The Late Great Ray Bradbury
Image courtesy Wired Magazine
I never thought I would see a world without Ray Bradbury.
This week marks the end of an era. When I heard the news of Bradbury’s passing yesterday I saw the shadow falling past me, like a great eagle falling from the heavens. Ray Bradbury was more than just a science fiction writer (he would have rather been called a fantasy writer). The man was a writer’s writer.
I know writers who struggle to write 500 words a day, who have a love/hate relationship with their novels, but not Bradbury. Bradbury’s love for writing flowed out of the tone of his text. When we read a Bradbury story or novel, we see the love he had for the craft carefully arranged on the page. His plots were legendary, his messages were thought provoking and his characters were unforgettable.
I have decided to list some of my favorite Bradbury stories today in honor of his greatness. It is my hope that we will see many comments on this post with your favorites as well. The format is this: 1. Name your favorite Bradbury story/stories. 2. Write about why they are your favorites. 3. What do they teach you about writing?
1. A Sound of Thunder – This short story about hunters traveling back to prehistoric times to fell a dinosaur is the kind of story that made Bradbury famous. I love this story because it is a story about time travel without the silly paradoxes that usually ruin a time travel story. It is what would really happen if we could indeed travel through time to the past. This story teaches us about writing because even though it is a fantasy story it has not diverged away from scientific truth. The premise is realistic enough for us to follow the idea while also saying something about human nature.
2. Fahrenheit 451 – Considered by most to be his masterpiece, this novel is truly a great American novel. The premise of the novel is still relevant. In this age of e-books and digital media we see many of the things predicted in the dystopian future of the novel coming true or possible if given a nudge. Montag’s wife sits in front of the interactive television all day and it steals her soul (video games). Their society read less and less until everything was “sports and sports and sports”. The battle still rages in public schools over sports versus academics. I have known principals who will hire a teacher based solely on the fact that they need a new coach and the teaching position is secondary in their mind. Of course, if we win championships, then we will be a high performing school, right? The things that Bradbury teaches about writing through this novel are many, but I will focus on three:
Write with a purpose – He had many things to say about his current and future world through his novel. When we write, we should have our soapbox firmly planted beneath our feet, but still tell an engaging story that lasts for generations.
The gentle nudge – All of the aspects of the dystopian society in Bradbury’s novel were believable if we gave the problems facing knowledge and education a nudge in the wrong direction. Our dystopian futures that comment on our own society should be just far enough out there that they do not get too far as to become unbelievable.
Make us care – We care about Montag and whether or not he will discover the joys of reading and whether or not he will escape his society, and through that we examine our own love of reading and right to an education.
3. The Martian Chronicles – This fantastic book is Bradbury’s commentary on colonialism, racism and human frailty. I love this book because it is his breakthrough novel, the one that really made him famous. It is the perfect example of using science fiction to comment on current events in human history and stay true to a gripping story that keeps readers interested. What it teaches us about writing is that a popular novel that sells millions of copies can still have a social context and can speak to problems in our world that need adjusting. It is also brilliant in that it is a series of short stories or memoirs from the minds of the people colonizing Mars. The narrative is fantastic and interesting, each story furthering the plot of the novel.
4. The Illustrated Man – Again, we have a sort of collection of short stories that blend into the framework of a novel. Each story explores our connection to technology and how it affects our lives. I love this novel because of Bradbury’s ability to tell a long narrative story through several short stories or scenes. What it teaches us about writing is that it gives us yet another example of Bradbury’s sense of place. Each of the short stories take place in different places along the time line, but each is somehow tied to the illustrated man through his tattoos (sorry, skin illustrations!). He is somehow able to tie each story to this strange vagrant encountered by the narrator on a dusty road. If writers could read this novel and examine its coherence, they could see a true master at work.
5. Zen in the Art of Writing – I know this is not a novel, but it is Bradbury’s manual for writing and enjoying the process. It has thousands of tips for writers that he has discovered over years of writing. Bradbury wrote three novels and over 300 short stories in his lifetime. If you are a writer and you buy one book this month it should be this one. I have learned so much from him and find the book to be as important to me as any of my reference books used during the writing process.
I am sure there are many more things written by Bradbury that you have read and love. List them here if you like. Remember to state why you like the novel/short story and what it teaches you about writing.