To understand my enjoyment, obsession, delight with Science Fiction, one has to understand a bit about my early life. I was raised in the Space Race era – the 60’s and 70s. My drawings from first grade on all seemed to be of rockets. I lived in Pasadena, California – home to JPL and Caltech and my childhood friends fathers were scientists and professors who worked on missions that went to Mars, Venus and Jupiter. I even participated in a creative writing and art project sponsored by Caltech to describe what Martians would look like. I spent summers watching the Apollo missions on TV while playing with cereal box toy moon carts. My first completed plastic model was the Apollo Lunar Exploration Module. I was born in the space era, weaned on moon shots, and clothed in extra planetary explorations.
When I was nine or so, I went to a garage sale and picked up a used copy of “Fahrenheit 451” by Ray Bradbury. It was my first introduction to a “dystopian future” although I am sure I wouldn’t have known what that meant and I am not sure the genre had taken hold in Science Fiction yet. Despite a depressing theme, I was captured by the writing: the descriptions, the conflict, the idea and the hope at the end. From that point on, I consumed just about any Science Fiction book I could get a hold of.
At an elementary school book sale, I bought several short story books authored or compiled by Ray Bradbury. I will cite three of his best for your enjoyment. The first was “The Pedestrian”. Bradbury would later say the inspiration for this story was an unpleasant encounter with LAPD late one night. He also said that it could have been the opening chapter of “Fahrenheit 451”. The lead character is a writer who, having a bit of writers block late one night, takes a walk. He is stopped by a driverless police patrol car which cannot fathom: a) why anyone would write and b) why anyone would be out wandering alone. Having determined that the lead character is deviant, he is whisked away to be “corrected”.
The second was “A Sound of Thunder” in which a business offers sportsmen the chance to go back in time and hunt extinct species. This hunt would go back and hunt a Tyrannosaurus Rex. Only something goes horribly wrong. I can’t say more or I would spoil the story, but the descriptions and emotions are amazing. And Bradbury always had a way to add and amazing twist at the end.
The third was from “The Long Rain”. Venus was a planet of mystery at the time. We now know it to be vastly different that Bradbury had imagined it. But the story was a fascinating look at how a group of people might face a crisis. If one looks at the context of the Cold War, the potential for analogy there is striking – do we give up and become lost in the conflict, do we believe ourselves insane at this endless onslaught, or do we persevere to the end only to question if we really have reached safety?
Bradbury’s stories were classic literature views of the state of humanity. He frequently found it wanting, but always found some hope.