood which encouraged him to become a writer he describes a carnival
man one way. A few years later while describing the same story he had added details and changed the ending. The basic idea was still there but it was disguised with Bradbury’s metaphors. The ending held the same result but with more of a romantic appeal (Jepsen, 2). (I have chosen not to go into more detail here so as not to bore the reader with the same story twice.)
Ray Bradbury is famous for his scientific fiction. He claims that everything that we think of is fiction and that anything that we do is science. So, in essence, everything is science fiction. (Johnston, 1) The more that I read about Bradbury the more I admire him and the more that I come to realize that he is not so different from me. I share his passion for writing as well as his passion for life. I understand him and feel that he is someone who I could connect to. I only wish that I could meet the man behind the science fiction so that I could shake his hand. This is a man who has been to the moon, and he has been to Mars, and he has taken us all with him even if he doesn’t know it. His books are the key. So, you see, Ray Bradbury writes books. He has even written chapters that he will never read, they are the chapters in the lives of those who read his books. They are his most important works.
Editor's note: edited for typos and formatting 29 December 2002