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Ray Bradbury's Wild Dreams Become Reality

Science fiction genius Ray Bradbury describes his life, philosophy, and vision.

Fall in love with one idea after another--and immerse yourself in these loves. Follow your heart wherever it leads. Don't ever let anyone talk you out of your dreams.

Ray Bradbury has lived his whole life by these principles.

He learned these lessons early. In 5th grade, his classmates made fun of his habit of collecting Buck Rogers comic strips. "I'd decided I belonged in the future. They didn't believe." This one and only time in his life, he gave into peer pressure and destroyed his collection--but entered a period of deep grief and depression. "I tore up the future! What could I do about it?" Finally, the obvious thought came to him: "Collect Buck Rogers comic strips and make yourself whole again. I never listened to one damn fool [who told him something couldn't be done] after that."

Retirement is not a word in Bradbury's vocabulary. At 77, he's as busy and joyful in his work as ever. He's just done new screenplays for Fahrenheit 451 and The Martian Chronicles, his two best-known works‹along with two books of poetry, a new short story collection, and a video script called "The Wonderful Ice Cream Suit."--all scheduled for release in 1998. And these are just the latest chapters in a stunning career that includes over 500 publications (some of them, in this writer's opinion, among the most brilliant and well-crafted works of fiction in any genre). Bradbury almost single-handedly created literary, socially-conscious science fiction--but first and foremost, he writes about human beings. One of my favorite Bradbury stories, "The Terrible Conflagration Up at the Place," has no science fiction at all, but involves the lord of an Irish manor turning the tables on the rebels who come to burn his mansion.

The new movies are not small potatoes: "Fahrenheit" will star Mel Gibson, and "The Martian Chronicles" is being produced by Steven Spielberg. Both books have been turned into movies before, but says Bradbury, "I keep the rights and can do it over and over again until we get it right."

He is passionate about huge areas of life and science. "Envy me my hyperventilation! I haven't calmed down since I was 3," he grins. "Have you fallen in love with something? If not, it's time to search. Go to the library. Take the books off the shelf and fall in love! Find something so wonderful you never want to quit. I don't want you to be at peace, I want you to be excited!" Libraries, says Bradbury, have an immediacy, a sensory experience that can't be matched using a home computer to surf the Internet.

"I've got dozens of loves! There are 365 days of the year to be in love with things." Among Bradbury's many loves: world's fairs, movies--he claims to have seen almost every one made until about ten years ago--cartography, archaeology, natural history, astronomy, literature (he's a voracious reader), animation--and, of course, space travel. "We're meant to go to the moon; we should never have left. All they need is one-tenth of one percent of the military budget. We could go to the moon," establish a permanent presence there, and "launch a manned mission [from the moon] to the great canyon of Mars. It's a substitute for earth--and it's stunning in its truth! 100,000 years from now, your children's children's children will thank us--[space travel's purpose is] so they can live forever. It's religious--[going] into the cosmos."

To Bradbury, the day humans landed on the moon in the summer of 1969 was "the most important thing we've ever done. It was the night for all mankind, all our hopes and dreams, the greatest night in the history of the world; we are free of gravity!"

Bradbury was inspired to become a writer when he was 12, growing up in Waukeegan, Illinois. A traveling carnival came to town, and young Bradbury sat in the audience of "Mr. Electrico," doing stunts with an electric chair. "He pointed at me, touched me with his electric sword--my hair stood on end--and said, 'Live forever!' God, that's great advice!" The next day, he sought out Mr. Electrico at the carnival grounds. After first introducing the boy to all the carnies, "he took me down to the lake shore and talked his small philosophies and I talked my big ones. He said, 'We've met before. You were my best friend. You died in my arms in 1918, in France'--two years before I was born.

"I knew something special had happened in my life. I stood by the carousel and wept. Within three weeks, I started writing short stories­-every day of my life for 65 years. I lie in bed at 7:00, leap out and write down the metaphors. By 10:00, I have a short story."

Though he writes constantly, there were times it was a challenge. "I wrote Fahrenheit 451 in the basement of the UCLA Library; I needed someplace to hide out because I had a house full of children. You rent a typewriter, 10 cents per half hour, and you type like hell. I spent $9.80, and in 9 days, I had i>Fahrenheit 451! I didn't write for kids; I wrote for me--to have fun, to have joy. I never thought it would be in print 47 years."

