Paul Greenberg

The news filtered through the great publishing companies, the fan clubs, the writers' guilds. Through the staffs of the few sci-fi pulps and fantasy magazines left. Through the minds of old readers who were once young and still couldn't escape his spell. Through the quiet summer haze settling over the American prairies. Through the deep canyons of crowded cities yearning to breathe free. In the African veldt. The news of his death would even make it to other worlds, delivered by space capsule, and one Earth day become part of Martian chronicles. The news would be related sadly, wistfully, with a sigh and yet a smile, the smile that a good memory brings.

The young would ask who he was, and why word of his death should invoke such a sigh in the old. The old would only think again of those endless summer afternoons when the world still seemed empty and only a story of his existed, engulfing them to the exclusion of all else. As it had engulfed him. The man stayed drunk on writing all his life, and intoxicated the rest of us, those who were lucky enough to encounter his stories.

Was it really science fiction he wrote, when space travel is no longer fiction, or fantasy when Fahrenheit 451 has become ingrained as official state policy in every tyranny that ever was and is ever to come? He is gone now, but he will still be read surreptitiously from Damascus to Beijing. And wherever they burn books before, inevitably, burning people. He would never grow dated, having moved into the future long ago. Scholars might turn up their noses at the mention of his name, but they would read him nevertheless, his books hidden between the covers of their plodding texts where no light ever shines.

They say he wrote fiction, but that is only a technical category in some Dewey Decimal System of the cataloguing mind. Fiction is not the same as false. Quite the contrary. Fiction is the true in a different way, a deeper way often enough. As he demonstrated.

They say his writing was simple, and it was, but that's not the same as simplistic. He was simple the way the power of simple words can be. He was easy to read, but that doesn't guarantee those whose prose is complex enough to require footnotes and commentaries and whole departments of literature have anything to say. The man simply wrote, and wrote simply.

The news came Wednesday: Ray Bradbury is gone. But something tells me he will stay.


Paul Greenberg

Pulitzer Prize-winning Paul Greenberg, one of the most respected and honored commentators in America, is the editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.