I was a quiet kid. I wouldn’t call myself shy (I had lots of friends and spent inordinately large amounts of time with them at both school and home), but I was a bit of a loner. My life was complicated since my father had an unusual, seasonal job, my mother had her social circles, and my siblings seemed less and less interested in anything their big brother had to offer. I found solace in things—art, toys, TV—but none more so than books. I loved books. Adore them to this day. Have more than I can ever read and yet can’t pass a Barnes and Noble (or a revving of my Kindle Fire) without wondering what I could be missing, and what I need to add to my library.
Because of my surreal upbringing, I formed certain personal rituals as a preteen. My dad would usually divvy out some allowance mid-month (whenever he thought about it, or cared) and I would plot out my spending accordingly. Even after taking into consideration such ‘needs’ as an occasional trip to the movies with friends or a visit to those newfangled fast food restaurants, I always made sure I had my Hallmark money. Now, in my small town of Michigan City, Indiana, the chief hangout was the Marquette Mall. It was a typical minor shopping center—a couple of anchors (Sears, Woolworths, and Carson, Pirie Scott), a large selection of specialty stores, and a card shop that seconded as a newstand. There, along one entire wall, was a world of paperbacks…and possibilities.
For me at the time—1969 to 1973—there was only one kind of fiction: speculative. The mainstream would call it sci-fi, but those of us in the Harlan Ellison know recognize that such a name doesn’t encompass everything that can be included in the genre. Now, I didn’t like horror (too scary) and everything else seemed to be geared toward adults, romantics, or an assignment in a future English class. Yet the moment I saw something by Arthur C. Clarke or Robert A, Heinlein, I was hooked. I would carefully count out my cash, determine what I had to have and when I would want it by, take into consideration any emergencies that might be coming up (doesn’t the County Fair open in another week or so???) and then consider my literary options.
More times than not, I ended up with something by Ray Bradbury. I had been introduced to the amazing author (who died on 6 June at 91) via the seminal short story “August 2026: There Will Come Soft Rains.” My fifth grade teacher thought it would be a good idea if ten to eleven years olds experienced the end of the world via Mr. Bradbury’s high tech treatment. I still remember the robot mice that scurried in to clean up the remainder of the rotting morning meal… or the horrifying outlines of the MIA family seemingly vaporized by an inferred nuclear blast. Along with the poem “Richard Cory” (what exactly was wrong with my elementary school curriculum), “Rains” became a meaningful moment in my life, a turning point of sorts. In combination with my growing affection for film, Bradbury reconfigured who was at the time and was about to become.
I owe it all to him. Whatever I am, and what I may become, is derived directly from those bicycles trips to the Marquette Mall and the return home with a volume or two of Bradbury in my hands. I would scour the stands for the latest release, marvel at the covers for such soon to be worn classics as The Halloween Tree and I Sing the Body Electric. I immediately began paying attention to the various big screen adaptations of his work, wondering if I would ever get to see the controversial takes on Fahrenheit 451 and The Illustrated Man. More fittingly, I contemplated when the next great cinematic epic would be forged out of his unforgettable oeuvre.
It turned out to be a long, long, long… LONG wait.
Yes, it’s really kind of sad. There has been little of value struck from Bradbury’s creative canon in the many years since he first put finger to typewriter. Like Harlan Ellison (who I consider to be another “turning point” author, along with Salman Rushdie), his work has inspired many a motion picture, but few of his stories (or novels) have been directly adapted. We have Francois Truffaut’s complex Fahrenheit take (not a favorite), as well as the just plain weird Illustrated offering. There was Disney’s desire to turn Something Wicked This Way Comes into a kind of mid-‘80s tentpole (it didn’t work) and the recent abomination that was Peter Hyams’ A Sound of Thunder.
It’s TV where Bradbury has been better treated, from early interpretations of his tales by The Twilight Zone and The Outer Limits to a TV mini-series version of The Martian Chronicles and his own Ray Bradbury Theater anthology. We’ve also seen Cartoon Network take on his Halloween Tree while plans for a Dandelion Wine multi-parter have been discussed… and apparently scuttled. Unlike Stephen King, who sees almost all of his work making its way to screens big and small or other noted named like Dean Koontz and Clive Barker who manage to find other media outlets for their muse, Bradbury seems stuck, along with several remarkable names, in the realm of the unfilmable…or the unnecessary.
Like many in his position, Bradbury has been pretty apprehensive about allowing his work to be translated. After seeing the results so far, few could blame him. Yet his stories are so engaging, his ideas so marvelous and outsized that they seem perfectly suited for today’s CG/3D bigger than life spectacle style. One could easily see Alex Proyas or Zack Snyder settling down and delivering on one of his bigger narratives. Even fans of the genre like David Fincher and Frank Darabont could easily make silver screen Bradbury work (the latter has been pimping a Fahrenheit remake for almost a decade). Perhaps now, with his passing, we will see a rekindled interest in his works.
As for me, I still have those memories of tuning the radio to WLS, settling in for the latest early ‘70s hit, and bending the spine of my recently purchased page turner. Soon, without even knowing it, I was whisked away to worlds unknown, to technology which turned a children’s nursery into a deadly version of the African veldt or societies that substitute automatons for grandmothers. Those he’s gone, I still have Ray Bradbury buried deep within me. From his amazing ideas to the way in which he told them, he will remain a part of who I am.