Hours Spent With Mr. Bradbury

Ray Bradbury. AP photo

Ray Bradbury died last week. He was 91, had lived a full life, written many, many books and short stories and fired up millions of imaginations – mine included.

Upon hearing the news, I felt a wave of nostalgia for my teenage years, when writers like Bradbury and the “Big Three” of science fiction – Arthur C. Clarke, Robert Heinlein and Isaac Asimov – enthralled me, filled my bookshelf, and were among the earliest of my many subsequent obsessions. I read every book by those authors, and when I’d exhausted their collections I sought out other sci-fi writers. But these four were my first loves. I’ll always have a special place in my heart for them. Reading their works changed the way I looked at the world, influenced my thinking and broadened my outlook in ways that allowed me to reach (in my mind) for the stars.

Now, so many years later, I have to confess that while the memories of the emotions they sparked are sharp as ever, I can barely remember the stories themselves. So I went online and bought

Fahrenheit 451, and I plan to cozy up to it tonight. It’s about a dystopian world of censorship and government control over actions and minds. It’s about “firemen” whose job is to burn books and the houses of people who try to hide them. Ironically, the fact that I’ll be reading his classic on an iPad would not please Bradbury at all. He loved real, physical books, the kind you can touch and smell. But e-books are here to stay. Sorry, Mr. Bradbury.

After that, I might move on to Asimov’s Foundation series. Then I’ll read Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land and Clarke’s Childhood’s End.

It’ll be interesting. We live in a post Star Trek/Star Wars/Battlestar Galactica world. Will these books seem hopelessly outdated, or will they hold my interest the way they did way back when they were all fairly fresh and new? I’m pretty sure they will. From what I (barely) remember, the themes of most of these books were complex and universal. They were not thinly disguised shoot-’emup space westerns with phaser guns (although I do enjoy those, too). Rather, they were stories that challenged our notions of “normality” and humanity. They delved deep into science and explored politics, religion, race and sexuality. Like all good literature they got me – us – thinking about what lies outside the box, whatever the box may be – your neighborhood, the earth, the universe, the mindset of your family or culture … and they got us asking, “what if?”

With Bradbury’s passing, all the original giants of sci-fi literature are gone. My mission now is to see if their works stand the test of time or if I’m too jaded now to appreciate them.