Vale Ray Bradbury

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Sadly, one of my literary heroes has passed away.

Ray Bradbury is in many ways the father of science fiction and fantasy. He certainly influenced my fiction writing style in high school. And judging by the way the internet has lit up with eulogies to him, I was not alone.

Who could forget that wonderful prose, and of course those magnificent twists at the end of his short stories, my favourite being ‘And the Rock Cried Out’. That story wasn’t sci-fi or fantasy in any way – it was a commentary on prejudice, but it was so wonderfully written that it was accessible to a young person who only wanted to read about rockets and martians.

A key feature of Ray’s writing was the aversion to technical stuff. While Isaac Asimov and Fred Hoyle were showing off their technical knowledge, Ray was content to tell us how it might feel after your rocket exploded and you fell to earth while discussing your life and fate with shipmates hurtling in different directions (‘Kaleidoscope’). Or hint of the ghostly remains of a once great civilisation (‘The Martian Chronicles’).

And of course, he was able to capture the joy of a young boy running through the fields in summer, and the foreboding which accompanied the distant sound of a calliope on the breeze (‘Something Wicked This Way Comes’).

In a nice gesture, Bradbury’s contribution to the genre was also recognised in the movie Blade Runner, with a lot of the key action taking place in the ‘Bradbury Apartments’, including the final remarkable scenes in which the protagonists fight it out. It’s fitting that the movie voted #1 Sci-fi movie ever, contains this nod to the writer also ranked #1.

I think it’s time to re-read all those Bradbury books accumulated over the years, to re-live past joys, and to remind me of things to come.

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One thought on “Vale Ray Bradbury

