Recently, I saw writer Ray Bradbury, on an old episode of The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson, discussing life on Mars. This was 1978, NASA had landed the first probes on the planet. Forty-three years later, we have sent a motorized science lab there.
Bradbury is my favorite science fiction writer. I started reading him in high school. Years later, I wrote to him and he sent me a personalize sketch.
He was the first science fiction writer who seemed to talk to readers in a language we understood. He appeared on many talk shows and appeared at schools to talk about science and the curiosity of life. Bradbury seemed like the rest of us, curious and fascinated not only by the universe, but of interaction of humans with life forms. He worshiped idealism and exploration of our existence. It wasn’t about technology, it was the human challenges of life, and things our civilization did not understand. Bradbury wrote more than about spaceships and distant worlds, he wrote stories of mystery, fantasy and horror too. He was Stephen King before Stephen King.
Bradbury’s career spanned more than six decades, from short stories to novels, to television and film scripts, to stage plays. He was one of his generation’s most read writers of any genre.
Bradbury is in good company with such 20th century writers as Isaac Asimov, Phillip K. Dick, Robert Heinlein, Arthur C. Clarke, Frank Herbert, George Orwell, Aldous Huxley, Kurt Vonnegut, Edgar Rice Burroughs, Harlan Ellison and J.R.R. Tolkien. Bradbury was probably the most media visible of his contemporaries. He regularly appeared on television interview shows and even game shows. He even hosted his own anthology television series.
His most famous works were The Martian Chronicles, Fahrenheit 451, The Illustrated Man and Something Wicked This Way Comes. I had read all of these by the time I graduated from high school.
A scene from Fahrenheit 451, when the fire department arrives at its next location. Now this, is cancel culture!
“I have fun with ideas; I play with them,” he said. “ I’m not a serious person, and I don’t like serious people. I don’t see myself as a philosopher. That’s awfully boring. My goal is to entertain myself and others.”
When he passed away in 2012 there were a lot of tributes to the man and his work. President Obama said: “His gift for storytelling reshaped our culture and expanded our world…he also understood that our imaginations could be used as a tool for better understanding, a vehicle for change, and an expression of our most cherished values.”
Stephen King said: “The sound I hear today is the thunder of a giant’s footsteps fading away. But the novels and stories remain, in all their resonance and strange beauty.”
How appropriate that as we see high definition photos of the Red Planet, we are again fascinated with our neighbor planet. The Martian Chronicles should be a precursor to the reach of mankind beyond the Moon. At some point, the Earth will stop offering enough materials and resources to sustain human life, along with the planet no longer supporting life. In the 1950s when Bradbury wrote this collection of stories, America was paranoid of visitors from other planets that would be hostile or destroy life on Earth. In 1969, Michael Crichton wrote The Andromeda Strain about a microorganism that hitches a ride on a satellite and nearly escapes in a form that could imperils life on Earth. That may seem like fantasy, but as we dig ourselves out from the worst pandemic in over 100 years, we see how vulnerable we are with the ease of transmission and the quick mutation of organisms.
In 1963, Bradbury had this to say.
“We live in a time of paradox — man is confronted with a terrifying, magnificent choice: destroying himself utterly to the atom, or survive utterly with the same means. Man has always been half-monster, half-dreamer. The very real fear is that now he’ll destroy himself just as he’s about to attain his dreams. Today we stand on the rim of space — man is about to flow outwards, to spread his seed to far new worlds — if he can conquer the seed of his own self-destruction.