By age twelve I'd been reading science fiction (and little else) for two years. I decided on my own that there were two groups of science fiction authors: The Big Four - and everybody else. This was long before I ever read of Heinlein, Clarke and Asimov as "The Big Three" of science fiction. My Big Four was those three plus Ray Bradbury. It was only a decade or two later when I thought to analyze why he wasn't included "officially" as part of the group.
By age twelve I'd been reading science fiction (and little else) for two years. I decided on my own that there were two groups of science fiction authors: The Big Four -- and everybody else. This was long before I ever read of Heinlein, Clarke and Asimov as "The Big Three" of science fiction. My Big Four was those three plus Ray Bradbury. It was only a decade or two later when I thought to analyze why he wasn't included "officially" as part of the group
Bradbury wrote differently. He insisted that, except for Farenheit 451, he did not write science fiction, he wrote fantasy. (I'll get back to that assertion later.) Not only was his style more lyrical, but his stories and characters were often more whimsical. This is revealed by the titles of many of his novels, short stories and collections: "Dark They Were, and Golden Evyed," The Golden Apples of the Sun, The Machineries of Joy, Something Wicked This Way Comes and "The Wonderful Ice Cream Suit." Those are great titles! They lure you in and compel you to discover what enchantments lie behind the title page. And enchantments they were.
There was no place in “science fiction” back in the 50’s and 60’s for things like a sentient planet that defends itself and takes care of its inhabitants, or the ghosts of the authors of humanity’s now-banned books living on Mars. Science fiction then might barely tolerate a story about a sea monster romantically attracted to a lighthouse, but there was no way it could accept humans being changed by Mars gradually into Martians.
The problem was that then, “fantasy” didn’t really describe these stories either. Fantasy was the stuff Tolkien or Howard wrote, or the tales of the Brothers Grimm. But, doggone it, Bradbury’s stories were just so good that they had to be published, and science fiction was the closest genre label available. Ray Bradbury didn’t quite break the mold, but he filled it so full of material that it had no choice but to expand almost beyond recognition.
I want to very briefly mention two of his stories (out of over 500!). The first is “All Summer in a Day.” Granted, I’m a sentimental shmuck, but this story is one of the most emotionally moving stories ever written in any genre. Back when I was teaching junior high and high school English, I was delighted to find this story in one of the lit books.
The second story is one I have not read: “The Murderer.” Earlier I mentioned that I would revisit Bradbury’s assertion that he wrote fantasy rather than science fiction. However, when an author’s story about a future society is revealed decades later to be disturbingly accurate, the designation as “fantasy” loses its validity.
Here’s an excerpt from Wikipedia’s plot synopsis of “The Murderer:” Questioning reveals that the man had one day been driven mad by the constant expectations of communication inflicted upon him by society- his wife and children could speak with him whenever they wished, wherever they were; any person could call on him, and many did, simply to make use of their communications devices. He gives a striking image of a world in which man is constantly bombarded by music, advertisement, propaganda and communication. He then describes his revelation; that if he shut off his phone, he could not be bothered by it. When he arrived home on that day, he discovered his wife, frantic at being out of touch with him for so long. This apparently drives home to him their terrible addiction to technology of communication.
Bradbury wrote that in 1953. I wonder where he kept that crystal ball, and why didn’t he use it more often?
Today we writers enjoy the expanded limits that Ray forced upon the genre of what is now called speculative fiction. There is no longer any worry if a story is science fiction or fantasy; or some odd collaboration of the two, as so many of Bradbury’s stories were. There’s a market for everything, and no sub-genre is any more “legitimate” than any other. Styles also have been freed to roam. Tight and structured or airy and fanciful, all are welcome.
The young writers of today’s speculative fiction probably take this for granted, and that’s not a bad thing. That is part of Ray Bradbury’s gift to us…a bonus, if you will, on top of those wonderful enchanting stories.
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