There are very few writers like Ray Bradbury. His work has inspired so many authors, so many filmmakers, and so many artists. It’s rare for one man to touch so many peoples’ lives in so many important, profound ways. That’s what he did to me. I was a kid looking for something to connect to, even in the most outlandish and far-fetched fiction. Then fate brought me to Bradbury and, since then, the entire universe has looked different.
Before Ray Bradbury
I grew up in a household that worshipped Star Trek and Star Wars alike. My dad’s bookshelves were filled with other sci-fi classics like Dan Simmons’s Hyperion and others that I couldn’t even comprehend. Like many children of the 60s, my parents were major science fiction fans.
Then there was me. I knew I was different. Not because who I was or what I looked like but because of what I liked. Or, more specifically, what I didn’t like. I didn’t care for science fiction. I tried, I tried hard. Yet it didn’t grab me like it did others. It didn’t affect me. It didn’t make me feel. I was a major comic book fan and devoured Batman, Superman and the Justice League. But when it came to Captain Kirk, Picard, Luke, Leia and the rest of the science fiction icons, nothing stirred me. Not like it should have.
I felt a bit lost. Why wasn’t this genre such an important part of my life like it was to others? I went through the motions and even liked lots of sci-fi (who doesn’t like Star Wars?) but more times than not, I walked away feeling underwhelmed. To me science fiction was like a robot: gorgeous to look at but lacking any soul.
Then I came upon Ray Bradbury.
The Catalyst for My Fandom
My junior high school had a daily event called D.E.A.R. which stood for Drop Everything And Read. For 30 minutes after lunch, every student in school was required to read. No talking, no homework, nothing but noses in books. It’s a brilliant way to calm a bunch of rambunctious kids after they’ve eaten. For many, it’s a chance to zone out or nap. For me, it was a time for discovery.
I was lacking a book one afternoon so I quickly perused my language arts teacher’s shelf. There I found a beat up and dusty copy of The Illustrated Man by Ray Bradbury. It was short, had an interesting cover and I was vaguely aware of Bradbury’s work so I decided to spend some time with it. It was a decision that changed my life and my viewpoint of the entire universe.
In Bradbury, I found science fiction that isn’t about robots and aliens and machines. Bradbury’s work isn’t packed with complicated mythologies and terminology that requires an appendix. It’s not an insult to say Bradbury’s work is simple. He wrote from a very humanistic and relatable angle, like a giddy child joyful to discover something new. Dark stories they were, filled with violence and terror. But written with childlike adoration for the universe and the possibilities it holds. I was hooked.
Why Bradbury is so special
Science fiction is often about something just out of reach, something that’s beyond our grasp by a few years. That’s the nature of the genre. There’s a strong sense of desire in Bradbury’s sci-fi: a desire for peace, a desire for a great future, a desire for something to believe in. I had never felt that sort of passion and aspiration in science fiction until Bradbury. It deeply resonated with me. Through the extraordinary and surreal, Bradbury introduced me to a very human feeling.
He wrote about the universal feeling of longing. Plenty of writers, from F. Scott Fitzgerald to Bruce Springsteen, have explored that theme but Bradbury quite literally took it to the stars. When he wrote about visiting other planets he was really writing about a better tomorrow, a peaceful and calm humanity spread across the universe. He was writing about a civilization that had slowly but surely freed itself from the shackles of war and destruction. Not always, there was still lots of that too (as any fan of Fahrenheit 451 can recall). But even through despair and destruction, his work was full of longing for a scientifically inquisitive and productive future.
Anyone who looks at the stars feels hope. Hope that things are better out there, that we will eventually meet a gentle alien race, hope that our civilization won’t forever be bound to this planet. Bradbury’s fiction has hope, lots of it. Even in his darkest moments, Bradbury wrote as someone who knew there was something better for all of us. Too often science fiction focuses on the shortcomings of humans and the myriad ways we can bring about the apocalypse. As for Bradbury, he was hopeful. He knew there could be setbacks and troubled times when all seemed lost. But he hoped. He hoped we would push through and make it to those greener pastures beyond the stars.
A step further
It was more than hope I felt in Bradbury’s work, it was certainty. He knew we could do it. We could clean up our acts and travel among the stars like someone travels along an interstate highway. It was possible and he believed we would get there. That is something that speaks to me as someone who grew up in a dwindling economy and a constant state of global uncertainty. When things looked rough in the real world, whether it be war or political bickering or even personal issues, I would look to Bradbury’s words and feel that the future was bright. I had to hope like he did. I needed to believe.
The works of Bradbury opened me up to so much more science fiction. I started connecting with things that never attracted me before from deep, technical science fiction to some of the sillier, campier books and movies from the past. I was seeing things through a new prism, full of childlike awe, wonder and excitement. It filtered into all facets of my life. It altered the way I admired movies, books, comics and television. From there it made my personality and general outlook on life brighter too. It became a part of who I am. I can safely say Ray Bradbury’s view on the universe became mine too. He changed the way I saw the world. What more can you ask for from literature?
I saw Bradbury speak once. It was at San Diego Comic-Con a few years before his passing. He was old and had some trouble speaking but he still lit up when talking about exploring Mars and the future of humanity. He was enlivened and hopeful for things he knew he would never see. That struck me as so gracious and wonderful. Then it dawned on me: he would see us rocket into space and spread goodwill and knowledge throughout the universe. In fact, he had seen it. He had written it.
About this feature
Fandom is built on a foundation of very passionate individuals with deep and unshakeable knowledge spread across many, many little areas in the pop culture landscape. The tendrils reach far and wide and the only way for something like that to manifest is sheer timing. The right fan with the right property at the right time. It’s why a person changes course and goes on to dedicate their life to something. All of the luminaries in film, music, television, games, and comics all had that watershed moment. Where something infected them and the impulse was too strong to ignore. The Catalyst to My Fandom is a place for us, all of us, to share some of those moments. And hopefully, some of you will join us in doing so as well.