Monday, July 16, 2012
When I read that Ray Bradbury had passed away, it struck home how the face of science fiction has changed since I first started reading it. When I began reading in the genre, the big writers were Isaac Asimov, Arthur C. Clarke, and Robert Heinlein. Ray Bradbury was in what I would consider the second tier. Does that mean he was not as good of a writer as the big three? No. He did not make the transition to writing novels that they did. Most of Bradbury’s output was in the short fiction category. He was writing very little in the field by the 70s. I remember reading and enjoying “The Martian Chronicles”, “S is for Space” and “R is for Rocket”. Why did I read those but not the other collections/novels he wrote? Because they were in the local library and the second factor was the titles. I have always leaned towards stories that take place in space or on other planets. Titles containing words like Martian, Space, and Rocket jumped out at me. They instantly drew my attention. That is one of the reasons I read the Winston series with their rocket ship logo. When you are in junior high school and don’t know much about the field, you have to find something to narrow down the list of what you want to read.
Bradbury wrote in what I would call a leisurely style. His stories were not from the “whiz bang” school of the old style pulp magazines. He was a master at making the characters come alive. When you read a Bradbury short story, you felt like you knew the people in the story. They were like people who lived in your home town. The twist in the plot would always surprise me because the writing and characters seemed so normal. The combination of those two elements made him a great writer.
The story of his that stays the most vivid in my memory was “The Monsters are Due on Maple Street”. I had an English teacher in eighth grade who had us read and perform the script for the television adaptation. Not long after that I saw the episode on television. The combination of reading, performing in class, and watching it on television made it a memorable story for me.
The only other writers who came close to this style of writing were Clifford D. Simak and Edgar Pangborn. Simak did it in his classic “Way Station”. Pangborn used a similar style in all of his works. Take a look at Pangborn’s “A Mirror for Observers” or his two post-apocalyptic novels (“Davy” and “A Company of Glory”) and you will see the similarities. This does not mean that they copied Bradbury, each author has his own style but if you like one I think you will like the work of the others.
I have a study of Bradbury’s life (“Being Bradbury”) sitting on my shelf. It looks like it is time to get it down and take the time to read it. I will probably add some Bradbury stories to my reading for this year.
If life was an episode of the Twilight Zone, I could imagine this episode ending with Bradbury waking up on a hill overlooking a town from “The Martian Chronicles”. He dusts himself off and starts walking into town as we hear Rod Serling’s voice talking about how he was once the writer but now he has become part of the story.