Like many others I was sorry to hear of the death of Ray Bradbury, America’s finest short story writer, and also surprised to hear him written off as ‘a science fiction writer’ in several obituaries. Bradbury was unique in that his stories could not have been written by anyone else. In a time when so few writers earn my admiration by having a voice, his was utterly distinctive.
In recent times he was written off a little by those who felt he was a backward-looking, nostalgia-prone writer. In fact, excepting his deliberate evocation of childhood, the story-cyle ‘Dandelion Wine’, nothing could be further from the truth. Over and over, his stories prove alarmingly prescient. In ‘The Veldt’, virtual reality corrupts children against their parents simply because it is more appealing to escape than to be nagged. In ‘The Watchful Poker Chip of H. Matisse’ a dullard is taken up by a clique of empty new artists (are you listening, Damien Hirst?) and is eventually transformed into a Dali-esque work of art.
He was unafraid of expressing sentiment and did not feel the need to be perceived as ‘edgy’ (a slightly desperate quality that blights so much speculative writing) because he could write about emotions without ever being cloying or sickly. What he did beautifully was connect the reader to universal feelings.
In my collection ‘Old Devil Moon’ I wrote a story called ‘The Twilight Express’, which is an homage to Bradbury. His stories sustained me through frequent prolonged childhood illnesses, but what’s most surprising now is to look back at them and see just how incredibly experimental they appear next to modern writing, but these experimental styles were wedded to very satisfying stories. He was clever without showing off, elegant with substance and accessible without being dull.
And there was always a sense – an overview – of life passing and being lived. In ‘Something Wicked This Way Comes’, Mr Dark offers Will’s father a chance to relive his life by going back and starting again at different ages – which get later and later as he prevaricates.
I hope Bradbury’s timeless works see a resurgence as ebooks – they are currently unavailable. If you haven’t read them before I urge you to do so, starting with a ‘Best Of’ collection.
NB The film version of ‘Something Wicked’ is terrific, and seems to possess two soundtracks, one by Georges Delarue which was not used.