Sunday, June 10, 2012

Ray Bradbury (1920 - 2012)

When Ray Bradbury was twelve years old, he went to a carnival and encountered Mr. Electrico, a performer who sat in an electric chair with current running through him so that his hair stood up and an electrical sword he held would glow.  Touching the sword to the young Bradbury’s head, Mr. Electrico exclaimed: “Live forever!”  Alas, Mr. Electrico’s command has gone unheeded, for Bradbury died last Tuesday at 91 -- long-lived, to be sure, but well short of forever.

Bradbury’s work has always meant a lot to me.  He was not a hard SF writer, but serious science fiction need not always be about accurately tracing the implications of current scientific theory and knowledge.  There is also a humanistic side to the genre, which includes the exploration of the unique perspective its unusual situations open up on the nature and motivations of human beings.  At that Bradbury excelled.  And of course, he wrote beautifully and imaginatively. 

Indeed, imagination prevailed over intellect (as an Aristotelian might put it) in the sense that Bradbury was not a systematic thinker.  On the other hand, he was refreshingly resistant to the “smelly little orthodoxies” that prevail in literary circles.  Though more or less a mushy libertarian on what we euphemistically call the “social issues,” Bradbury was in other respects quite conservative.  Recently I was reading Sam Weller’s Listen to the Echoes: The Ray Bradbury Interviews, wherein Bradbury says the following:

Somebody somewhere along the line had the give the taxes back to the people.  Roosevelt never did it, Hoover never did it.  They could have cured the Depression in 1932 when my father was out of work for ten years.  My father suffered.  They should have given him back his tax money.  Nobody thought of that, and nobody did anything.  Kennedy was the first to experiment with it.  The year before he died, there were a few experiments with giving the taxes back, but there was never the chance to really experiment fully, and he died.  So it was never mentioned again until Reagan came along and cut the taxes, and then we began to get jobs.  When he came into office, there were millions of people unemployed.  He lowered taxes all over the United States and created millions of jobs.

About the recent economic crisis, Bradbury said:

We made a lot of mistakes with credit cards, we made a lot of mistakes with mortgages… A lot of people are stupid.  They didn’t pay attention to their expenses.  They had too many credit cards, they spent money without knowing it.

And about the Cold War and the Iraq war:

[Reagan] was one of the best presidents of the last century… [H]e was the first person to have the courage to challenge the Russians to tear down the wall.  Reagan and Pope John Paul II ended the Cold War…

[W]hen President Reagan stood his ground over nuclear disarmament against Gorbachev in Reykjavik, Iceland, it scared Russia.  Gorbachev told me this when I had lunch with him, that Reagan was our best president.  He forced Russia to either spend billions of dollars they didn’t have to keep up the Cold War, or to reconsider negotiating peace…

Had we overthrown Hussein during the first Gulf War, we wouldn’t be in Iraq today.  We blame Bush Two for the war in Iraq, but that was his father’s fault.  But we don’t pay enough attention to the fact that we got rid of a dictator and they have had an election in Iraq.  That’s a good thing.

On matters of religion Bradbury tended toward a vague spirituality.  But while he thought there was little we could know for sure where theology is concerned, he was equally disinclined to accept the dogmas of scientism:

I’m a delicatessen religionist… “Well, how can you believe in Darwin, Lamarck, and Genesis?”  I say, “Because nothing is proven.”  None of it.  So therefore why not have a delicatessen in your head?  I’ll take some of these ideas, some of those and some of that.

Like I said, not a systematic thinker.  But there was a further aspect to his character that made him an especially attractive personality, and something that is a key part of (though of course by no means the whole of) true religion and true conservatism.  As Weller puts it, “Ray lives each day with immense gratitude.”  Not optimism -- though Bradbury certainly had that -- but an attitude of thankfulness for all the good there is in creation.  Many a modern intellectual is constantly pissed off at the world, always on the lookout for something new about which to bitch and moan.  Not Bradbury.  Asked whether it was fame that motivated him to become a writer, Bradbury answered: “Love motivated me.  Love is the answer to everything.  I was in love with life.”

That’s got to count for something when one meets one’s Maker.  RIP.


  1. My fondest memory of Ray Bradbury was seeing an interview with him. The interviewer was talking about Fahrenheit, and sort of leading him in the direction of giving some social commentary on (this was a bigger issue at the time) censorship on TV, etc. I suspect the interviewer may have thought Bradbury would be incensed at the very idea of there being standards like that, etc. Instead...

    Well, the interview is here for those interested.

  2. He really should have steered clear of giving opinions on things he didn't understand, which seems to have been everything outside scifi/fantasy.

  3. Oh Hunt,
    stick a corn cob in it.

    I think the interview is hilarious.
    That must have really broadsided the Onion rep.

  4. Bradbury wasn't afraid to be a cultural iconoclast. He once pointed out that Singing in the Rain is a science fiction movie.