Ray Bradbury is dead. I learned of this today via Twitter, and my eyes welled up with tears immediately. My mother, hearing the news, invited me to call her at work so we could commiserate.
I came to Bradbury’s work in the third grade, or thereabouts. I suspect my godmother was responsible. Her husband was a fan, and had even interviewed Bradbury, once. (He was the nicest guy, by all accounts.) My godmother was laissez-faire when it came to my religious education, but not my literary education. She was the one who bought me my first Narnia books. She also bought me copies of Death is A Lonely Business and A Graveyard for Lunatics. These were latter-day novels in his canon but still not very new in the early 1990s when I read them. They were not about Mars, but about Hollywood, not about aliens or robots but about the famous monsters of filmland. This didn’t matter. They were written with the same zest and flare for language that defined his earlier work. I ate them alive. Then, on the recommendation of my teacher I read Something Wicked This Way Comes, Dandelion Wine, and The Illustrated Man. My teacher even snagged a VHS copy of “All Summer in A Day,” based on his 1954 short story about bullying on Venus, and showed it in class.
It’s difficult to overstate how deeply Bradbury’s stories engaged me. As Bradbury himself wrote recentlyfor The New Yorker: “I think I went a trifle mad that autumn. It’s the only way to describe the intensity with which I devoured the stories. You rarely have such fevers later in life that fill your entire day with emotion.” Bradbury was writing about his own childhood reading habits, but his words are equally applicable to my experience reading his work. I mainlined his stories. They were all I talked about. All I thought about.
I’ve spent the past few days answering interviews about vN, and when the inevitable question of influence comes up, I mention Bradbury’s name among others. That’s because he taught me what short stories could and should do, how they could and should work. They made you think. They made you feel. They didn’t just impart a sense of wonder, they chronicled wonder itself and encouraged it as part of a full human experience. That experience also included terror and joy and love and disappointment — the other things that filled his stories. At a time when science fiction and fantasy stories could seem dry and mechanistic, absent of feeling, his were full and tremulous with it. It is with that wholeheartedness that I will attempt to approach the rest of my day, and the rest of my work.