Ray Bradbury passed away this week at the age of 91; my condolences to his family. Bradbury introduced me to science fiction at the age 9, and I am extremely grateful.
We were lucky when I was young, because my parents forced us, me, my younger brother, and older sister to read at least an hour a day over the summer break. We had a family copy of the World Book Encyclopaedia, and after perusing it and all our children’s books several times, our father insisted on library cards.
Every other Tuesday, he would drive us to the public library for two hours in the evening. The first few weeks while he sat and read the paper or a magazine, we choose books mainly from the children’s/teenager’s section, but occasionally Earth sciences or automobile books. Dad filtered our selection before check out. We were each allowed two or three books and were expected to talk about them at dinner.
I discovered a school boy crime series by Robert Arthur, Jr., Alfred Hitchcock and The Three Investigators: titles like The Secret of Terror Castle, The Mystery of the Whispering Mummy, and The Mystery of the Fiery Eye. Similar to the Hardy Boys, but with three characters who had a club house in a hidden mobile home in one of their father’s junkyard, Arthur’s Three Investigators solved mysteries involving a seemingly paranormal phenomena that always turned out to be fully explainable. To gather information, the trio used an interesting communication technique, “the ghost to ghost hook up.” Each would call five of their friends for general info, and each of those friends would call five friends, and so on. Alfred Hitchcock was a mentor to the investigators, and indirectly engaged the trio.
After the first few weeks, Dad no longer felt the need to edit our choices and just dropped us off for two hours. We still discussed the books at dinner. Tiring of the detective series after 10 or more, I branched out into the full card catalogue. I didn’t use the catalogue until much later, but would browse through all subjects. Some I understood, bike maintenance, insects, history; and others I didn’t have a clue, anatomy, economics, or poetry.
Strolling through the stacks, reading titles at a 90-degree angle, I came upon a very interesting section. It wasn’t hard science like physics, chemistry, or astronomy (although I loved the photos and graphics from some of those books,) but literary science. How could I resist? My first science fiction title to check out and read cover to cover in one sitting was Ray Bradbury’s Martian Chronicles, followed with Robert A. Heinlein’s Have Space Suit Will Travel, and Isaac Asimov’s iRobot. I was hooked. These led to Edgar Rice Burroughs, Frank Hubert, and H.P. Lovecraft. I am glad my parents didn’t have a clue about the last one. I was confused as well about some of Lovecraft’s ideas; I was too young. Bradbury was more interesting then Heinlein and easier to read than Asimov.
My love of science fiction has never wavered. I studied Mathematics in college, earning a B.S., and worked with computers most of my professional life. Although Math is a beautiful absolute language created be human beings for science, pure science has never been enough for me. The scientific method is an amazing thing. A hunch hypothesis to a theory to an absolute fact, with each step tested and modified all along the way in a free exchange of ideas is a wonderful way to examine a life. Add fiction, metaphor, and human weakness, and the absolute gains much more consequence. The theory gains more depth which pricks or curiosity to continue with a hunch and a dream.
Thank you Ray Bradbury for introducing me to the trail.