Ray Bradbury, 1920-2012

Ray Bradbury, a master of science fiction whose lyrical evocations of the future reflected both the optimism and the anxieties of his own postwar America, died on Tuesday in Southern California. He was 91.

His death was confirmed to the Associated Press by his daughter, Alexandra Bradbury.

By many estimations Mr. Bradbury was the writer most responsible for bringing modern science fiction into the literary mainstream. His name would appear near the top of any list of major science-fiction writers of the 20th century, beside those of Isaac Asimov, Arthur C. Clarke, Robert A. Heinlein and the Polish author Stanislaw Lem.

In Mr. Bradbury’s lifetime more than eight million copies of his books were sold in 36 languages. They included the short-story collections “The Martian Chronicles,” “The Illustrated Man” and “The Golden Apples of the Sun,” and the novels “Fahrenheit 451” and “Something Wicked This Way Comes.”

And I’m sure you can read up for yourself on exactly who Ray Bradbury was and how important he was to science fiction as a genre and how he transformed our lives on so many levels, and how what he did sparked wave upon wave of social change, and literary change, and artistic revelation. I was fortunate enough to have met the man on three occasions, and to have spoken to him on two of those.

What struck me most about Mr. Bradbury was the way his passion and his belief in his dreams brought him to the life he lived and loved, and what a rich life he had. I don’t remember everything he told me when I spoke to him. It was not so much a conversation as a flow of ideas and passionate exchange.

“Love what you do, and do what you love. It’s the only way to be”, he would say. “Passion about what you want to do will lift you up.”

“Love”, he would say, “is everything.”

And you could see it in his eyes when he spoke. I last saw him at a charity to benefit a public library in Simi Valley, California in 2009. It was clear that he was in failing health, and that though wheelchair bound, he was determined to deliver his message. And at a certain point in the lecture he closed his eyes and tilted his chin up slightly, and recited his sermon of creativity and passion for following the dreams that had led him to this place and time – and it was clear that he was no longer following that passion. He had become the passion, and it flowed through him and was the thing that kept him breathing, possibly the only thing.

And at the end, he said,  “If you want to be a writer, don’t wait for somebody to give you permission. Just go do it. If you want to be a director, or an actor, or a painter, be one. If you need somebody’s permission, I give it now. Go be your dream. Don’t be afraid to jump off the cliff. Just jump. You won’t fall – you can build your wings on the way down.”

Ray Bradbury was one of the important guiding lights in my life as I was growing up.  I was fortunate enough to have been able to tell him so the last time we spoke.

Mr. Bradbury was 91 when he passed from this plane of existence, about six hours ago at this writing. But while other men die, he was simply absorbed by the ocean of love and passion in which he had lived his entire life. At long last, Ray Bradbury is home.

Sleep sweetly, Ray. We’ll all miss you.

- Gene Turnbow