Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Ray Bradbury

I thought I'd wait a few days before I wrote anything about the death of Ray Bradbury.

I am not into hero worship, having learned very long ago that people--no matter who they are or how good they are--generally just end up disappointing the shit out of you. He was no different in that way from many other people I have admired. The first time I met him he struck me as someone who did not tell the truth about himself. And there was the extreme right wing tilt of his politics as he grew old. Later, I discovered the subtle conspiracy he led against Rod Serling. Like everyone I had studied, he had his major flaws; and so Ray Bradbury was no hero to me, but he did influence me tremendously.

My first exposure to Bradbury's work was when I was eight years old. My mom had seen me consuming books right and left, reading like crazy, generally stuff of a fantastic nature. So one day she handed me a copy of Ray Bradbury's THE ILLUSTRATED MAN. I was instantly hooked. When I hit the story "The Veldt", I was from that point on a horror fiction fan.

The book my mom gave me when I was eight years old.

After that, as I did whenever I encountered a particular author whose work interested me, I read everything by Bradbury that I could find. It amazed me even then that here was a man whose talents were focused on the short story and not on novel-length fiction. And what a talent he had. His work is infused with poetry and emotion. Like no other author I have encountered, Bradbury speaks to the writer, to the lover of words, to those of us who search for deeper emotions in literature.

While THE ILLUSTRATED MAN led me down a certain path, it was another of his books that made an even greater impression on me; one which even today exerts a great influence over my waking and dreaming moments:

THE OCTOBER COUNTRY. This is Bradbury's work at it weirdest and finest. It's a fantastic version of Sherwood Anderson's WINESBURG, OHIO. I wouldn't read the seminal work for another forty years, but that doesn't really matter. What does matter is that Ray Bradbury laid down a combination of weird fiction in that volume that has no match in literature. It transports you, moves you to other places and introduces you to other folk, all of them strange and frightening and wonderful. THE OCTOBER COUNTRY is actually a revised version of Bradbury's first published volume of short stories, originally titled DARK CARNIVAL, but with revisions that make for a far more impressive work.

The version of THE OCTOBER COUNTRY to which I was introduced.

To add even greater strength to the power of this collection, the cover art and interior illustrations were done by a minor genius of an artist, Joseph Mungnaini. The art is perfect--it complements the book in a way that is impossible to describe. It was, for me, a genuinely moving experience.

Those are my thoughts of Ray Bradbury at this time, some days after his death. We'll never see anyone who can write as he did. He was one of our nation's best, one of the finest writers who use the modern English language, and that is what matters most.

In the shadow of a giant: February of 2010, I attend a signing event for THE BLEEDING EDGE with Ray Bradbury (and others).

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