By Darin L. Hammond
The recent death of Ray Bradbury (June 5, 2012) at 91 induced in me a fit of science fiction (SF) nostalgia, my trek toward literacy. I had been so occupied with everyday concerns, every day, for so long that I neglected my reading roots. My senior year at Middleton High School, Idaho, I fell into literature and reading through the open door of SF stories. Orwell's 1984 was my first love. Bradbury soon followed, reminding me in Dandelion Wine of the joy of new sneakers--what it means to test-pilot white Adidas (with three red, vertical stripes) in a full sprint across the front lawn at the age of nine. New Adidas plus summer equalled pure adrenaline.
Later my senior year, I thought for the first time about the significance of a book burning, at 451 degrees. I thought for the first time. Bradbury engulfed me in his characters' lives, usually for only brief moments. But how profound for a senior to see through the eyes of another person, prior to graduation.
Bradbury's literary teleportation is a remarkable experience at any age, making a reality of the unreal. Now, he returns me from the abyss of an unbelievable, unliveable maturity to my grounded, fantastic, and magic youth.
To a new generation of readers, Bradbury'sMartian Chronicles may seem quaint or naive at first--the movie ridiculous. Technology has, in some ways, outrun and undercut his fiction with science and machines. But the magic of SF and Bradbury lies not in the ability to predict the future. Whether or not sentient beings exist on Mars is beside the point. As in "real" science, SF relies heavily on the possiblity that it might be proven "wrong" at any point with empirical inquiry and experimentation. A scientific theory is valid until proven erroneous.
But, the power of Bradbury persists in spite of anachronisms and inaccuracies. Why? Out of the raw material of the impossible or improbable, SF creates a temporary reality in the minds of readers. In that synaptic space provided by the suspension of disbelief--the subjunctive--anything might happen. The only bounds are created by the author within her or his scientific context. In that synapse resides the potential, the improbable, and the not yet so.
Bradbury's magic will not be lost on future generations because his stories exist outside of existence. The fake is cast in the guise of the real, a simulacra. This sparks in readers of any age a world view that embraces, fears, or hopes for the realm outside the box of reality. Without this space of flux, iPads, mobiles, PCs, and fantastic shoes could not be conceived, and therefore not invented. New generations will always feel the electric buzz of potential within Bradbury's stories. Even if unconsciously, children view the world through the lenses of his stories. The wide open grass fields of potential worlds lie at their feet as an inheritance bestowed by Bradbury and other SF greats.
In my nostalgic revery, I type at my wireless keyboard, and I maneuver with my Bluetooth mouse, connected to my Macbook Pro by thin air. My Bose headphones cancel "noise" with music from my iPod that sounds more real than a live concert (a band called Five Fingered Death Punch). This setup is connected by more air to Pandora, on the web. I am embedded in technology, thick in social media. My Sauchony are kicked aside, and my dogs rest unused. As unbelievable--or stupid--as this sounds, I also have the movie Drive playing on my iPad with a battery that will last almost forever. All this I possess, and Bradbury's words are just as extraordinary as they were in high school. Predictions of truth and error are irrelevant. They do not exist when I read, and that is the power of Bradbury. I am sure he was not surprised by any of these trifles of technology, nor by inconsequential foresight in his stories proven wrong by hindsight.
I appreciate Bradbury for the priceless gift of the improbable, but possible, and for the thinking that is spawned in my brain when I live his worlds. I remember his warning cries from the past and the future. Perhaps most important for me and all readers --because of Ray Bradbury, I'll always cherish the first days of real warmth after spring, the youth of each year:
"It was a quiet morning, the town covered over with darkness and at ease in bed. Summer gathered in the weather, the wind had the proper touch, the breathing of the world was long and warm and slow. You had only to rise, lean from your window, and know that this indeed was the first real time of freedom and living, this was the first morning of summer."
Ray Bradbury, Dandelion Wine, Page 1
Ray Bradbury by the National Endowment for the Arts