Quite a bit has been written in the last week regarding the passing of Ray Bradbury. I didn't know Mr. Bradbury personally, but I loved his writing. When I first heard the word "voice" applied to writing, he was one of the writers who immediately came to my mind.
I've read that he didn't think of himself as a science fiction writer; that he's stated he only wrote one science fiction book (Fahrenheit 451), and that he regarded his books such as The Martian Chronicles as fantasy. I didn't make that distinction when I was a kid raiding my brother's bookshelves or devouring the scant rack of SF/F in the library — it was all the same to me. Wondrous tales about far-off places, be they about outer space or Mars or Green Town, were all I was looking for in those days. And Mr. Bradbury's stories fit the bill in spades.
I know the "Big Three" of science fiction are generally considered to be Isaac Asimov, Arthur C. Clarke, and Robert A. Heinlein. Well, I had my own "Big Four" of speculative fiction: Asimov, Clarke, Heinlein, and Bradbury. Asimov wrote fascinating novels that were as dry as dust. Clarke wrote inspired stories that seemed to be only a few steps away from today's reality. Heinlein wrote amazing tales that dealt (sometimes sneakily, sometimes not) with social themes. Bradbury...Bradbury wrote evocatively of the fantastic in a way which made it at once familiar and utterly alien. And it was Bradbury who taught me to appreciate the short story.
Even the titles of his stories — and his collections of stories — are amazing. Some titles are taken from poems, some, I assume, are his own. Who could resist wanting to read The Illustrated Man, The Golden Apples of the Sun, The Machineries of Joy, or A Medicine for Melancholy?
One short story of his in particular has stayed with me all the years since I first read it as a child: Dark They Were, and Golden Eyed. This story could so easily have been turned into horror and left me shivering. Instead, I read it and was filled with a sense of wonder. Which isn't to say that he couldn't write horror. Something Wicked This Way Comes scared the bejeebus out of me in a way that only two other books — Dracula and The Shining — have ever done.
I was sad when I heard Ray Bradbury had died. However, it would've have been sadder still if the world had never heard his stories. So, thank you, Mr. Bradbury, wherever you are.
A bit of trivia for you: Did you know that Elton John's song Rocket Man was based on Ray Bradbury's short story, The Rocket Man? You can find the story in at least a couple of Bradbury's short story collections, including The Illustrated Man and the 1997 edition of The Golden Apples of the Sun.