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Fictional Article

by: Vadim Gordin

In the past, Authors have been honored in many ways by their fans. One of the most pequliar has been exibeted by one of Apollo's own astaunats who named a crater on the moon "Dandelion Crater" after one of the few non science fiction books of great sci-fi author Ray Bradbury. Bradbury is no stranger to honors, but this will probably remain one of the strangest honors bestowed upon him.

Ray Bradbury at the Fullerton Library
Winter 1995 -- Revised January 1997
by Chris Jepsen --



Copyright © 1995, by Christopher L. Jepsen.
Portions of this article are excerpted from The Ray Bradbury Review, copyright © 1952 by William F. Nolan.



Depending on how you look at it, Ray Bradbury is either an expert creator of fiction and poetry, or a matchless stretcher of the truth.
Either way, he is still a vital, respected, and well-loved literary giant, over 40 years after publishing his first best-seller, The Martian Chronicles. He is thought of by many as the world's greatest living writer of science fiction and fantasy stories.

Today, he writes not only short stories and novels, but also plays, screenplays, poetry, essays and even a few songs. Over the past few years he has produced his own television series, comic books, books-on-tape and software. At the age of 75, this Los Angeles author is fast becoming one of the new kings of multi-media.

Meeting with fans at the Fullerton Public Library on Nov. 28, 1995, Bradbury exalted in the opportunity to share anecdotes and spin yarns.

He has repeated certain favorite stories many times over the years. Many of these seem too polished and smooth to be 100 percent true. He often seems to embellish the truth for effect. However, his admirers seldom care. Skill and half a century of practice have empowered him to suspend our disbelief.

One of these favored stories concerns an early meeting with his boyhood hero, film director John Huston. Ray acts out the parts of his younger self, with a high and nervous voice, and Huston, with a dead-on bear-like growl.

"[Huston] invited me in, put a drink in my hand, sat me down, sat next to me and said, 'Well Ray, what are you doing during the next year?'

"I said, 'Not much Mr. Huston. Not much.'

"He said, 'Well, I'll tell you what, Ray -- How would you like come live in Ireland and write the screenplay for Moby Dick?'

"I said, 'Gee Mr. Huston, I've never been able to read the damned thing.'"

At this point, the audience erupted with laughter.

"[Huston] said, 'Tell you what, Ray -- Why don't you go home tonight, read as much as you can, come back tomorrow, and tell me if you'll help me kill the white whale.'

"I went home that night and said to my wife, 'Pray for me.' She asked why, and I said, 'Because I have to read a book tonight and do a book report tomorrow."

In another anecdote, Bradbury told how he proposed to his wife, Marguerite.

"I said to her, 'I'm going to the moon. I'm going to Mars. Do you want to come along?' She said, 'Yes.' It was the best damn answer I ever got."

Dr. Willis McNelly, a long time friend of Bradbury's, who has written numerous scholarly articles about his work, says that Bradbury's writing "seems to intensify the ordinary."

Now retired from teaching at Cal State Fullerton, McNelly talked about his friend.

"He is a very kind and loving man," said McNelly. Then he added with a slight smile, "Ray is also a consummate liar."

When Bradbury writes or speaks, the line between solid fact and metaphor gets hazy. He often adds his own details to true stories to make them more interesting or illustrative. It's difficult to tell whether Bradbury has come to believe his own elaboration or not. When discrepancies are pointed out to him, he happily acknowledges them as metaphors. Those who have seen Return of the Jedi are reminded of Sir Alec Guinness arguing that truth depends on one's "certain point of view."

For example, in 1952, Bradbury gave a long and detailed account of a particular childhood experience at the carnival:

"Mr. Electrico was the man at the Labor Day carnival... He was a miracle of magic, seated in the electric chair, swathed in black velvet robes, his face burning like white phosphor, blue sparks hissing from his fingertips if you put out your hand to touch him. ...I went again and again, day and night, to see him take the ten thousand volts the barker said were surging and burning in his frail body...

"...[Mr. Electrico] told me that he had met me before, many years ago, that he had seen my eyes, my look, in the face of a young man who had died in his arms on the battlefields of France in the first World War."

"Of course I was greatly impressed and thrilled with Mr. Electrico's account; I felt myself part of a much larger world than that surrounding me. I felt quite immortal and gifted with a part of someone from the past."

Bradbury, in his enthusiasm, recounted each detail of the event. However, since 1952, the emphasis of the anecdote has shifted. In a 1995 re-telling, Mr. Electrico takes up a large sword during his act, and reaches out with it to dub young Ray with immortality. &qout;Live forever!" shouts Mr. Electrico, as blue lightning crackles down the sword and into the awe-struck boy.

In October of 1995, Bradbury re-told the tale of Mr. Electrico in an appearance on Later, with Conan O'Brian. This time, he asserted that the experience helped direct him toward being a writer.

"What better way is there to become immortal," he asked, "than to write every day of your life?"

In his 1996 story, "The Electrocution," the tale of Mr. Electrico takes one last twist. The character is now Elektra, with a husband who throws the power switch at each show. The side-show electric-chair is used as a metaphor for the couples' rapidly disintegrating relationship.

The more Bradbury twists the facts, the more he is able to wring from them. Being a good storyteller may simply mean keeping a tale's foundation in the truth while being a "consummate liar" when it makes for more interesting reading. This sort of flexibility helps Bradbury sees stories in places others would never think to look.

Walking along a Southern California beach at the age of 29, Bradbury came upon the ruins of an old seaside rollercoaster rusting in the sand and surf.

