Jun 7, 2012

Ray Bradbury

Ray Bradbury has died at age 91. He was the last of the major "Golden Age" science fiction writers, with Asimov, Clarke, and Heinlein being the others who gained mainstream popularity, due to successful film adaptations of their novels. Of those writers, Bradbury was my favorite, and the only one I've met in person. He was outgoing and friendly, and always seemed willing to speak to fans and audiences at conventions such as Comic Con.

I won't match what many others will say in eulogy for Ray Bradbury. But I was just talking to some neighbors, and when I mentioned his death on the news, they confessed they'd never heard of him. History is easily forgotten. So I do want to make sure that future generations recognize the huge impact that the Golden Age of science fiction had on our culture, and remember that Asimov, Bradbury, and Clarke (the A-B-C) were a major part of that. They inspired many real astronauts, physicists, and biologists to go into that line of work and change the world we live in. They inspired contemporary authors, artists, and film directors to explore other worlds, which in turn has shaped pop culture.  Perhaps you've never heard of Bradbury, but I'm 99% certain that people you have heard of--J.J. Abrams, Joss Whedon, Peter Jackson, Stephen King, Suzanne Collins, and many more--have read his books and consider him an influence.

When I attended a live panel with Ray Bradbury about his novel Fahrenheit 451, I was surprised by how many audience members focused on the book burning. Bradbury had to explain that the story wasn't mainly about politics, nor was it a Nazi allegory. It was about television. It was a cautionary tale about replacing active story consumption with passive story consumption--reading versus watching/listening.  I thought this point was obvious in the book, and it's by far the best rendition of this theme I've ever read or seen.

I wasn't around before the invention of television, but when I read Fahrenheit 451, I wondered if Bradbury was right; maybe we have lost something in our leap from books to radio to TV to the internet. Even the best film or TV show is delivered in a format that limits the imagination; we are shown exactly what to think and feel, and when it's over, we easily forget and move on to the next one. Books are a much more personal, intimate experience, and a good book can have a huge and memorable impact on a person's life. One-hour TV shows and two-hour films and 5-minute internet shows crowd our attention, demanding that we LOOK and LISTEN so we can be up-to-date and discuss them with our friends. And as a result, people have less time for books ... and less time to truly ponder an idea.

I never thought I'd side with the old guy. I enjoy contemporary TV shows and films, and I'm a technophile. Yet I will admit that something of myself is lost in all this easy entertainment. I don't see myself as a brainwashed drone, the way Bradbury depicted the reality-show-addicted character of Mildred, yet I would undeniably be a much different person if I spent years without TV, film, or internet. I would read more. I would write more. And perhaps I would think more, and be a smarter, better person for it. But that's not the world any of us live in.

I'm glad that Bradbury wrote about it, and I hope other readers understand his point.


Sandy Coops said...

Indeed a great man he is. I have read a few of his novels. Can any one suggest the top 3 work of his?

Anonymous said...

Great post Abby...


Mike said...

Ray was best known for dystopian novel, "Fahrenheit 451" written in the 1950's. Really great book. Of course, everyone remebers The Martain Chronicles which, in my opinion was one of his best writtings.


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Ray Bradbury was my favorite science fiction, and the only one I've met in person. Ray Bradbury is one of those rare individuals whose writing has changed the way people think.

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