Ray Bradbury died at 91 this week. Seems like he was eternal.
I read a lot of his stories as a kid, and I have revisited some of them since. I am no fan of Sci-Fi, believing that most of it consists of plots with a single idea, more or less intriguing and clever, worked out with a style that is usually unremarkable, at best. Bradbury’s writing rarely got above its pulp origins, which is to say it was crude, heavy-handed, often hokey, and calculated to produce a single effect. Sort of like Poe, without the inspired weirdness.
But Bradbury had imagination, and at his best, his stories got a hook into you with their strangeness and sometimes eerie familiarity with real life. He was, as well, a pop-poet of the Cold War nightmare of nuclear annihilation, something that seemed very near and real for thirty or forty years, back then.
I can’t remember the name of one story that has stayed with me: a tale of men living on a planet where the nights are very short, and the sun shines with an intensity that kills in minutes those who don’t seek the shade in time. People live in cliff side caves, but off in the distance, a metallic object can be seen glinting. The humans have short lives, moving through birth, maturity, and death in months, as do all life forms on the hostile planet. We realize that these are descendants of space travellers who crashed on the planet ages ago, and who have evolved in accord with the stresses of the environment. The ship, with its complete protection from the rays of the killing sun, is just too far away to reach at a sprint in the time available before the sun rises to its deadly noon. Until one determined fellow comes along, who just can’t shake his curiosity…