Ray Bradbury was a spirit guide to my younger self, writing real the fantastic places I’d been sure only I in my childish imagination knew existed, while simultaneously illuminating the dark corners of my mundane reality, revealing the beautiful everyday magic hidden there.
In 1973 The Martian Chronicles was required reading in my middle school English class. To this day I remember how many students got confused with the closing lines of the book, and knowing that this was a litmus test for kindred spirits… if you thought the Martians were living underwater I could know you weren’t worthy.
The Martian Chronicles for years held the record as the book I’d read the most times. Can’t remember the count… but it could still set the bar.
The Illustrated Man collection holds favorites of course… among them The Veldt, which my son just read for the first time, and Rocket Summer. So like Bradbury is Rocket Summer, to tell the story of life in the rocket age by describing how a nearby launching pad warms a winter neighborhood, bringing the neighbors out to visit, the ice cream trucks a-jingling and the children out to chase and play in the temporary summer. It’s that very Literary — and humanistic — sensibility that makes his work something more than the political timelines and counted rivets of hard-science Golden Age writers like Clarke or Heinlein.
A beautiful short story that stays with me is not from his scifi collection… The Sound of Summer Running is the story of a young boy’s longing for a pair of new tennis shoes. It tells the simple truth about the untethered feeling a freshly unboxed pair of new sneakers gives, the running like the wind, the flying through the woods.
His Zen in the Art of Writing, which I shared with my daughter when she was a teen, is brilliant and inspiring and is a must read for writers and people who like to read. I give you this from that:
I have come up with a new simile to describe myself lately. It can be yours.
Every morning I jump out of bed and step on a landmine. The landmine is me.
After the explosion, I spend the rest of the day putting the pieces together.
Now, it’s your turn. Jump!