Tuesday, June 29, 2010

B is for Bradbury

I was in the sixth grade, Carver Middle School in Century, FL, and I had just recently discovered the science fiction section of the library. I recall checking out Twenty-Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, and trying to wrap my head around the concept that the initial section was fiction, as it was presented as fact. (I finally got that.) I soon read The First Men in the Moon and Foundation from that section as well. (I had already at this point — having started seriously reading novels in fifth grade — read a couple of Tarzan novels, War of the Worlds, and The Time Machine.)

And then I found Ray Bradbury. In particular, I found this book. Hardcover, copyright 1966. Artwork like a psychedelic spacesuit/chrysalis spinning in space.

And a lifelong love followed.

Something in this collection made 12-year-old me see the world with new eyes. Lightning in the heart. Oxygen directly to the brain. It made me read prose and recognize the poetry in it. It made me think about the future and the past, all at once in the now.

Some of the stories remain with me now, as vibrantly as if I had just read them:

Chrysalis, in which three scientists await the emergence of their fellow researcher from a green shell.

Pillar of Fire, in which a dead man returns to haunt a society that has banished the fear of the grave, along with its cemeteries and its frightening fiction.

The Man, in which astronauts chase the retreating tale of a saviour who seems always one planet ahead of them.

The Pedestrian, in which a man goes for a walk around his city early one evening in a time where only the mentally ill would leave their homes and televisions. (This story has come true in recent years, as people made the mistake of taking a walk around their gated communities after dark and were stopped for questioning.)

Come Into My Cellar, a story fit for the Twilight Zone, in which alien mushrooms are growing in the dark.

The Million-Year Picnic, and Dark They Were, and Golden Eyed — a pair of tales from The Martian Chronicles, which was the second book I read after this one (the first being "R is for Rocket.") In the former, a family escapes war-ravaged Earth for a new life on Mars, and in the second brilliant follow-up, soldiers arrive to "rescue" the colonists, who have been changed by their environment into something ancient and beautiful.

I'm writing about this now because I found this book in a yard sale on Saturday and it all came rushing back to me. Hardback, copyright 1966. With a middle school's library stamp on the title page, but otherwise in excellent condition. I paid 75 cents for it, and would have paid much much much more. It is a treasure, a miracle of rare device, a time machine, a memory come back from dead. I owe so much of my love of the word to this book, to this author, to these stories.

If you never read anything else that I suggest on this blog, please seek out and read this book. If you can't find this one, then pick up just about anything else with Bradbury's name on it. You really must read The Martian Chronicles, and October Country, and Fahrenheit 451. You really must read Dandelion Wine and The Halloween Tree. And if you are a writer, you owe it to yourself to read the man's Zen in the Art of Writing.

I leave you with this amazing true story from Bradbury's own website, in which he writes about the strange carnival experience of his 12th year, and how Mr. Electrico told him to "Live Forever!" and why he became a writer.

"... I have long since lost track of Mr. Electrico, but I wish that he existed somewhere in the world so that I could run to him, embrace him, and thank him for changing my life and helping me become a writer."

Mr. Bradbury, you were my Mr. Electrico. Thank you for changing my life and helping me become a writer

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