Interviews with 'a confetti storm of a man'

By Sam Weller
Published by Stop Smiling Books, $18.95

Ray Bradbury is arguably the most well-known and popular science fiction writer in the world. His novels The Martian Chronicles and Fahrenheit 451 are standard study fare for high-school students. Others such as The Illustrated Man and Something Wicked This Way Comes are beloved by fans, are often reprinted, and have been filmed.

This book contains interviews done by biographer Sam Weller over the course of a decade. Bradbury is vociferous, outspoken and brimming with enthusiasm for life. “He is a confetti storm of a man, a celebratory blizzard of color and kinetic energy ... undaunted when it comes to sharing his often controversial opinions, from politics, to faith, to the state of contemporary cinema and much more,” says Weller.

One of the great idea men of the last century, Bradbury has explored his moral viewpoints and humanistic themes through a colorful prism of poetic language and fantastic fable.

He’s a master of the short story form. Some of his memorable plots:

In “There Will Come Soft Rains,” a house of the future goes through its daily machine routines, even after human occupants have been eradicated by nuclear annihilation. The voice clock announces the hour, the stove browns toast and fries eggs, robots glide to and fro vacuuming the living space that will never again be used.

In “A Sound of Thunder,” a time traveler steps off the prescribed path onto a butterfly and returns to find his world irrevocably altered. Through this tale, the term “butterfly effect” entered our language.

His stories are in a thousand anthologies and in high-school reading programs. Bradbury tells Weller: “You know why the teachers use me? Because I speak in tongues. I write metaphors. Every one of my stories is a metaphor you can remember. The great religions are all metaphor too. We appreciate things like Daniel, the lion’s den, you know. People remember those metaphors because they are so vivid you can’t get free of them, and that’s what kids like in school. ... All my life I’ve been running through the fields picking up bright objects. I turn them over and say, ‘Hey, there’s a story.’ ”

With the 1953 publication of Fahrenheit 451, Bradbury became known as the world’s foremost visionary. He predicted flat-panel televisions, earbud headphones, 24-hour banking machines, live television broadcasts of fugitive chases, the rise of teen violence and school shootings, the decline of newspapers and reading in general, among other things.

Bradbury has lived in Los Angeles most of his long life, and has never driven a car, yet he was allowed to drive the Rover exploratory vehicle on Mars during a visit to Pasadena’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. A crater on the moon is named for one of his books. In 1971, the crew of Apollo 15 christened a lunar pockmark “Dandelion Crater,” for the Bradbury classic novel Dandelion Wine. Adding to it all, Gene Roddenberry, the late “Star Trek” impresario, named a Star Fleet vessel the USS Bradbury.

He talks about his religious views. “We speak of the higher power in anthropomorphic terms. You can’t do that. ... The universe is the power. The whole universe and you and me in it are part of the energy framework. But we shouldn’t ask questions. We just exist.”

In place of a more structured faith, in Bradbury is an enormous curiosity about and enthusiasm for life and a heightened sense of wonder. Many of his stories describe the machineries for joy -- October colors and weather, the importance of sneakers to kids, the fascinations provided by a traveling carnival with its magic acts and sideshow freaks. He even wrote a poem titled “Joy is the Grace We Say to God.”

He worries about joy, and how it’s being stolen from us.

“I was outside this toy store, and I went in, and when I came out a bunch of boys ran by, all around 12, 13, from the seventh grade maybe. They’re all running down the street. This one boy stopped and stared into the store. Under my breath I said, ‘Go in. Go in.’ And all the other kids said ‘Ah, come on, that’s kids’ stuff.’

“Do you see what they were trying to do to him? They were trying to take away his happiness. We’re always talking about penis envy, but there’s a thing called joy envy. And if people see you’re too happy, if they can do anything, not directly, but they might just feel like they’d like to kick your sandcastle down. And the boy stood there wavering between the toy store and the kids, and finally he ran off with them. And it killed my soul.”

In these interviews, the master storyteller’s subject is himself. As befits the author of Fahrenheit 451 -- one of literature’s great condemnations of censorship -- Bradbury speaks out about his life and his craft, and it makes for fascinating reading.

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