Sci Fi and Studies of Everyday Americans

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), March 8, 2009 | Go to article overview

Sci Fi and Studies of Everyday Americans


Byline: James E. Person Jr., SPECIAL TO THE WASHINGTON TIMES

Early in his career, when sales of his short stories to magazine editors were few and far between, Ray Bradbury decided to write at least one story per week, every week, and mail it to a likely publisher. That way, he figured, the odds were in his favor that at least somebody would purchase his stories.

That was then; and in the years before, during and since Mr. Bradbury published such American classics as The Martian Chronicles (1950), Fahrenheit 451 (1953) and Dandelion Wine (1957), he has continued to write a story every week. Do the math: One short story per week over the course of 60-some years. And today, at age 88, he shows no signs of slowing down.

What moves Mr. Bradbury to create new stories and novels? The spirit that informs his work, including his latest collection, We'll Always Have Paris, is summed up in a passage from a letter he wrote many years ago: The thing that drives me most often is an immense gratitude that I was given this one chance to live, to be alive the one time round in a miraculous experience that never ceases to be glorious and dismaying. I accept the whole damn thing. It is neither all beautiful or all terrible, but a wash of multitudinous despairs and exhilarations about which we know nothing.

The despair and the exhilaration, the glory and the dismay, the miraculous gift of life given to this strange creature flawed by sin but made for eternity: the human being. That is the focus of the imagination that pervades these 21 stories and one poem(!). In the first story, titled Massinello Pietro, Mr. Bradbury describes the title character, a St. Francis-like man who surrounds himself with animals and is consumed with the knowledge that in life he is in the midst of something worth celebrating. Pietro muses: The world was full of statues much like he had been once. So many could move no longer, knew no way to even begin to move again in any direction, back, forth, up, down, for life had stung and bit and stunned and beat them to marble silence. So then, if they could move, someone must move for them. There is much of Ray Bradbury in Pietro. Friend, says one character to Pietro, I wish I had your pep.

Mr. Bradbury is widely known as a science fiction writer, though sci-fi forms only a portion of his interests - though it is admittedly a highly significant portion. To a great extent, he is a small-town man, raised long ago in the small-town Midwest - Waukegan, Ill., to be precise, the barely disguised place called Green Town in the novels Dandelion Wine and Farewell Summer (2006) - and his stories often reflect small-town characters and their ways. Both science fiction and studies of everyday, anonymous middle Americans appear in We'll Always Have Paris.

First, as to his fiction of other worlds and the uncanny: In Ma Perkins Comes to Stay, a story set during the Golden Age of radio, a callous businessman too consumed by his work to notice the concerns of anyone but himself gradually discovers, to his growing horror, that the characters of various radio dramas are taking on flesh and blood to his long-suffering wife and business colleagues - and to himself. Another story, Fly Away Home, is set within a new colony of men on Mars. In fresh, skillful execution, this tale could easily be an outtake from The Martian Chronicles, making its first lonely appearance only now, nearly 60 years after the novel's publication. …

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