Reminiscences and Synchronicities: Ray Bradbury, 1920–2012

Last Wednesday morning, June 6, I learned of the passing of Ray Bradbury the day before. My eyes misted . . . and I was surprised by the depth of my reaction. Sure, I’m a fan, have been so for well over thirty years, but it’s not like I knew the man. I’d never met him. He’d lived a long life and had been in deteriorating health, so his death was no shock. Nevertheless, I felt his loss keenly and had a difficult time concentrating on my work because of my sadness.

I posted this on Facebook:  “I have long liked to call them the ABCs of science fiction: Isaac Asimov, Ray Bradbury, Arthur C. Clarke. Asimov had his clever plots, Clarke his big ideas, but Bradbury…Bradbury could make you weep for the loneliness of a sea monster, the sadness of an automated house left empty after a nuclear war. He was always the most emotional of the ABCs; most of his work was steeped with nostalgia and melancholy, even when he looked forward into space, onto Mars. There was always great loss in his stories, and now he has become our great loss. It’s a lesser world without him.”

That was part of it, surely. But there was more that I hadn’t even remembered yet. On my lunch break I grabbed the science fiction issue of the New Yorker that I’d just picked up over the weekend. And there was an essay by Ray, perhaps the last thing he’d written. It’s called “Take Me Home.” It was an emotional read, steeped in the beautiful sadness of so much of his fiction and magnified by the circumstance of his death. I think it was reading about his childhood that got me thinking more about when I started reading his work and when I began to realize I wanted to be a writer.

I remembered reading essays by Ray on how he became a writer, and how he dedicated himself to his craft. He’d organized all his ideas by writing them on 3×5 index cards and filing them. When he wanted to write a story, he could pull out a card and dig in. I went right out and bought my own 3×5 cards and a file box and followed his model. Now I was getting at the heart of my reaction to his loss. I wasn’t just a fan as a reader, I was a fan as a writer, and he’d been a profound influence on me in those early years of scribbling stories down, then typing them on a typewriter. It was such deep part of my birth as a writer that I’d forgotten about it, much as you don’t think of the foundation below you as you move from room to room in your house.

The next day I started re-reading The Martian Chronicles. I don’t have any idea how many times I’ve read this seminal work over the years. I think I first read it in elementary school, checking out a library edition hardcover. The paperback I currently own is a tie-in to the 1980 NBC miniseries that Ray famously called “boring.” I truly love this book, and found it just as moving now as I remember it. I also continued reading various obits and blogs during the week, and somewhere saw a reference to The Martian Chronicles: The Complete Edition. I’d never heard of it.

How could that be? I searched it online and found it was a signed limited edition of 526 copies. No wonder I hadn’t come across it in the bookstore. It included previously unpublished Martian stories as well as two previously unpublished screenplay versions by Ray. Oh, how I wanted it. But it was originally published at $300, now selling for $1,000, and I’m sure those prices will go up. I was frustrated that there were works of Ray so inaccessible to the majority of his fans. I emailed the publisher, practically begging them to consider a reprint. Their reply informed me that they only had the rights to that limited edition so a reissue was unlikely. More sadness.

Over the weekend we visited my mom and her husband. Shortly after we got there he handed me a few DVDs: “You want these?” One of them was thirteen episodes of The Ray Bradbury Theater. I gladly accepted, and look forward to watching them. I may have caught a couple of episodes back in the day, but mostly these will be new to me. Which reminds me that there are a number of Ray’s novels and short story collections that I haven’t gotten around to reading. I will savor them.

Yesterday I finished The Martian Chronicles. The last story is “The Million-Year Picnic.” I was sitting there in my cubicle in Minneapolis, Minnesota, anticipating the ending (which I won’t completely spoil for anyone who hasn’t read it), but there was something I’d completely forgotten. A family has gone to Mars to escape the wars on Earth, and one of the children is worried about their old home. “What about Minnesota?” he says. His father responds, “No more Minneapolis.” That added a certain haunting note to the story for me.

Thanks, Ray. You’ll be missed.

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