When I was in eighth grade my English teacher set aside two classes a week where all we did was read. There were no book reports or projects, no discussion groups, no assigned reading. You picked your own book and you sat and read whatever you wanted for those two classes a week. At the time I read little besides comic books and I never got into the young adult novels that my classmates read back then (and adults read now). For my English class reading I just grabbed whatever ghost-written autobiographies of baseball players that my dad had around. All that changed one day when I went to the library and checked out Ray Bradbury’s The Martian Chronicles.
This afternoon library find changed my life. The Martian Chronicles hooked me in a way that no book ever had before. I would say that I devoured it but I didn’t, compared to the baseball bios, it took me forever. But when I was done I found Fahrenheit 451 and then Something Wicked This Way Comes and then I hunted used bookstores for his collections of short stories. Ray Bradbury single-handedly turned me into a reader.
Ray Bradbury died today at the age of 91. While I would pick up other science fiction authors from time to time, I never had the passion for any of them that I did for Bradbury. Three years ago I reread The Martian Chronicles for the first time since the eighth grade and I was surprised how much I liked it a second time. As an adult I’ve found the world of science fiction and comic books to be dry and inhuman, failing to capture my imagination like when I was twelve. The Martian Chronicles had no such failings, holding up as something fantastical and as something soulful at the same time. Bradbury was the best of science fiction writers in an era filled with good ones, not because he more accurately predicted future technology or created complicated extraordinary worlds, but because he described rocket ships like a poet instead of like an engineer.