Friday, 8 June 2012

And So Died Ray Bradbury

Looks like I'm not the only one to mourn Ray Bradbury, fantasy and science fiction author, who died on the 5th of June 2012. This cartoon says it all.

Bradbury wasn't just a fantasy and science fiction writer. He was a poet who could squeeze imagery and emotion out of words. I wish I could write like him.

One of my Ray Bradbury favourites is "And So Died Riabouchinska", a poignant love story later dramatised by Alfred Hitchcock for TV (and starring a very young and handsome Charles Bronson before the lines set in).
She was all white stone, with light pouring through the stone and light coming out of the dark eyes with blue tones beneath like fresh mulberries. He was reminded of milk glass and of cream poured into a crystal tumbler.
"You're making me sweat," said the detective. "Do you think I'm a fool? Do you think I don't know love when I see it? I've watched you handle the marionette, I've seen you talk to it, I've seen how you make it react to you. You're in love with the puppet naturally, because you loved the original woman very, very much. I've lived too long not to sense that." 
When he found the next day that she was really gone and there was nowhere to find her, it was like standing in the center of a titanic explosion. All the world was smashed flat and all the echoes of the explosion came back to reverberate at midnight, at four in the morning, at dawn, and he was up early, stunned with the sound of coffee simmering and the sound of matches being struck and cigarettes lit and himself trying to shave and looking at mirrors that were sickening in their distortion.

The movie clip is good, but can hardly capture the magic of Bradbury's prose-poetry.

She was that woman who always seemed to be passing by on days when the shade was green under the tunnels of oaks and elms in the old town, her face shifting with the bright shadows as she walked, until it was all things to all people. She was the fine peaches of summer in the snow of winter, and she was cool milk for cereal on a hot early-June morning. [...] And those rare few days in the world when the climate was balanced as fine as a maple leaf between winds that blew just right, those were the days like Ann Taylor, and should have been so named on the calendar.
As for Bob Spaulding, he was the cousin who walked alone through town on any October evening with a pack of leaves after him like a horde of Hallowe'en mice, or you would see him, like a slow white fish in spring in the tart waters of the Fox Hill Creek, baking brown with the shine of a chestnut to his face by autumn. Or you might hear his voice in those treetops where the wind entertained; dropping down hand by hand, there would come Bob Spaulding to sit alone and look at the world, and later you might see him on the lawn with the ants crawling over his books as he read through the long afternoons alone, or played himself a game of chess on Grandmother's porch, or picked out a solitary tune upon the black piano in the bay window.

One of the wisest and most moving passages is from that story, the words of the 24 year-old teacher to her 13 year-old student:
First, let's admit that we are the greatest and best friends in the world. Let's admit I have never had a student like you, nor have I had as much affection for any boy I've ever known. [...] And let me speak for you -- you've found me to be the nicest teacher of all teachers you've ever known. [...] But there are facts to be faced and an entire way of life to be considered. I've thought this over for a good many days, Bob. Don't think I've missed anything, or been unaware of my own feelings in the matter. Under any normal circumstances our friendship would be odd indeed. But then you are no ordinary boy. I know myself pretty well, I think, and I know I'm not sick, either mentally or physically, and that whatever has evolved here has been a true regard for your character and goodness; but those are not the things we consider in this world, unless they occur in a man of a certain age. In an ideal climate, Bob, maybe someday they will be able to judge the oldness of a person's mind so accurately that they can say, `This is a man, though his body is only thirteen; by some miracle of circumstances and fortune, this is a man, with a man's recognition of responsibility and position and duty'; but until that day, Bob, I'm afraid we're going to have to go by ages and heights and the ordinary way in an ordinary world.
As if a motion-picture projector had jammed a single clear memory frame in his head, he found his mind focused ridiculously on a scene whipped out of childhood. Spring mornings as a boy he found he had leaned from his bedroom window into the snow-smelling air to see the sun sparkle the last icicle of winter. A dripping of white wine, the blood of cool but warming April fell from that clear crystal blade. Minute by minute, December's weapon grew less dangerous. And then at last the icicle fell with the sound of a single chime to the graveled walk below.
A million years ago a naked man on a lonely northern trail saw lightning strike a tree. And while his clan fled, with bare hands he plucked a limb of fire, broiling the flesh of his fingers, to carry it, running in triumph, shielding it from the rain with his body, to his cave, where he shrieked out a laugh and tossed it full on a mound of leaves and gave his people summer. And the tribe crept at last, trembling, near the fire, and they put out their flinching hands and felt the new season in their cave, this small yellow spot of changing weather, and they, too, at last, nervously, smiled. And the gift of fire was theirs.
And here is our cup of energy, fire, vibration, call it what you will, that may well power our cities and sail our ships and light our libraries and tan our children and bake our daily breads and simmer the knowledge of our universe for us for a thousand years until it is well done. Here, from this cup, all good men of science and religion: Drink! Warm yourselves against the night of ignorance, the long snows of superstition, the cold winds of disbelief, and from the great fear of darkness in each man. So: We stretch out our hand with the beggar's cup.... "Ah."
The Cup dipped into the sun. It scooped up a bit of the flesh of God, the blood of the universe, the blazing thought, the blinding philosophy that set out and mothered a galaxy, that idled and swept planets in their fields and summoned or laid to rest lives and livelihoods.
The beautiful hand outside the ship trembled, a tremendous image of his own gesture, sank with oiled silence into the ship body. The Cup, lid shut, dripped yellow flowers and white stars, slid deep. The audiothermometer screamed. The refrigerator system kicked; ammoniated fluids banged the walls like blood in the head of a shrieking idiot.
The captain sat for a long while by the body, feeling many separate things. I feel sad, he thought, and I feel good, and I feel like a boy coming home from school with a handful of dandelions.
His men waited for him to say it out. They waited for him to gather all of the coolness and the whiteness and the welcome and refreshing climate of the word in his mind, and they saw him settle the word, like a bit of ice cream, in his mouth, rolling it gently. [...]
"North," murmured the captain. "North." And they all smiled, as if a wind had come up suddenly in the middle of a hot afternoon.

For the sheer romance of time travel with dinosaur thrills, you can't beat A Sound of Thunder (this site has the original story with illustrations!) It still gives me goose pimples to read

What's with the spelling? You need to read the story to find out!

Well, you get the picture. Nobody, but nobody, could write like Ray Bradbury. And now he's gone.

His epitaph may be most aptly sourced from his own work "Something Wicked This Way Comes":
Death doesn't exist. It never did, it never will. But we've drawn so many pictures of it, so many years, trying to pin it down, comprehend it, we've got to thinking of it as an entity, strangely alive and greedy. All it is, however, is a stopped watch, a loss, an end, a darkness. Nothing.

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