I first dipped into science fiction after my family had moved back to Minneapolis when I was 13. I discovered it by walking into a tiny used books store that was just down the block from the barber shop. I walked in and discovered all of these used paperbacks with fantastic illustrations on the front covers that I could buy for 25 or 50 cents, quite affordable for a young man who made $5 for cutting the grass every week in the summer and keeping the walk shoveled in the winter. That was my introduction to sci-fi and among the many authors I soon became acquainted with was one Ray Bradbury.
While I don't remember which book it was that I bought first, I'm pretty sure it was one of his collections of short stories. I didn't even realize how famous he was until I went back to the book store and told the owner, an ancient bearded hippie who had to be more than 30, that this Bradbury guy was pretty good, and it was said like I had discovered a great writer that nobody else had ever heard about. I remember that he tilted his head back and laughed, and then showed me the Bradbury books he had on the shelf, not just the discount table.
He pulled "Fahrenheit 451" off the shelf and handed it to me, asking if I had read it. I said no, but then I saw the sticker that said it was $1.00. He must have seen something on my face, because he said I could have it for 50 cents. So started my Ray Bradbury collection of paperback books. I can't say that I got caught up on all of his older stuff by the time sci-fi diminished as a priority for me 10 years later, but I bet it was close.
Ray Bradbury, one of the greatest science fiction writers, heck, a great writer period, passed away yesterday at age 91 after a long and wonderful life.
There are many sci-fi writers whose work I have really enjoyed over the years. Ray Bradbury has his place among the favorites, though I can't honestly say that overall I elevate his work above the work of my other favorite authors. I will say that I think he did distinguish himself from the others in two important ways.
Bradbury's unmitigated contempt for the stupidity and cruelty of totalitarian regimes and other human failings was often clear in his writing. Other writers did the same during that Cold War era of course, but Bradbury stood out to me in my early teen years. I don't ever remember him explicitly singly out communists or the Soviet Union, but even at that young age I understood his message.
He also had a talent for guiding this reader, in his turbulent early teen years, into thinking about people and situations in ways that other writers didn't. His writing entertained as well of course, and others were thought-provoking too, but more than any other writer that I was reading at the time, Bradbury got me to think about things like values, morality, and empathy that really mattered. It was a time when I was feeling isolated from and tormented by my peers, and his writing helped me greatly. He wasn't the only one who helped me that way, but I will always be grateful for his contribution.
R.I.P. Ray Bradbury.