He took me by the hand and led me to strange and wonderful worlds. He taught me that time does not necessarily move forward, that the past surrounds us, that living on Mars might be preferable to living on Earth. He introduced me to the Golden Apples of the Sun and The Illustrated Man and The Fog Horn and even a middle-of-the-night return of Laurel and Hardy as they moved the piano up that long flight of steps.
His name was Ray Bradbury and he wrote his final sentence last Tuesday.
I knew he was old (91), in poor health; still, he found the words and ideas to write an essay for last week’s New Yorker magazine, a special issue on Science-Fiction. The title of his essay? "Take Me Home." I guess not even this magnificent writer could find an alternate ending, a way to slip past the encroachment of time.
Really, though, is any writer ever dead? His stories and books rest on my bookshelves and speak in my imagination. I see myself at the age of 14 or 15, lying in bed at night by the lamp, totally lost in one of Ray’s worlds. His choice of words, his phrases, his ideas were like music and poetry to me. I still can see the large spread in a 1952 Collier’s Magazine, featuring his story “A Sound of Thunder.” It boggled (love that word) my mind. There’s a line in that story that showed how changing the past, even minutely, can have shattering effect in the present. A traveler to the past comes back to the present, to a world that has changed drastically. He discovers one of his boots is covered with mud. He looks at his boot.
“Embedded in the mud, glistening green and gold and black, was a butterfly, very beautiful and very dead.”
I still have “The Big Book of Science Fiction,” edited by Groff Conklin, published in 1950, signed by Ray on Nov. 14, 1996. I bought that book when it was new, read the stories by Theodore Sturgeon, Murray Leinster, Lester del Rey, Arthur C. Clarke, Robert Heinlein. But the master, for me, was Ray Bradbury. I saw him on two occasions, when he was in St. Louis for book signings. 1990 and 1996. I stood there with my books, making dumb conversation, trying to prolong the moment as long as possible before the line behind me got impatient.
In our digital age of Kindle and Nook, Twitter and Facebook, emails and blogs, a time when publishers are fearful and anybody can publish a manuscript quite easily....In this age, it’s comforting to know that some things remain. I can walk by my book shelves, stop and look at Ray’s books, touch the cover as I would touch a friend on the shoulder.
I can say, “Good to see you, Ray. Glad you’re here.”