The science fiction world, and much of the world at large is weeping today because we lost a giant. I can’t recall when I first heard the name “Ray Bradbury” but in my limited memory, it seems as if I was born with the name, that there was never a time I didn’t know who he was. I’m sure I read some of his stories when I was a kid, checking a book out of the public library, or coming across a story in one of my reading books for school. But the first time I decided to read Bradbury as an adult, with the appreciation of a science fiction fan was in October 1996. I read Something Wicked This Way Comes and I felt like suddenly, my eyes were open. The adventures of Jim Nightshade and Will Halloway kept me breathless. I think I read the book in a single, remarkable sitting, virtually memorizing parts of it as I went. (Whenever someone mentions October, regardless of the context, wild horses can’t keep me from quoting, “First of all it was October, a rare month for boys,” often to strange looks.) Something Wicked This Way Comes became and remains one of my all-time favorite books.
I went on to read other books by Bradbury. I read Fahrenheit 451, and the dreamy and remarkable Martian Chronicles with its echoes of Sherwood Anderson. I read The Illustrated Man which contains one of only two stories that have ever truly frightened me: “The Veldt.” The book also contains what I to believe just about the most perfect short story ever constructed, “The Rocket Man,” which I re-read just a little while ago. Each time I read it, I worry that it will lose some of its magic, and each time, I am both relieved and surprised that the story seems even more remarkable than before. I read other books. I read From the Dust Returned, which I didn’t like so much, but no one is perfect. I read Let’s All Kill Constance, which I found to be wonderfully strange. I read Dandelion Wine and various story collection. Ray’s stories: each one was amazing in its own way. There was a nostalgia in them, sure, but the words came alive. You felt what he wrote.
As a writer, I’ve tried to emulate the style of many writers I’ve admired, but never Bradbury. I knew I just didn’t have it in me, like a young pitcher who can throw a pretty good fastball, but who knows he’ll never hit 90; knows his ball just doesn’t have “stuff.” Bradbury said he wrote every day. Writing every day for seven or eight decades gives someone plenty of practice, but if I wrote for seven or eight decades, I could not do what Ray Bradbury did.
I learned more about Bradbury over the years. I read Sam Weller’s biography of the man. I read Bradbury’s various essays. I read every recent story collection he put out. It was a bit of a thrill for me to find his name, address and phone number listed in the Science Fiction Writers of American’s member directory when I first joined. But I never wrote to him or called him.
I did meet him, however, once at Dangerous Visions bookshop in Sherman Oaks, California, not far from where I lived.