Other early influences include the Chicago World's Fair--"I wanted to stay and live in those beautiful high buildings." Bradbury was shocked to find out they would be demolished when the fair ended. "How can you tear down the future when it shows you how to live forever?"

Also, a friend who used to build model dinosaurs. "We promised each other we'd always love dinosaurs. we'd grow old but never grow up." Decades later, he became a major force in Hollywood horror movies. When Bradbury presented him with an Oscar, "I was proud of myself for keeping our love intact. That changed my life."

In fact, honoring his friend with the love of dinosaurs led, through a rather twisted route, to Bradbury's first big break. As a young married man, Bradbury was strolling with his wife on the Venice, California beachfront. They "came upon the ruins of the roller coaster" that had recently been torn down. "I said, 'I wonder what that dinosaur's doing on the beach?' A few nights later, I heard a foghorn. The dinosaur went looking for another dinosaur, and died of a broken heart. The next morning, I wrote "The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms." It was my first big sale, to the Saturday Evening Post."

Bradbury's entry into screenwriting was similarly serendipitous. He had long been an admirer of film director John Huston, whose credits include "The Treasure of the Sierra Madre," "The Maltese Falcon," and other classics.

Bradbury had said that he'd write a screenplay "when John Huston asks me." After his third book was published, Bradbury arranged to meet him. Two years later, he got the call. Huston wanted him to write the screenplay for "Moby Dick"--a book that Bradbury confessed he'd never been able to get through. Huston told him, "Read as much as you can and tell me tomorrow if you can help me kill the white whale." This time, at age 33, Bradbury was ready for the book and fell in love with it. With a six-fold increase in earnings and an expense-paid trip to Europe, Bradbury took the job.

But one day, "I turned to John Huston and said, 'How did I get this job?'"

Turned out it wasn't The Martian Chronicles or The Illustrated Man--"It was that story about the dinosaur," Huston replied, "It had the spirit of Melville."

According to Bradbury, "Melville and I had the same midwives: the Bible, Shakespeare. Melville had poor eyesight. he couldn't read Shakespeare because the print was too small. Then he found a large-type edition, threw out his whaling equipment and wrote Moby Dick in a few months."

Melville awakened new passions in him, and these in turn led to new opportunities. "I re-read Jules Verne. No one ever noticed his Captain Nemo is the twin of Captain Ahab. Live inside of the whale and call it the Nautilus. I was the first person to write about it."

Two months later, he was asked to meet with the government agents in charge of the U.S. pavilion at the 1939 New York World's Fair--they'd read his essay. One of the officials said, "'I've come to give you a $50 million building.' I said, 'come in, come in!'" He was given the top floor and asked to create a 16-minute history of the U.S. with full symphony orchestra and narration. "Remember that boy who didn't want to go home from the World's Fair? Now they gave me a building and I was at the fair for two years."

Next, Disney Studios asked him to create a 14-minute history of communication, also with full orchestra and narration. "All of this because of my craziness and falling in love with all the wrong things."

Later, he was commissioned by the planetarium in Washington, DC to create "The Great Shout in the Sky," a space education program. When Washington rejected the work, he took it to Los Angeles, where he's lived since he was a teenager. "It's still playing after 14 years--and I stand in the shadows and watch kids crying" because they're moved by the show.

Bradbury's almost uncontainable love of life can sound grandiose at times--but he really means it: "What is the function of mankind amidst the vast universe? To witness and celebrate! Look upon the Creator, the stunning terror of it all, and celebrate--otherwise, why are we here? What's the use of a universe that exists but is not seen? Your job is to see, to appreciate--but [also] to work, improve yourself, improve the world. We represent the flesh of the godhead, and we are beholden to the gift!"

Order Ray Bradbury's Books From The Links Below

Farenheit 451
The Martian Chronicles
The Illustrated Man
Something Wicked this Way Comes
Dandelion Wine
The October Country
Quicker Than the Eye
A Medicine for Melancholy and Other Stories
The Golden Apples of the Sun and Other Stories
I Sing the Body Electric, and Other Stories
Driving Blind
Other works by Bradbury

Shel Horowitz, Editor of Global Travel Review, is author of The Penny-Pinching Hedonist: How to Live Like Royalty with a Peasant's Pocketbook and Marketing Without Megabucks: How to Sell Anything on a Shoestring.

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