Too late to fix another drink, the lights are going out. I’ll just listen to the darkness sing, yeah I know what that’s about.
And this morning I learned we lost Ray Bradbury.
In the pantheon of my young years, where science fiction writers were gods (note small g) who lived across the sea in an inaccessible land called America, three reigned supreme: Heinlein, Ray Bradbury, and Clifford Simak. (Yes, I know I’m weird.)
Around those clustered others: Asimov, Anderson, McCaffrey, Clarke, Turtledove too many to name them all, but all eliciting immediate buy orders from the brain on sight.
But those three were supreme, names to be pronounced and treasured, books to be anticipated for months before release.
Heinlein brought me up to a great extent, but Bradbury… Bradbury spoke directly to my poetic soul. The first book I read in English was Dandelion Wine. I still have it, that same copy, all underlined, with notations on the meaning of words on the side. It took me months to read, but it was worth it. And the richness of the words leached into my vocabulary and my own writing.
The first thing I translated in Techniques of Translation was a Ray Bradbury short – and it changed the teacher’s mind about “junky science fiction.”
When I applied to become an exchange student, I started the essay with a quote from Fahrenheit 451. My first married year, I was thrown into raptures of magic the first time I saw an ice-cream truck. There is a vintage carousel near us that is a place of enchantment for me and my children because of Ray Bradbury.
I was smart enough to realize what Ray did I could not do. Sure, I can spin words and lots of them, but the magic that animated HIS words and made reality sparkle and flit with potentiality and power – that I did not have. This realization probably saved me from a lucrative career in “literature.” But I continued to enjoy his way with words, and his way with magic.
The quote above ran through my head when I heard of his death. And sure, I know how to hear darkness sing, because Ray made it sing. But even at the heart of his darkness, at the most scary moments of his stories, there was… humanity: humanity sometimes twisted and turned, but never despicable. Humanity shining and singing: now dark, now bright, always interesting, always alive. That is no mean gift, to spin of darkness a tapestry so enticing that others can find light in it.
And if the lights are going out, as the last of my giants passes from this world, what good is it to wail and beat our chests? What good is it, either, as many of the present pygmies do, to try to stomp down their memory and make ourselves feel good?
Their lights have gone out, but we have these here matches, and maybe they’ll allow us to light something, and set the world of the mind ablaze – as they did.
You go on ahead, Ray. I’m sure even now, in the eternal con bar, Heinlein is pouring some dandelion wine into your glass.
I’ll come, by and by, past the fortune teller and the dark streets of a small American town, circa 1920, across the amusement park where the merry-go-round beckons, across the ravine where dark and golden eyed forms loom, to take my place at the bar.
But meanwhile here there’s work to do. I have this here match. I’m not worthy of any of you. I’m only a small human where giants trod. But I’m going to see if I can set imaginations on fire.
Update: Thank you to Instapundit for the link, and as always, welcome instapundit readers.