Wednesday, June 13, 2012

RIP Ray Bradbury

There's not a lot I can say about Ray Bradbury that others haven't, but I feel compelled to talk anyway. He was a hero of mine, and probably is my single favorite writer. In truth he's a great example for anyone who writes, who wants to write, who thinks of the whole writing thing.

I'll keep it focused. First, Bradbury was an absolute master of the short story form. His novels are good too, but he wrote back in the day when short stories were a writer's bread and butter, he produced a lot, and almost inevitably, years of practice refined the talent he already had into something downright amazing. As florid and sentimental as his prose may seem, it's actually efficient; he uses words to carve out images, clear and bright and resonant. It's close to poetry or painting; the story and the characterizations matter, but where he really gets you is in the images, which, however fantastic the subject matter, always have a foot in our world. I've always struggled with the form myself, but every so often I think I should dive back in there, because Bradbury showed me just how much is possible in a small space.

But there's another thing about Bradbury that I think is really important to note on his passing. He was, among literary circles and great writers of his time, a rare optimist. Or at least an idealist. Sure, he may be best known for a great work of dystopian literature that anticipates the dumbing-down of society and the death of the printed word, and he could when inclined write something amazingly brutal, but there is a positivity to his work that stands out as an anomaly. To hear most artists and thinkers these days tell it, things are bad now and will only get worse. Our fiction is increasingly apocalyptic, and we seem to value the bleak and the nihilistic view of the world as more honest.

Bradbury's work speaks to joy. It argues that the ridiculous and the optimistic and the fuzzy-headed are as worthwhile as the cold and rational, and moreso than the despairing. In one of his stories, "The Toynbee Convector", he makes the crucial point that we can't believe the world if we don't believe that we can- we have to envision a better future in order to make it happen. He was no utopian, but he knew that dreams and ideals have a power beyond reality.

We need that. We need it in our politics, our discourse, and our art. Bradbury's passing is a sad thing, but the best way to celebrate his life is to start dreaming a little harder.

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