Ray Bradbury always seemed out of synch with the contemporary science fiction milieu: he wrote on a typewriter until the end, was sentimental, loved circuses, dreams, toys, fantasies, myths, loathed technology to the point of never driving a car, and never concerned himself much with scientific fact. Reading Listen to the Echoes, a book of conversations between Bradbury and his biographer Sam Weller, is like entering another world entirely–a little like sitting cross-legged on the rug in Bradbury’s study, I’d imagine, poking around his papers, listening to stories about the old days, and occasionally taking a break to play canasta.
Weller: You have long associated the space race with religion and faith. What is the connection?
Bradbury: Exploring space is our effort to become immortal. If we stay here on Earth, human beings are doomed, because someday the sun will either explode or go out. By going out into space, first back to the moon, then to Mars, and then beyond, man will live forever.
It definitely doesn’t make Bradbury come off as any more avant-garde, but it does clarify him as an authentic individual who cared deeply about the ephemeral magic of creativity. The artists he admired–John Huston, Frederico Fellini, George Bernard Shaw, to name a few–he loved, deeply, with the emotional resonance of a child. His relationship to the creative process was beautiful; he wrote every day and would sometimes sob when re-reading his old work, feeling that it came from somewhere beyond his mind. He was formed by experiences he chose to interpret as mystical: a circus performer who touched his forehead as a child and pronounced “live forever,” for example, or a glimpse at the Apollo lander through the window of the Smithsonian one night, lit up briefly by a bolt of lightning in a rainstorm.
Weller: Did you know Philip K. Dick?
Bradbury: Forty years ago we were together at a bar and we talked. You meet people and you realize they don’t like being alive. They don’t like talking. He seemed pretty negative.
In a climate of “hard” writing, Bradbury was the softest of the O.G. science fiction canonists. The man who famously, in The Martian Chronicles, put oxygen on Mars, didn’t care much for science–or any other system of knowing. He wasn’t impressed by any critical or formal approach to writing. As a self-educated person (and a dreamer), he burned bright for ideas, not ideologies. I think that for Bradbury, science was a functional metaphor, and science fiction a methodology for tapping into grander, more archetypal kinds of stories. When it comes down to it, he wrote fables and myths about the future, not extrapolations.
The Paris Review: Do you think science fiction offers the writer an easier way to get at ideas?
Bradbury: I often use the metaphor of Perseus and the head of Medusa when I speak of science fiction. Instead of looking into the face of truth, into the face of Medusa, you look over your shoulder into the bronze surface of a reflecting shield, then you reach back with your sword and cut off the head of Medusa. Science fiction pretends to look into the future but it’s really looking at a reflection of the truth that is immediately in front of us. So you have a ricochet vision, a ricocheted truth, which enables you to swallow it and have fun with it, instead of being self-conscious and super-intellectual.