Ray Bradbury never went to college, let alone gained a degree. He often shared how he “graduated from libraries.” See Mr. Bradbury in person, or through video, and you caught a glimpse of the enthusiasm, even joy, that he must have brought to those stacks of books. He relayed how he read practically everything, not just the science fiction that would become his genre but Hemingway, Poe, Wolfe and others.
Mr. Bradbury, who died last week at age 91, turned what he called the “hungry imagination” of his youth into a career of storytelling, eight million copies of his books sold in 36 languages. He long has received credit, and deservedly so, for taking modern science fiction from the relatively obscure to the mainstream of readers.
He did so via familiar themes, deploying them in worlds far removed yet giving them a distinct resonance in the here and now. Thus, Fahrenheit 451 warns about the dangers of McCarthyism and the totalitarian. The Martian Chronicles features the many layers of settling a new land, an American story if ever there was one.
In his way, Mr. Bradbury was inventive enough that he gave life to the notion of the “butterfly effect,” how in evolution one small episode can trigger vast changes. He frequently talked about his openness to discovery. It is his delight that comes through so infectiously. His stories can be chilling, and frightening. What the reader cannot resist is what lays around the corner of a Bradbury tale, what he started to acquire at the public library.