I know Ray Bradbury’s name. I know he’s one of the greats of science fiction, and that his passing is the passing of an icon.
But I really can’t say I knew his works. I read one of his short stories- “There Will Come Soft Rains”- when I was in middle school. It made an impression on me as being one of the first stories I read with such concrete futuristic technology. But it didn’t stick in my mind the way some other stories did. I liked it, but I didn’t file it into my memory as something for future use.
Now that I heard of his passing, I find that I can bring that story to mind again. I remember the animals in the walls, the voice that reads aloud poetry, the burned-out silhouettes of the family that once lived in that house. I haven’t read it since seventh grade, but I remember those details. I remember how concretely that story established a completely foreign way of living through the description of a house.
I may not have filed his story away to remember, but when I need to recall it, it’s there. Somehow it stamped itself on my brain, even though I was unaware of it at the time. I can recall the dog, the mental image of which terrified me at the time. I can recall the tree, that simple fact of nature that triumphed over the kind of technology we only dream about. The more I think on it, the more of this story I can recall.
I read it once.
For words to have that kind of staying power, they have to be written by someone masterful. Words are everywhere in our day and age, and in a time where words and stories are constantly changing and passing through, the craft of writing them is more difficult than ever. What makes one story among hundreds of others worth reading? What makes it stick in the brain? Is it the subject matter? The way the individual words are strung together in a pleasing combination? The overall voice that ties the story and the vehicle for it together?
I don’t know. Ray Bradbury may have known, but I don’t know enough of his writings or his works to say for sure. I can say for certain that his ideas had power. I saw the film of Something Wicked This Way Comes when I was high school. I recall the terror of the situations vividly, and though a good part of that is because of the filmmaker, even more of the terror is owed to Bradbury’s original idea. Without his idea that film would never have been made.
Even if I never really knew him, I still can read his essays, savor his works, and through those ideas, gain an understanding of his power as a writer. Ideas and words together make stories have staying power. Bradbury knew how to utilize both, enough to make one short story stick in memory. And for that reason, I can thank him, even though all I knew at the time of his passing was his name.