“I don’t believe in optimism. I believe in optimal behavior. That’s a different thing. If you behave every day of your life to the top of your genetics, what can you do? Test it. Find out. You don’t know—you haven’t done it yet. You must live life at the top of your voice! At the top of your lungs shout and listen to the echoes.”
Rad Bradbury died on Tuesday in Los Angeles. He was 91.
In post World War II America, Bradbury was the first to treat the technology capable of leveling cities as a complicated package of hope and destruction.
Fahrenheit 451, Dandelion Wine, The Illustrated Man, Something Wicked This Way Comes, The Martian Chronicles, will be remembered for their prophetic nature, their metaphor, their optimism, their innocence, and their force.
On June 4, The New Yorker published Bradbury’s auto-biographical piece, “Take Me Home,” wherein he described his frantic imagination:
“You rarely have such fevers later in life that fill your entire day with emotion…It was one frenzy after one elation after one enthusiasm after one hysteria after another. I was always yelling and running somewhere, because I was afraid life was going to be over that very afternoon.”
Bradbury never attended college, but was inspired by a high school English teacher to follow his passion of writing. He wrote short stories as fast as he could—1,000 words a day—so he could produce a new one every week. He figured it wasn’t possible to write 52 bad stories in a row.
In a short documentary about his life, Ray Bradbury: Story of a Writer, he talked to a group of students about his struggles:
The first year I made nothing, the second year I made nothing, the third year I made 10 dollars, the fourth year I made 40 dollars. I remember these. I got these indelibly stamped in there. The fifth year I made 80. The sixth year I made 200. The seventh year I made 800. Eighth year, 1,200. Ninth year, 2,000. Tenth year, 4,000. Eleventh year, 8,000 …unless you’re a mad man, you can’t make do in the art fields! You’ve gotta be inspired and mad and excited and love it more than anything else in the world!
His big break came in 1947 with Homecoming, a short story about a boy, with no supernatural powers of his own, who feels out of place when he attends a family reunion of wolves, and witches, and vampires. Homecoming was picked up by then-editor Truman Capote. The story won an O’Henry Award as one of the best American short stories of the year.
He didn’t publish his first novel until he was 30. The book, named after the auto-ignition temperature of paper, was a massive success. Fahrenheit 451 depicts a dystopian future where books are outlawed and burned in mass. It is the job of so-called firemen to set the books to flame. The result is a world in which decontextualized factoids, and quasi-truths run rampant. A world not too dissimilar fron the one gleaned from constant Internet knowledge absorption. As Bradbury said, “You don’t have to burn books to destroy a culture. Just get people to stop reading them.”
It was the ideas that excited him. He told The Paris Review
Science fiction is the fiction of ideas. Ideas excite me, and as soon as I get excited, the adrenaline gets going and the next thing I know I’m borrowing energy from the ideas themselves. Science fiction is any idea that occurs in the head and doesn’t exist yet, but soon will, and will change everything for everybody, and nothing will ever be the same again. As soon as you have an idea that changes some small part of the world you are writing science fiction. It is always the art of the possible, never the impossible
In a speech at Brown University in 1995, Bradbury said, “Recreate the world in your own image and make it better for your having been here.”
So it was. And now it is.