Goodbye, Ray Bradbury. On June 4, 2012, we lost science-fiction writer Ray Bradbury at the ripe old age of 91.
Goodbye to a Man Ahead of His Time
Ray Bradbury’s stories were ahead of their time. Really.
His stories from the 1950s featured ATMs, computer-programmed nurseries, and the increasing power of technology. Among his most famous novels was the high-school reading list staple Fahrenheit 451, about a totalitarian society in which books are burned and reading is a furtive, illegal activity. Is it true, says Julie Christie in the film version of Fahrenheit 451, that fireman used to put out fires instead of light them? While we’re not there yet, I sometimes have dark thoughts about the rise of the Kindle and what it will do to a book-reading culture.
Too Close to Home?
Largely, his eloquent and cautionary tales have themes of technology destroying life as we know it, or taking over humanity. For me, his most chilling story was always “The Veldt.” I read it when I was a teen and it scared the heck out of me. First published in a 1950 issue of The Saturday Evening Post, it was later reprinted in his anthology The Illustrated Man. The plot of “The Veldt” is simple and a little too close to our modern day landscape of virtual reality, Kindles, and iPads to be comfortable. In “The Veldt” a family pays thousands of dollars to have their home converted to the latest technology and as a result, the house does everything: cooks for them, cleans for them, and rocks the children to sleep at night. The house also brainwashes the couple’s two children, who become obsessed with the virtual reality images on the walls of their nursery. A psychologist suggests that the family “turn off” the house and move away, but the kids have other, more macabre ideas.
(If you’ve ever tried to take iPads or video games away from teens, then you get the idea.)
Bradbury echoes the idea, constantly, that too much technology can kill humanity or that humans don’t often see what they are doing to nature.
Many Sides to the Human Story
But Ray Bradbury wasn’t just writing about our reliance on and growing obsession with technology. From the innocent schoolboys Will Halloway and Jim Nightshade in Something Wicked This Way Comes, to the eventual rebellion of fireman Montag in Fahrenheit 451, to Ray Bradbury’s own life-giving, creative joy in Zen in the Art of Writing, Bradbury showed us many sides to humanity. In one of my favorite lines from Zen in the Art of Writing, Bradbury advises young writers with the gusto and joy that was typical of his books: “Your intuition knows what to write, so get out of the way.” He knew how to follow his own advice and created over 600 short stories and numerous novels that charted the scientific landscape.
He was a joyful writer and, even in his more frightening works, his joy at being alive shone through. He will be missed.