I had a fair amount of musings when Arthur C. Clarke died. I have less about Ray Bradbury, last of the four SF writers of that generation whom non-SF readers had heard of, now off in the electric field surrounding the planet with Clarke, Asimov, and Heinlein.
Bradbury's work in fact is a good illustration of the principle that it's important to read fiction for what it is, and not as something else. (A principle I also apply to listening to music.) In the case of much of Bradbury's work, the "something else" is "science fiction." As a young SF reader I found Bradbury's fiction intensely irritating. He wrote about spaceships and Mars, but he didn't seem to take them seriously as other writers did.
That's because what he was writing wasn't science fiction as they'd define it. And not simply because The Martian Chronicles was technically impossible, which is the reason Bradbury himself gave for saying it wasn't science fiction. A lot of science fiction is technically impossible by science as we now know it. It's because Bradbury wasn't taking the questing, analytical investigative approach to his subjects that typifies SF. Instead, as some of his other work (Dandelion Wine, Something Wicked) ought to have made obvious, he was a Midwestern pastoral dark fantasist like, um, Charles G. Finney or even L. Frank Baum, who just happened to use spaceships and Mars as the ingredients of his fantasies. Read The Martian Chronicles like that, and forget anything concerning SF about Mars, and it immediately makes a lot more sense.
Of course, some of Bradbury's work really is science fiction, mostly of the most alarmingly cautionary sort. Fahrenheit 451, for one, and "There Will Come Soft Rains"1. I encountered these in school reading at too tender an age, before I was a regular SF reader, and the shock of that too erected a barrier between me and the work.
But there was yet more, too, to Bradbury. A couple years ago I finally found, 20 years after I'd first seen it listed in a bibliography, his Casey at the Bat pastiche, "Ahab at the Helm." It was worth the wait.
1. As I wrote on a previous occasion: If the title doesn't ring a bell, that's the one consisting of a lyrical description of an automated house-of-the-future, the kind that rings your alarm clock for you and then automatically fixes your breakfast, all the while chatting away with the insane cheerfulness of Eddie Your Friendly Shipboard Computer, doing all this in blissful ignorance of the fact that all the people had been incinerated the previous day, presumably by a neutron bomb.
As a young SF reader I found Bradbury's fiction intensely irritating. He wrote about spaceships and Mars, but he didn't seem to take them seriously as other writers did.ReplyDelete
I'm glad to learn I wasn't the only person who felt that way. It took me a long time to learn to appreciate Bradbury. Well, R.I.P.