Monday, March 28, 2005

Ray Bradbury

As a kid and a teenager I read a lot of science fiction. I cannot say that I liked everything I read. Too often the stories and novels were far too much science and too little character or too little action for my taste. I can honestly say that Asimov bored me. There were a few science fiction authors who kept my attention: Robert A. Heinlein, Roger Zelazney, and Larry Niven among them. Delving into sci-fi books did lead me to one, great discovery: the works of Ray Bradbury. Looking back this seems strange to me. While Ray Bradbury is often counted as a science fiction writer, he is probably better classed as a fantasist.

Indeed, most of Bradbury's works contain little to no science, and often a good deal of fantasy. Even The Martian Chronicles is probably better classed as fantasy than sci-fi. At the time Bradbury wrote the various short stories that would become the novel, it was already a certainty that there was no intelligent life on Mars. I think the fact that Bradbury is a fantasist rather than a sci-fi writer is much of the reason he still holds so much appeal for me.

Ray Bradbury was born on August 22, 1920 in Waukegan, Illinois. His family would eventually move to Tuscon, Arizona and eventually Los Angeles, but Bradbury still regards Waukegan as his hometown. In fact, one can see the influence of small town life in much of Bradbury's work. I would say that the one thing Bradbury introduced to the fantasy and horror genres was the blending of American, small town life with fantastic elements. Long before Stephen King wrote any of his books, Bradbury had already set fantastic stories and novels in small town settings.

Bradbury was first published when he was very young. He was only 20 when his first story was published in Weird Tales. His first collection of short stories, Dark Carnival, was published when he was only 27. Not only was Bradbury first published when he was fairly young, but he is also very prolific. He has published over 500 works of literature and written screenplays and teleplays on top of all that.

Although much of Bradbury's work is characterised by a blending of the fantastic and the ordinary, there is a good deal of variety in his work too. Fahrenheit 451, a novel set in a futuristic society where all books are banned, is the one of Bradbury's works that is clearly science fiction. The Martian Chronicles, although often classed as sci-fi, is perhaps better considered a futuristic fantasy. Bradbury's most famous novel, Something Wicked This Way Comes, is a horror novel with strong fantasy elements. This variety can also be seen in his many short stories. "The Burning Man," in which two people on a drive through the country side encounter a raving, old man, is perhaps best considered horror. "The Wonderful Ice Cream Suit," dealing with a suit that gives the wearer an extraordinary feeling for life, is clearly fantasy. "Zero Hour," dealing with the subject of alien invasion, is perhaps best considered sci-fi.

As mentioned earlier, Bradbury also wrote screenplays and teleplays. He wrote the screenplay for the 1953 version of Moby Dick. He also wrote the screenplays for Little Nemo: Adventures in Slumberland and The Halloween Tree. A proposed screenplay for Gene Kelly provided the basis for Something Wicked This Way Comes. Bradbury also worked a good deal in television. He wrote two episodes for Alfred Hitchcock Presents, episodes for The Twlight Zone, and two episodes for The Alfred Hitchcock Hour. He served as the host for Ray Bradbury Theater and the series adapted many of his short stories. Many of his works have provided the basis for feature films, among them It Came From Outer Space, The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms, Fahrenheit 451, The Illustrated Man, and Something Wicked This Way Comes.

I honestly don't think too many writers from the 20th century will be remembered in times to come. In my humble opinion, Ray Bradbury will be one of them. He was one of the first writers to blend the ordinary and the fantastic. His writing style is lyrical, almost poetic, yet at the same time very easy to read. And he has written in a wide variety of genres, never sticking only to one. I do think Ray Bradbury's works will be read for centuries to come.

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