Earth to Earth

The roar of school's engine is now grown faint, but the dust it kicked up in its final race over the horizon is only now settling, and my eyes have cleared only a little bit. Still, I can see by the date that it's been far too long since my last entry, and there's plenty I should be talking about.

But I won't be, because Ray Bradbury has died.

Like many a reader before me, I had my first stirrings of interest in science fiction generated by the short stories contained in a Bradbury book. I don't recall which one, alas, but it could have been any of the collections on the shelves of the Chapel Hill Public Library, all of which seemed to have titles far more evocative than the norm: The Golden Apples of the Sun, The Martian Chronicles, R Is for Rocket, S Is for Space, Twice 22, The Illustrated Man, The October Country... In some ways, the best tribute I can pay to Bradbury is that to this day, a good forty years after I first read one of his short stories, I can still call to mind the details of so many of them from the titles alone:

The Veldt
The Golden Apples of the Sun
All Summer in a Day
The Silent Towns
The Scythe
Skeleton
The Fog Horn
Fever Dream
The Wonderful Ice Cream Suit
There Will Come Soft Rains
Way in the Middle of the Air
Usher II
The Anthem Sprinters
The Very Last Night of the World

I'm not sure I can recall more than a handful of titles by any other writer.

I lost myself in his stories on so many occasions I can no longer remember when and where I encountered them; today they feel almost innate, like something passed down from my ancestors, but a handful of moments stick out. I can recall sitting on the Carrboro stoop of some friends of my parents', whiling away some kind of downtime while Mom & Dad visited or ran errands of some sort; I think I had Twice 22 in my hands, and I remember a feeling of horror--I was probably reading "Skeleton" or maybe "Fever Dream." I took The Martian Chronicles to Carolina Basketball Camp, I know, and I couldn't have been more than eleven then; I don't think that was my first exposure to Poe, but I know darned well I'd never read "The Fall of the House of Usher" before reading Bradbury's homage to it. And I know that at some point before we moved away from Sugarberry Road in the summer after I turned thirteen, I stumbled across a PBS broadcast of Francois Truffaut's Fahrenheit 451; I don't recall much about the film, other than the end, when Guy finds the Book People, who memorize their books and then burn them so they can't be taken away. It was in that scene that I first heard the title of a book that I would track down many years later and rather enjoy: Pride and Prejudice.

A death at 91 is hardly unexpected, but it is sad to see one of the last true giants of American science fiction leave Earth forever, especially with so many of his dreams of what the future would hold having gone unfulfilled. We have not conquered Mars, let alone the asteroids or the solar system; we haven't even visited yet. But I take some small comfort, as I suspect Bradbury himself did, in knowing that he contributed to humanity in a way few writers have. He added a richness and a fecundity to our minds that will produce new ideas for many years to come; imaginations will spring up, strong and green and new, in the dark soil he dreamed up for us.

My favorite of his stories is "Kaleidoscope," the tale of a spaceship crew scattered helplessly by an explosion, all tied together by radio, but helpless to reach each other or to direct their final flights. I knew it was a stark and beautiful story long before I knew it wasn't about space travel at all. I also know that there may be no better epitaph for Ray Bradbury, or for any of us on this planet, than the last words of the story, spoken as the protagonist, Hollis, hits Earth's atmosphere with a sense of peace, knowing that his ashes will add to the soil, that his little life will accomplish some small good thing for someone.

The small boy on the country road looked up and screamed. "Look, Mom, look! A falling star!"

The blazing white star fell down the sky of dusk in Illinois. "Make a wish," said his mother. "Make a wish."

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This page contains a single entry by Peter Cashwell published on June 6, 2012 8:20 PM.

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