"I looked at the spinal cord of the roller coaster. I turned to my wife and said, 'I wonder what that dinosaur is doing lying here on the beach?' She was very careful not to answer.

"A few nights later, I awoke in the middle of the night. Something had called me awake. I sat up in bed and looked out the window, and for ten miles up the coast there was nothing but fog and mist and rain. But way out in the Santa Monica Bay, I heard this voice calling over, and over, and over again. It was the foghorn calling.

"I said, 'Yes! That's it! The dinosaur heard the foghorn blowing, thought it was another dinosaur, and rose from a million years of slumber. He swam for an encounter with this other beast, only to discover that it was a damn lighthouse and a damn foghorn. He tore the whole thing down, swam back, and died of a broken heart.'

"The next morning," said Bradbury, "I got up and wrote, 'The Foghorn.'"

Over the years, "The Foghorn" has been adapted into movies, radio shows, books on tape, comic books, and has been included in innumerable story collections and high school English texts.

The question people most frequently ask Bradbury is where he gets his ideas. The tale of finding a dinosaur on the beach is only one of the examples he uses to illustrate how he is inspired.

"I think I'm very fortunate that God gave me the genetics to do what I've done," he said.

Bradbury believes that the trick to success is to love what you're doing with your whole heart. This is hardly an original sentiment, but Bradbury expresses it in his own signature way. He drives the point home like a gospel preacher. His speaking engagement at the Fullerton Library was heavily seasoned with exclamation points.

"Don't let go of your love! Your love! Your love!" he said, pounding the podium rhythmically for emphasis.

"The thing is to be madly, madly in love all the time," he told the audience. "If you're not hyperventilating, there's something wrong. Go home tonight, lie in bed, and say to yourself, 'Why am I not hyperventilating?' There's got to be some reason: Your favorite writer, your favorite poet, your favorite artist, your favorite dancer, or your favorite computerologist."

Bradbury credits this enthusiasm with his ability to get up every morning, go immediately to his electric typewriter and produce another chapter, poem, or essay.

"There's got to be something that when you get out of the bed in the morning, you say, 'I can hardly wait!' I've been that way now since I was a kid. I have morning voices that speak to me at 7:00 and tell me what I'm going to do."

At an early age, Bradbury began compiling his list of manias: Movies, comic strips, Egyptian history, mythology, theater, dinosaurs, Halloween, and of course, dreams of the future.

"When I was eight years old, science fiction magazines came into the country with their fabulous architectural renderings of future cities. Those were the metaphors of a possible future where I might live. I wanted to slip into the covers of the science fiction magazines and live there and never come out because they were so gorgeous."

Indeed, Bradbury followed his muse without hesitation and slipped into the covers of those magazines, taking millions of readers with him.

In October of 1929, when he was nine years old, Bradbury discovered Buck Rogers on the Sunday comics page. He was immediately drawn to the illustrated tale of time travel and adventure, and began to cut out and save the panels. Even now, Bradbury wistfully recounts the early adventures of Buck Rogers and Wilma Deering:

"She had an inertron belt on her back, a device which repelled gravity so you could float and fly. That image of flight and pursuit has stayed with me to this day."

Bradbury's collection of comic strips grew until it started to create problems for him. Other children in his Waukegan, Illinois fifth-grade class were making fun of him.

Upset and self-conscious, he made a rash decision. In what was to become a turning point in his life and philosophy, he threw out his entire collection.

"Two or three days later I broke into tears. I sat down, crying, and said, 'Why are you weeping? Who died?' And the answer was, 'You. You have killed yourself. You have killed the future.'

Having betrayed his passion, young Bradbury looked for a way to repair the damage. An older, wiser Bradbury remembers how he put things right:

"I went back and collected the comic strips and I began to write about the future when I was twelve. After that, I never listened to another damn fool again in my entire life. You can't -- Not about the aesthetic things."

One recent Bradbury project includes a wide variety of the aesthetic disciplines. Part literature, part movie, part game, and with a heavy dose of architecture and science, The Martian Chronicles Adventure CD-ROM is the author's first foray into computer software. After his lecture at the library and one of his popular book-signing events, Bradbury discussed his latest venture.

"It takes it the next step. That's the whole reason for it," he said.

Bradbury feels the designers have done an excellent job of extrapolating from his original vision, and is comfortable with the creative additions made to his Martian landscape.

"Let them jump off from my springboard," he said. "That's where the fun comes. I didn't want to control them. Let them have fun too."

The idea of a Martian Chronicles CD-ROM did not originate with Bradbury himself, but he was happy to see it happen and act as consultant. He describes his role modestly:

"I just said, 'Go do it!' It looks quite lovely."

The author knows little about computer science and doesn't even use a word processor in his writing. Still, he is the father of one of today's hottest technological properties: virtual reality.

In 1946, Bradbury wrote the story, "The Veldt," which described in vivid detail the dangers of playing in a computer-generated environment. At the end of the story, two children lure their parents into a virtual reality playroom, where virtual lions devour them in a simulated Serengeti. All this, 50 years before "VR" gaming arcades, Star Trek holodecks, and The Lawnmower Man.

As time passes, more and more of Bradbury's science-fictions, metaphors, and the little white lies of storytelling are becoming realities.

Now that the technology of "The Veldt" has come to pass, Bradbury is unimpressed with what he sees. However, he recognizes its potential.

"Well, they've got to put a brain in it, don't they? Otherwise, it's meaningless. I'm telling that to people involved with virtual reality all the time."

Does he think the day will come when his once-fictional invention lives up to its promise? Will the programmers and scientists ever get it right?

"They'd better," he said, laughing, "or I'll kick 'em in the balls!"