I posted a brief comment earlier today about the death of Ray Bradbury. But I wanted to say a bit more, so here's a longer commentary, published in The Tyee: Ray Bradbury: The Martian Chronicler. Excerpt:
I vividly recall reading The Martian Chronicles when I was about 10, in 1951-- and being outraged when one of my teachers, having borrowed my paperback copy, returned it in terrible condition. (It was a PocketBook, costing 25 cents, with a gorgeous map on the back cover.)
Now, I gather, Bradbury is on the schools' required-reading lists. But 60 years ago he was strictly extra-curricular -- prominent only in the shabby literary underworld of pulp fiction. He appeared in magazines like Planet, Thrilling Wonder Stories, and Amazing Stories.
But he almost immediately broke out of pulp into the up-market of magazines like Saturday Evening Post and Collier's, the mainstream print media. I followed him there as well, along with millions of other readers in those pre-Internet years.
His mainstream success was partly due to his talents as a writer. Bradbury was simply fun to read, a master of slightly purple prose learned from Thomas Wolfe (a writer now largely forgotten). A Bradbury sentence could be a roller coaster, pumping more sights and sensations between subject and object than most of us thought possible.
But he was also writing in one of the few genres where Americans could talk (obliquely) about the postwar world dawning around them. Having fought a hot war to defend freedom, the U.S. had immediately plunged into a Cold War in which no one dared ask questions. Imagine the year after 9-11, extended indefinitely.
An allegorical America
No one cared, though, about science fiction; Bradbury was making two cents a word writing for an audience of kids like me or a little older. His Martian stories were appreciated individually, but combining them in The Martian Chronicles made them greater than the sum of their parts.