My brother collected autographed baseball cards. I wrote notes to writers.
In each, I included a self-addressed stamped envelop and an index card for an autograph.
Ray Bradbury was one of the writers who responded.
Bradbury was my gateway drug into science fiction. For many like me, he was the literary equivalent of Peter, Paul and Mary—the one who buffed off the edges and made a genre palatable to a wider audience. Bradbury was the fantasist who your English teacher may actually have approved of (back before they were teaching science fiction and fantasy in colleges).
Even when set on Mars or beyond, Bradbury’s stories were somehow pastoral. His characters all seemed to have run through wheat fields in their youth, getting giddy on dandelion wine.
I soon became more enamored with the character-based speculative fiction of Robert Silverberg and the edge of Harlan Ellison. But I would still return to Bradbury, if for no other reason than to feel safe in some way. When, after moving away from home, I purged most of my science fiction convention, my Bradbury paperbacks were among the few boxes than I held onto.
And still have.
No, I haven’t read them in a while (Besides sharing The Halloween Tree with a daughter years ago). I’m not quite sure how they would hold up. But my memories of “The Fog Horn,” “A Sound of Thunder,” “Boys! Raise Giant Mushrooms in Your Cellar,” “One Timeless Spring” and other stories are clear and important to me. In Bradbury’s words, I never felt talked down to. I felt welcomed into his world.
I’ve loved books ever since. And I still have that autograph. Somewhere.
(FYI: IUPUI is home to the Center for Ray Bradbury Studies. If you want to learn more about him, it’s a good place to start. Click here.)