    Dan Rea said:
    June 7, 2012 at 1:32 pm

    A ‘literary hero’ indeed. For anyone looking for a five minute distraction- I’ve posted this so that you might ‘re-live a past joy’; it’s an excerpt from Fahrenheit 451 which I consider to be one of the most brilliant moments in literature, and one I am reminded of frequently as time goes by:
    .
    .
    .
    He was eating a light supper at nine in the evening when the front door cried out in
    the hall and Mildred ran from the parlour like a native fleeing an eruption of Vesuvius.
    Mrs. Phelps and Mrs. Bowles came through the front door and vanished into the
    volcano’s mouth with martinis in their hands: Montag stopped eating. They were like
    a monstrous crystal chandelier tinkling in a thousand chimes, he saw their Cheshire
    Cat smiles burning through the walls of the house, and now they were screaming at
    each other above the din. Montag found himself at the parlour door with his food still
    in his mouth.
    “Doesn’t everyone look nice!”
    “Nice.”
    “You look fine, Millie! ”
    “Fine.”
    “Everyone looks swell.”
    “Swell!
    “Montag stood watching them.
    “Patience,” whispered Faber.
    “I shouldn’t be here,” whispered Montag, almost to himself. “I should be on my way
    back to you with the money!” “Tomorrow’s time enough. Careful!”
    “Isn’t this show wonderful?” cried Mildred. “Wonderful!”
    On one wall a woman smiled and drank orange juice simultaneously. How does she
    do both at once, thought Montag, insanely. In the other walls an X-ray of the same
    woman revealed the contracting journey of the refreshing beverage on its way to her
    delightful stomach! Abruptly the room took off on a rocket flight into the clouds, it
    plunged into a lime-green sea where blue fish ate red and yellow fish. A minute later,
    Three White Cartoon Clowns chopped off each other’s limbs to the accompaniment
    of immense incoming tides of laughter. Two minutes more and the room whipped out
    of town to the jet cars wildly circling an arena, bashing and backing up and bashing
    each other again. Montag saw a number of bodies fly in the air.
    “Millie, did you see that?”
    “I saw it, I saw it! ”
    Montag reached inside the parlour wall and pulled the main switch. The images
    drained away, as if the water had been let out from a gigantic crystal bowl of
    hysterical fish.
    The three women turned slowly and looked with unconcealed irritation and then
    dislike at Montag.
    “When do you suppose the war will start?” he said. “I notice your husbands aren’t
    here tonight?”
    “Oh, they come and go, come and go,” said Mrs. Phelps. “In again out again
    Finnegan, the Army called Pete yesterday. He’ll be back next week. The Army said
    so. Quick war. Forty-eight hours they said, and everyone home. That’s what the
    Army said. Quick war. Pete was called yesterday and they said he’d be, back next
    week. Quick…”
    The three women fidgeted and looked nervously at the empty mud-coloured walls.
    “I’m not worried,” said Mrs. Phelps. “I’ll let Pete do all the worrying.” She giggled. “I’ll
    let old Pete do all the worrying. Not me. I’m not worried.”
    “Yes,” said Millie. “Let old Pete do the worrying.”
    “It’s always someone else’s husband dies, they say.”
    “I’ve heard that, too. I’ve never known any dead man killed in a war. Killed jumping off
    buildings, yes, like Gloria’s husband last week, but from wars? No.”
    “Not from wars,” said Mrs. Phelps. “Anyway, Pete and I always said, no tears,
    nothing like that. It’s our third marriage each and we’re independent. Be independent,
    we always said. He said, if I get killed off, you just go right ahead and don’t cry, but
    get married again, and don’t think of me.”
    “That reminds me,” said Mildred. “Did you see that Clara Dove five-minute romance
    last night in your wall? Well, it was all about this woman who–”
    Montag said nothing but stood looking at the women’s faces as he had once looked
    at the faces of saints in a strange church he had entered when he was a child. The
    faces of those enamelled creatures meant nothing to him, though he talked to them
    and stood in that church for a long time, trying to be of that religion, trying to know
    what that religion was, trying to get enough of the raw incense and special dust of the
    place into his lungs and thus into his blood to feel touched and concerned by the
    meaning of the colourful men and women with the porcelain eyes and the blood-ruby
    lips. But there was nothing, nothing; it was a stroll through another store, and his
    currency strange and unusable there, and his passion cold, even when he touched
    the wood and plaster and clay. So it was now, in his own parlour, with these women
    twisting in their chairs under his gaze, lighting cigarettes, blowing smoke, touching
    their sun-fired hair and examining their blazing fingernails as if they had caught fire
