Wednesday, June 6, 2012

In honor of Ray Bradbury

I first became aware of Ray Bradbury in high school. I was going through a dystopia phase, as a melodramatic teenager the idea fascinated me. Making my way through the dystopia holy trinity (1984, Brave New World and Fahrenheit 451) I had my first taste of Bradbury. Although his world wasn't as grand as Huxley's or as overarching as Orwell's, it was his voice that I became interested in. Since then I've read his short stories and, after immersing myself in it, I can't help but see Bradbury as one of the best science fiction writers of all time. With his passing today, I decided to honor him the only way I know how: by writing a blog about him.

It was the least I could do.

You see, Bradbury was the science fiction writer that spoke to me the best. Kurt Vonnegut maybe my favorite author, but he was not strictly science fiction. Bradbury on the other hand wrote exclusively in the genre. What set him apart, however, from his contemporaries was his focus. You have writers like Issac Asimov, Arthur C. Clarke and Robert Heinlein that made science fiction these grand stories, constrained only by whatever dogma they were interested in writing about (and, for Philip K. Dick, whatever drugs he was on at the time). Bradbury was different though. No matter how fantastic the settings were or how many times he mentioned rocket ships, he was more concerned with the human aspect of things. Even when aliens were involved.

Old sci-fi covers are always really cool.

While the future and technology are always important in the genre, Bradbury was more of a soft science fiction. He used the future and technology to not astound us or warn us of the dangers of the atomic age, but instead to give us a look into the soul of the protagonist or a beautiful image. Bradbury understood that the final frontier wasn't in space but instead the emotional landscape inside a person. It is just as foreign a frontier as space and even harder to navigate.

Whoops, got a little too emo there for a second.

Without a human element, science fiction is just as mechanical as the robots that populate its worlds. Bradbury was different though. He never lost sight of the fact that, while science leads to many wonders, it is humanity that has to deal with the fallout. And no matter how marvelous man's ingenuity is, he still falls prey to the same foibles that have plagued him throughout history. Through the prism of science fiction, Bradbury told stories about the vulnerability of man, racism, religion and why you should never keep a lion in a children's room. Stories that penetrated the reader and truly made them think about human nature.

And lion nature.

This is why I enjoy science fiction. When done right, it's not about the technology. Instead it's a statement about contemporary human society, yet told with freedom from the contemporary world's constraints. This is why Bradbury was a master. Because he could do all of that and make it look so damn easy. So, with his passing, I mourn one of the great authors of the 20th century.