The Los Angeles Times has reported on the passing of Ray Bradbury. He leaves behind 11 novels, over 400 novelettes and short stories, at least 45 collections, numerous dramatizations, and various work. Wikipedia has an incomplete bibliography, and the Grand Comics Database lists the various comics adaptations.
Among his many accomplishments:
- Two awards named for him (The Ray Bradbury Award for Outstanding Dramatic Presentation, bestowed by the Science Fiction Writers of America for screenwriting (recently won by Neil Gaiman; The Ray Bradbury Creativity Award, administered by Woodbury University, which bestowed upon him an honorary doctorate in 2003.)
- An impact crater on the Moon, named “Dandelion Crater” by Apollo 15 astronauts.
- An asteroid, 9766 Bradbury.
- An Emmy Award for “The Halloween Tree“.
- The Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters Award, awarded in 2000 from the National Book Foundation.
- The National Medal of Arts
- From his peers: the World Fantasy Award for life achievement, Stoker Award from the Horror Writers Association for life achievement, Science Fiction Writers Association Grand Master, SF Hall of Fame Living Inductee, First Fandom Award, and Science Fiction Poetry Association Grandmaster.
- In 2007, a special citation from the Pulitzer Board, “for his distinguished, prolific and deeply influential career as an unmatched author of science fiction and fantasy.” (John Coltrane was also so recognized.)
- A starship (and starship class) on Star Trek.
However, his greatest honor will probably be the Butterfly Effect, originally presented in his seminal 1952 short story, “A Sound of Thunder”, first published in Colliers. The idea: a small deviation (for example: .506 instead of .506127) can create a far-reaching ripple effect much later. While the Effect is now demonstrated by the flapping of a butterfly’s wings nearby can cause a chaotic event to occur later much farther away, Bradbury wrote the story nine years before Edward Lorenz’s metereological discovery and subsequent paper. It is also a fundamental theory of time travel fiction.
His influence is widespread, as one of the prominent writers of fantastic fiction, first published in 1941. While it is not uncommon now for writers of science fiction or comics to write in a variety of other media, Ray Bradbury was the first, writing for magazines, movies, television, comics, sometimes as a science fiction pioneer.
Little known, though, is his stature as a God of the Geek Pantheon:
- Like many geeks, he spent a lot of time at libraries, even educating himself as an adult when he could not afford to attend college.
- As a member of the Los Angeles Science Fantasy Society while still in high school, he was considered obnoxious by other members.
- Renting a typewriter at UCLA’s Powell Library for ten cents per half-hour, he spent $9.80 to write what would later become Fahrenheit 451.
- He self-published his work via fanzines, published by himself and others, until he sold his first story in 1941.
- Owning his work, he adapted his stories to a variety of mediums: film, television, comics. He frequently appeared on-screen, or heard as a narrator.
- No matter how respected he was, he never gave up his childhood loves.
There’s an interview which appeared in the Spring 2010 issue of the Paris Review. It is well worth a read. At the end, he speaks of romance, and adventure, how dreams can fuel reality, and his meeting Mr. Electrico:
[…]You can’t kill a dream. Social obligation has to come from living with some sense of style, high adventure, and romance. It’s like my friend Mr. Electrico.
That’s the character who makes a brief appearance in Something Wicked This Way Comes, right? And you’ve often spoken of a real-life Mr. Electrico, though no scholar has ever been able to confirm his existence. The story has taken on a kind of mythic stature—the director of the Center for Ray Bradbury Studies calls the search for Mr. Electrico the “Holy Grail” of Bradbury scholarship.
Yes, but he was a real man. That was his real name. Circuses and carnivals were always passing through Illinois during my childhood and I was in love with their mystery. One autumn weekend in 1932, when I was twelve years old, the Dill Brothers Combined Shows came to town. One of the performers was Mr. Electrico. He sat in an electric chair. A stagehand pulled a switch and he was charged with fifty thousand volts of pure electricity. Lightning flashed in his eyes and his hair stood on end.
The next day, I had to go the funeral of one of my favorite uncles. Driving back from the graveyard with my family, I looked down the hill toward the shoreline of Lake Michigan and I saw the tents and the flags of the carnival and I said to my father, Stop the car. He said, What do you mean? And I said, I have to get out. My father was furious with me. He expected me to stay with the family to mourn, but I got out of the car anyway and I ran down the hill toward the carnival.
It didn’t occur to me at the time, but I was running away from death, wasn’t I? I was running toward life. And there was Mr. Electrico sitting on the platform out in front of the carnival and I didn’t know what to say. I was scared of making a fool of myself. I had a magic trick in my pocket, one of those little ball-and-vase tricks—a little container that had a ball in it that you make disappear and reappear—and I got that out and asked, Can you show me how to do this? It was the right thing to do. It made a contact. He knew he was talking to a young magician. He took it, showed me how to do it, gave it back to me, then he looked at my face and said, Would you like to meet those people in that tent over there? Those strange people? And I said, Yes sir, I would. So he led me over there and he hit the tent with his cane and said, Clean up your language! Clean up your language! He took me in, and the first person I met was the illustrated man. Isn’t that wonderful? The Illustrated Man! He called himself the tattooed man, but I changed his name later for my book. I also met the strong man, the fat lady, the trapeze people, the dwarf, and the skeleton. They all became characters.
Mr. Electrico was a beautiful man, see, because he knew that he had a little weird kid there who was twelve years old and wanted lots of things. We walked along the shore of Lake Michigan and he treated me like a grown-up. I talked my big philosophies and he talked his little ones. Then we went out and sat on the dunes near the lake and all of a sudden he leaned over and said, I’m glad you’re back in my life. I said, What do you mean? I don’t know you. He said, You were my best friend outside of Paris in 1918. You were wounded in the Ardennes and you died in my arms there. I’m glad you’re back in the world. You have a different face, a different name, but the soul shining out of your face is the same as my friend. Welcome back.
Now why did he say that? Explain that to me, why? Maybe he had a dead son, maybe he had no sons, maybe he was lonely, maybe he was an ironical jokester. Who knows? It could be that he saw the intensity with which I live. Every once in a while at a book signing I see young boys and girls who are so full of fire that it shines out of their face and you pay more attention to that. Maybe that’s what attracted him.
When I left the carnival that day I stood by the carousel and I watched the horses running around and around to the music of “Beautiful Ohio,” and I cried. Tears streamed down my cheeks. I knew something important had happened to me that day because of Mr. Electrico. I felt changed. He gave me importance, immortality, a mystical gift. My life was turned around completely. It makes me cold all over to think about it, but I went home and within days I started to write. I’ve never stopped.
Seventy-seven years ago, and I’ve remembered it perfectly. I went back and saw him that night. He sat in the chair with his sword, they pulled the switch, and his hair stood up. He reached out with his sword and touched everyone in the front row, boys and girls, men and women, with the electricity that sizzled from the sword. When he came to me, he touched me on the brow, and on the nose, and on the chin, and he said to me, in a whisper, “Live forever.” And I decided to.
And he will, for his fictions are filled with human truths, some unsettling, some uncomfortable, as many truths are.
I’ve been writing for The Beat since July of 2010.
I’ve been reading comics since 1974, collecting since 1984, and spreading the graphic novel gospel since 1994.
I’m a bookseller, a librarian, an amateur scholar, a cool uncle, and a comics evangelist.
Ask me anything!