    from his look. Their faces grew haunted with silence. They leaned forward at the
    sound of Montag’s swallowing his final bite of food. They listened to his feverish
    breathing. The three empty walls of the room were like the pale brows of sleeping
    giants now, empty of dreams. Montag felt that if you touched these three staring
    brows you would feel a fine salt sweat on your finger-tips. The perspiration gathered
    with the silence and the sub-audible trembling around and about and in the women
    who were burning with tension. Any moment they might hiss a long sputtering hiss
    and explode.
    Montag moved his lips.
    “Let’s talk.”
    The women jerked and stared.
    “How’re your children, Mrs. Phelps?” he asked.
    “You know I haven’t any! No one in his right mind, the Good Lord knows; would have
    children!” said Mrs. Phelps, not quite sure why she was angry with this man.
    “I wouldn’t say that,” said Mrs. Bowles. “I’ve had two children by Caesarian section.
    No use going through all that agony for a baby. The world must reproduce, you know,
    the race must go on. Besides, they sometimes look just like you, and that’s nice. Two
    Caesarians tamed the trick, yes, sir. Oh, my doctor said, Caesarians aren’t
    necessary; you’ve got the, hips for it, everything’s normal, but I insisted.”
    “Caesarians or not, children are ruinous; you’re out of your mind,” said Mrs. Phelps.
    “I plunk the children in school nine days out of ten. I put up with them when they
    come home three days a month; it’s not bad at all. You heave them into the ‘parlour’
    and turn the switch. It’s like washing clothes; stuff laundry in and slam the lid.” Mrs.
    Bowles tittered. “They’d just as soon kick as kiss me. Thank God, I can kick back! ”
    The women showed their tongues, laughing.
    Mildred sat a moment and then, seeing that Montag was still in the doorway, clapped
    her hands. “Let’s talk politics, to please Guy!”
    “Sounds fine,” said Mrs. Bowles. “I voted last election, same as everyone, and I laid it
    on the line for President Noble. I think he’s one of the nicest-looking men who ever
    became president.”
    “Oh, but the man they ran against him!”
    “He wasn’t much, was he? Kind of small and homely and he didn’t shave too close or
    comb his hair very well.”
    “What possessed the ‘Outs’ to run him? You just don’t go running a little short man
    like that against a tall man. Besides -he mumbled. Half the time I couldn’t hear a
    word he said. And the words I did hear I didn’t understand!”
    “Fat, too, and didn’t dress to hide it. No wonder the landslide was for Winston Noble.
    Even their names helped. Compare Winston Noble to Hubert Hoag for ten seconds
    and you can almost figure the results.”
    “Damn it!” cried Montag. “What do you know about Hoag and Noble?”
    “Why, they were right in that parlour wall, not six months ago. One was always
    picking his nose; it drove me wild.”
    “Well, Mr. Montag,” said Mrs. Phelps, “do you want us to vote for a man like that?”
    Mildred beamed. “You just run away from the door, Guy, and don’t make us
    nervous.”
    But Montag was gone and back in a moment with a book in his hand.
    “Guy!”
    “Damn it all, damn it all, damn it!”
    “What’ve you got there; isn’t that a book? I thought that all special training these days
    was done by film.” Mrs. Phelps blinked. “You reading up on fireman theory?”
    “Theory, hell,” said Montag. “It’s poetry.”
    “Montag.” A whisper.
    “Leave me alone! ” Montag felt himself turning in a great circling roar and buzz and
    hum.
    “Montag, hold on, don’t…”
    “Did you hear them, did you hear these monsters talking about monsters? Oh God,
    the way they jabber about people and their own children and themselves and the way
    they talk about their husbands and the way they talk about war, dammit, I stand here
    and I can’t believe it!”
    “I didn’t say a single word about any war, I’ll have you know,” said Mrs, Phelps.
    “As for poetry, I hate it,” said Mrs. Bowles.
    “Have you ever read any?”
    “Montag,” Faber’s voice scraped away at him. “You’ll ruin everything. Shut up, you
    fool!”
    “All three women were on their feet.
    “Sit down!”
    They sat.
    “I’m going home,” quavered Mrs. Bowles.
    “Montag, Montag, please, in the name of God, what are you up to?” pleaded Faber.
    “Why don’t you just read us one of those poems from your little book,” Mrs. Phelps
    nodded. “I think that’d he very interesting.”
    “That’s not right,” wailed Mrs. Bowles. “We can’t do that!”
    “Well, look at Mr. Montag, he wants to, I know he does. And if we listen nice, Mr.
    Montag will be happy and then maybe we can go on and do something else.” She
    glanced nervously at the long emptiness of the walls enclosing them.
    “Montag, go through with this and I’ll cut off, I’ll leave.” The beetle jabbed his ear.
    “What good is this, what’ll you prove?”
    “Scare hell out of them, that’s what, scare the living daylights out!”
