Ray Bradbury, muse of the human imagination
Alex Alben recalls time spent with Ray Bradbury, who passed away last week. The "Fahrenheit 451" author would have been at home in future-embracing Seattle, Alben writes.
Special to The Times
I FIRST met Ray Bradbury in the autumn of 1976, when he traveled up to Stanford University to lecture about America's mission in space. One thing that struck me about the famous author of "Fahrenheit 451" was that he disliked flying so much that he had taken a train up from his home in Southern California.
Until his death at home last week at the age of 91, Bradbury never let that fear stop his imagination from taking interplanetary flight.
We celebrate the 50th anniversary of the World's Fair this year and the innovation it sparked. Bradbury captured the same optimism of invention, but he went a step further and foresaw the dangers of blind adherence to the latest tech gadget.
He was born in Waukegan, Ill., in 1920 and resided in Los Angeles most of his life, but Seattle would have made an ideal home for a man who made his living imagining the future.
Bradbury loved the concepts of the Monorail and Bubbleator introduced in the 1962 Seattle World's Fair. He admired Seattle's technology pioneers, including the Boeing engineers who brought their ingenuity to the International Space Station. He would have been excited about the new crop of employees at Bellevue's Planetary Resources, which aims to mine asteroids and bring their treasures back to Earth.
While earthbound critics might decry the nascent business models for such projects, Bradbury viewed such ventures as necessary to sustain the human imagination and our long-term survival.
Educators continue to introduce high-school students to classic Bradbury stories, such as "Kaleidoscope," an existential tale about stranded astronauts cut loose in space. They should also encourage reading of Bradbury's plays, screenplays and poetry. One his most entertaining works, "Green Shadows, White Whale," recounts his stormy collaboration with director John Huston, with whom he co-wrote the screenplay for the 1956 film "Moby Dick."
To meet Ray Bradbury in person was to encounter a man at ease with himself and his world. He characteristically navigated his house and familiar places in his West L.A. neighborhood on bicycle and in tennis shorts.
He wrote on a stout IBM typewriter in the basement of his home, often interrupted by his favorite cat. He had tremendous personal discipline, striving to write at least 1,000 words every day of his life and encouraging young writers to do the same.
When my first novel was published, he generously provided a quote and introductions to New York agents. For Ray, sharing fame was not a zero-sum game.
Later in life, overcoming his fear of flying, Bradbury made several trips to Paris, savoring Parisian cuisine and the luxuries of the George V Hotel. In 2007, the Ministry of Culture awarded him the Commandeur Ordre des Arts et des Lettres.
The last time I visited with Ray, he had been slowed down by a stroke and shuffled through his home office, still wearing tennis shorts and proudly sporting his French literary pendant. Despite the fog of age, he could still vividly recall the wonder of seeing a carnival at the Santa Monica Pier and riding the L.A. streetcar as a boy.
In his 91 years on planet Earth, he never learned to drive.Alex Alben lives in Seattle. His latest book is "Analog Days — How Technology Rewrote Our Future."