Thursday, May 13, 2010

Pro and Con on Ray Bradbury

THE first Los Angeles writer many people read -- I think this was true for me -- is Ray Bradbury. The fantasy and science-fiction writer, nearing his 90th birthday, gets a very fine treatment from Nathaniel Rich in Slate this week. (Here for his piece.)

I dedicated the book I co-edited, The Misread City: New Literary Los Angeles, to Bradbury; my partner in crime Dana Gioia and I regarded him as a contemporary myth-maker whose Martian Chronicles stories are among the very finest work ever written about California. I still love that book and some others, such as the macabre, atmospheric The October Country.

"The best stories have a strange familiarity about them," Rich writes in his piece pegged to the Everyman Library The Stories of Ray Bradbury. "They're like long-forgotten acquaintances — you know you've met them somewhere before. "

Rich makes a real case for Bradbury as a wide-ranging talent who deals intelligently with technology, reckons with disillusionment, and put a strong stamp on the horror genre as well. I'm fond of young Mr. Rich, who recently departed the revived Paris Review; I met him in New York and wrote about his wondrous first novel here in a piece that also looked at two other first-time novelists in New York, Ed Park and Keith Gessen. (The Paris Review also has an interview with RB in its latest issue.)

But I should confess here that while my interest in science fiction and fantasy have come back to me with a vengeance over the last few years, I've been quite disappointed with most Bradbury written since the end of the '50s. One of the toughest pieces I've ever had to write was this review of an earlier career-spanning story collection. 

Why the man's output has decline so severely I can't say. I wish Bradbury well of course, and despite my feelings for his work, part of me is pleased to see the renewal of interest in his work. As I say in my piece, Bradbury's early work can serve as a powerful gateway drug to more powerful stuff and for that we're all grateful.


Deborah Atherton said...

You're right about Bradbury - although I have to wonder if some of it wasn't just the age of the artist when he wrote it, but the age of the reader on first reading it - so many of us start reading fantasy/science fiction so young, and nothing, even from the same author, can quite live up after.

Scott Timberg said...

This is certainly true of sf and other genres... Tho I typically go back -- as I did with Bradbury -- to stuff I loved as a teenager and try to gauge in as clear-eyed a way as possible what stands up to an experienced adult reader. Of course, some work does, some doesn't. Can be sobering.