    Mildred looked at the empty air. “Now Guy, just who are you talking to?”
    A silver needle pierced his brain. “Montag, listen, only one way out, play it as a joke,
    cover up, pretend you aren’t mad at all. Then-walk to your wall-incinerator, and throw
    the book in!”
    Mildred had already anticipated this in a quavery voice. “Ladies, once a year, every
    fireman’s allowed to bring one book home, from the old days, to show his family how
    silly it all was, how nervous that sort of thing can make you, how crazy. Guy’s
    surprise tonight is to read you one sample to show how mixed-up things were, so
    none of us will ever have to bother our little old heads about that junk again, isn’t that
    right, darling?”
    He crushed the book in his fists. “Say `yes.'”
    His mouth moved like Faber’s.
    “Yes.”
    Mildred snatched the book with a laugh. “Here! Read this one. No, I take it back.
    Here’s that real funny one you read out loud today. Ladies, you won’t understand a
    word. It goes umpty-tumpty-ump. Go ahead, Guy, that page, dear.”
    He looked at the opened page.
    A fly stirred its wings softly in his ear. “Read.”
    “What’s the title, dear?”
    “Dover Beach.” His mouth was numb.
    “Now read in a nice clear voice and go slow.”
    The room was blazing hot, he was all fire, he was all coldness; they sat in the middle
    of an empty desert with three chairs and him standing, swaying, and him waiting for
    Mrs. Phelps to stop straightening her dress hem and Mrs. Bowles to take her fingers
    away from her hair. Then he began to read in a low, stumbling voice that grew firmer
    as he progressed from line to line, and his voice went out across the desert, into the
    whiteness, and around the three sitting women there in the great hot emptiness:
    “`The Sea of Faith
    Was once, too, at the full, and round earth’s shore
    Lay like the folds of a bright girdle furled.
    But now I only hear
    Its melancholy, long, withdrawing roar,
    Retreating, to the breath
    Of the night-wind, down the vast edges drear
    And naked shingles of the world.”‘
    The chairs creaked under the three women. Montag finished it out:
    “‘Ah, love, let us be true
    To one another! for the world, which seems
    To lie before us like a land of dreams,
    So various, so beautiful, so new,
    Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light,
    Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain;
    And we are here as on a darkling plain
    Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,
    Where ignorant armies clash by night.'”
    Mrs. Phelps was crying.
    The others in the middle of the desert watched her crying grow very loud as her face
    squeezed itself out of shape. They sat, not touching her, bewildered by her display.
    She sobbed uncontrollably. Montag himself was stunned and shaken.
    “Sh, sh,” said Mildred. “You’re all right, Clara, now, Clara, snap out of it! Clara, what’s
    wrong?”
    “I-I,”, sobbed Mrs. Phelps, “don’t know, don’t know, I just don’t know, oh oh…”
    Mrs. Bowles stood up and glared at Montag. “You see? I knew it, that’s what I wanted
    to prove! I knew it would happen! I’ve always said, poetry and tears, poetry and
    suicide and crying and awful feelings, poetry and sickness; all that mush! Now I’ve
    had it proved to me. You’re nasty, Mr. Montag, you’re nasty! ”
    Faber said, “Now…”
    Montag felt himself turn and walk to the wall-slot and drop the book in through the
    brass notch to the waiting flames.
    “Silly words, silly words, silly awful hurting words,” said Mrs. Bowles. “Why do people
    want to hurt people? Not enough hurt in the world, you’ve got to tease people with
    stuff like that ! ”
    “Clara, now, Clara,” begged Mildred, pulling her arm. “Come on, let’s be cheery, you
    turn the `family’ on, now. Go ahead. Let’s laugh and be happy, now, stop crying, we’ll
    have a party!”
    “No,” said Mrs. Bowles. “I’m trotting right straight home. You want to visit my house
    and `family,’ well and good. But I won’t come in this fireman’s crazy house again in
    my lifetime! ”
    “Go home.” Montag fixed his eyes upon her, quietly. “Go home and think of your first
    husband divorced and your second husband killed in a jet and your third husband
    blowing his brains out, go home and think of the dozen abortions you’ve had, go
    home and think of that and your damn Caesarian sections, too, and your children
    who hate your guts! Go home and think how it all happened and what did you ever
    do to stop it? Go home, go home!” he yelled. “Before I knock you down and kick you
    out of the door!”
    Doors slammed and the house was empty. Montag stood alone in the winter
    weather, with the parlour walls the colour of dirty snow.
    In the bathroom, water ran. He heard Mildred shake the sleeping tablets into her
    hand.
    “Fool, Montag, fool, fool, oh God you silly fool…”

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