Thursday, June 14, 2012

Ray Bradbury

Ray Bradbury just passed away. He brought sci-fi into pop culture. His groundbreaking and provocative books were cherished by millions as bastions of cautionary tales. His stories were often written for children and teenagers but rarely strayed from a dark reflection of our own world.

I remember reading Mr. Bradbury in the third grade. I can’t remember which story it was now but I do know that he affected me deeply. He showed me a world where a cynic of society could exist without ever losing his innocence. At times his words were haunting and suggestive of something missing from humanity. The emptiness. The darkness that hid in between the text.

And sometimes the darkness stood out as the text, with only the memory of his brightest passages lingering. But always there was a yearning for the better. For a futurist and a horror writer, he gave us stories that made us hopeful somehow.

Even after the city is destroyed in Fahrenheit 451, the reader is left with the hope that the new world will not be full of war or mechanized dogs. Firemen will not burn down homes. And we will have our history.

In the Martian Chronicles, even after the destruction of the entire world, the last story is that of a family surviving and rebuilding.

His futures were histories. Songs full of emotion and sadness at the loss of civilizations and people. His words are laments that much of what we lose can never be recovered. What we build is only as good as the world that wants to keep it.

His story, Come Into My Cellar, satirizes suburbia with an alien invasion through the advertisements in the back of comic books. The story is distinctly Bradbury, following the creeping mystery of the perfect behind the 50s nuclear family. At the end the main character is faced with the same loss that many of his characters faced, the loss of his humanity.

And more than anything, that was the hidden meaning in his writing—our shared humanity. We may be swarming locusts, hateful militants, covetous of our walls, or confused by the seemingly impossible. But our human good can overcome our base nature. We can colonize worlds, reach out to strangers, and give each other more than any single thing could.

It was the pursuit of humanity’s greater good that kept me engrossed in Bradbury’s work, a desire for the world of tomorrow to echo the world of my childhood. I will leave you with a quote from the Martian Chronicles; an exchange between a martian and a man separated by thousands of years. They happen upon each other on a strange night.

“Two strangers…passing in the night. Ruins, you say?” The martian asked.

“Yes. Are you afraid?” The man replied.

“Who wants to see the future? A man can face the past, but…the seas empty, the canals dry? I see them as I always see them.”

“Let us agree to disagree.”

“What does it matter—who is past or future? What follows will follow.”

Tomas put out his hand. The martian did likewise. Their hands did not touch. “Will we meet again?”

“Who knows? Perhaps some other night.”

“Goodbye then.”

“Good night.”

Good night Mr. Bradbury.