Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Remembering Ray Bradbury

Ray Bradbury in 1975Ray Bradbury passed away last week at the grand old age of 91. He was the author to some of the 20th century's greatest stories: Fahrenheit 451, The Martian Chronicles, Dandelion Wine and Something Wicked This Way Comes. He wrote an untold number of fantastic short stories like "A Sound of Thunder", "Frost and Fire", "The Illustrated Man" and "I Sing the Body Electric". But despite his age, he never lost touch with his inner twelve-year old.

Bradbury professed that his love of stories arose during his early childhood. He hung out in public libraries reading as many books as he could. When he scraped up enough money (this was the Depression after all), he went to the movies. This constant feeding of his imagination eventually reached critical mass and he could no longer contain it. He had to share it with the rest of us. That sense of wonder was the wellspring from which his stories came.

Rob and I each have some thoughts to share about what his work meant to us.


I may be among the few sci-fi/fantasy writers who was never influenced by Ray Bradbury's stories. Oh I respected his work, like most writers do, but his real influence on me came from his writer-to-writer advice.

It was advice that finally helped me put a leash on my internal editor.

I've wanted to be a writer for as long as I can remember. I spent my childhood and high-school years writing knock-offs of my favorite books and movies — basically the same stories with alternate endings. But I was always stymied when trying to create something original. My internal editor over-analyzed every idea, or tried squeezing perfection out of each sentence to make it sound like the authors I admired. All before I wrote down a single word.

Then in 1991 I read How to Write Tales of Horror, Fantasy, and Science Fiction, a compilation of essays from successful genre authors, with Ray Bradbury being one. He mostly advised creating word lists of things that scare you, and thus from those lists would emerge story ideas. That was a cool trick — and one I use today — but it was the following passage that opened my eyes:
In quickness is truth. The faster you blurt, the more swiftly you write, the more honest you are. In hesitation is thought. In delay comes the effort for style, instead of leaping on truth, which is the only style worth deadfalling or tiger-trapping.
“Really?” I thought after reading that. “I don't have to obsess over the first draft or make it perfect?” I glared at my internal editor. He gave a nervous chuckle, and then fled the room.

Bradbury's advice to essentially “write fast without thinking” liberated my writing. Cliché, I know, but that's how it felt. Many authors have offered the same advice over the years, and I would've figured it out eventually, but Ray was the first person who articulated it to me in a way that clicked.

With that one simple concept in mind, I can now write a thousand words per hour on most days. My stories may not be brilliant examples of high literature, but at least I can finish them.

And then unleash my internal editor on the second draft.

Thanks for the career-changing advice, Ray.


Like Bradbury, I grew up with a deep love of libraries (That's the only comparison between us I can safely make!). Between the school and public libraries, I always had access to a vast array of books. I was 12 when I found a copy of The Martian Chronicles. The stories (for the unfamiliar, the book is actually a short story collection) amazed me. I worried about each new expedition as it made contact with the Martians. I hoped for a peaceful coexistence between Earth and Mars. I felt the loneliness of the colonists who stayed behind rather than return to Earth for war. I was left in a melancholic state after reading the two closing stories, "There Will Come Soft Rains" and "The Million-Year Picnic". And this was 30 years after the book had been published! It still felt relevant - the Cold War was still going strong. While Mariner and Viking had dispelled any hope for life, or easy human colonization, the impact of the book on me wasn't diminished.

But there was something else in Bradbury's writing that I don't see much of these days in sci-fi: emotional resonance. Bradbury didn't drown his readers in scientific mumbo jumbo. As much as I love the high tech stuff, it can alienate readers without a science or engineering degree. Bradbury focused on our humanity and how we might deal with the new frontier of the future - something we could all connect with. The technology was merely the window dressing. It didn't matter how it functioned. It just did. His stories embodied a nation in transition: from dirt-stained folksy farmers and gritty industrialists to pristine clean suburbanites and space exploring technologists.

A couple of years ago, I was wandering through the annual book sale held by my town's library when I found a treasure: The Stories of Ray Bradbury. This collection of 100 short stories from 1943 to 1980 has been a joy to read. I've been able to re-connect with old favorites and discover new (to me) ones. It's like stepping back in time, to when the library stacks were tall and hallowed.

In closing, I'd like to suggest checking out Rachel Bloom's NSFW homage to Mr. Bradbury. The video is funny and represents the "peak" of fandom. Enjoy!

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