Ray Bradbury: Quicker Than the Eye
by Chad Lambert
In 1996, I was given a rare opportunity to interview one of my literary heroes. At the time, I was a freelance journalist for the now-defunct Everybody's News, a liberal, anti-establishment tabloid newspaper in Cincinnati, Ohio. One day, my editor called and asked if I would want to do a 15-minute phone interview with Ray Bradbury, who was promoting Quicker Than the Eye, his latest short story collection. Given that I was already reading that book and nearly burst into tears at the mere concept of interacting with one of the greatest writers of our time, I agreed.
From there, I spent several hours in the library researching HOW to interview Ray Bradbury. I'd heard that if you throw him softball questions, he'll call you on it. I already knew everything about him anyway, having read nearly everything he'd written. What I needed to learn was how to hold my own with one of the master conversationalists of the modern era.
On December 5, 1996, I phoned Mr. Bradbury's home in Los Angeles. What was supposed to be a 15-minute interview blossomed into a two-hour conversation. It was, hands down, the most amazing experience of my professional life.
With Mr. Bradbury's passing, I thought it would be an apt tribute to dig up that old newspaper article to share with my friends at Comic Related. Though some of the references are clearly dated, much of what he had to say still resonates in a very profound way.
So, without further ado, here is my interview with Ray Bradbury, which was published in the December 20, 1996 issue of Everybody's News...
For nearly half a century, Ray Bradbury has mesmerized science fiction audiences with the magical realism of his galaxy-sized imagination. Whether he is creating a breathable atmosphere on Mars in The Martian Chronicles or a neo-Orwellian society that outlaws literature in Fahrenheit 451, there is little doubt that Bradbury is one of the master storytellers of our time.
Bradbury's latest work is titled Quicker Than the Eye (Avon, $22), a collection of 21 short stories exploring themes of nostalgia, love, mortality, and literature.
Bradbury, now 76, spoke to Everybody's News from his home in Los Angeles.
How do you decide which stories go into a collection like Quicker Than the Eye?
I had 60 stories to pick from, and it's a matter of taste between my wife, my literary agent, and my editor. If I agree with them, then we put the stories together.
Are any of your short stories collected based on a particular theme or common thread?
Never. They all happen on their own terms for whatever reasons. If something delights me or something terrifies me or something makes me angry, I write about it.
The title Quicker Than the Eye symbolizes the writer as a magician. You are able to establish unexplainable events as a vehicle to reveal the humanity of your characters. Can people relate every day instances in their own lives to these stories?
I think so. In the story "Last Rites," I invent a time machine and go back and tell my love to Edgar Allen Poe and Herman Melville and Oscar Wilde, and I think we all share those feelings. It's a shame that Melville died thinking he was forgotten. It's very frustrating. We all have our favorite writers and what a shame they don't know that we still love them a hundred years later. It's the same with "Another Fine Mess." I've loved Laurel and Hardy all of my life and, every once in a while, I have to pay a tribute to them. I wonder if they still know we love them? They've been dead quite a few years, so let's tell them again, just in case they're listening.
What motivates you to get up every morning and go to the typewriter?
I wake up every day - thank God - excited still. It's the way I've been all my life, ever since I was a kid. I can't help it.
Do you ever get the nefarious writer's block?
Never! If you write about what you love, then you'll never have any problems. All of these books and articles that have been written about writer's block are nonsense. What it means is that you're writing something you shouldn't be writing. When you get writer's block, your subconscious is saying "Why are you doing this?" I've turned down dozens of screenplays over the years because they were things I didn't like.
Is there a particular type of writing you are more comfortable with?
I've published 12 books of poetry that most people don't know exist, two or three musicals, an opera, and I love essays whenever I get a chance to write what I want to write about. Whatever it is, I only write about it if I am crazy about the idea. Whatever you write about has to be from your heart and your soul or things that you like or hate. No one can advise you on that.
What do you think about publications geared toward the marketing and business side of writing?
It's a lot of bull. It's all wrong. I try to warn people. Writer's Digest interviewed me a couple of years ago and I warned them against all the things they stand for. The guy who interviewed me was in tears by the end of the meeting, which was so wonderful because he was a fan. I had to give him a hug and say "Take it easy. I'm not going to bite you. I'm not your uncle or your father or anything."
Do you think science fiction has changed all that much in the last 40 years?
Oh, no! It hasn't changed enough. There's a lot of Dungeons and Dragons still around, as well as the influence of Star Trek and Star Wars and all these characters with their brains on the outside of their heads. I hate that sort of thing. They demean the science fiction genre. Films like Independence Day are dreadful. That film was such an insult to everyone. They've stolen from eight or nine different sources and the whole thing is just meaningless violence for the sake of violence. People go because it's on the big screen and it hits you over the head and you think you're seeing something, but you're not seeing a damn thing. It doesn't say a thing about humanity. A lot of these movies are coming out saying we're reprehensible and that Americans are no good, but the reverse is true. We are one of the finest nations in the world. A lot of people make a lot of money saying we are no good at all.
Where does science fiction need to go in the next decade to recover its credibility?
We have to be many philosophers and many religionists to relate ourselves to the universe. The mystery of existence is still with us. That's the stuff of good science fiction. There's too much Star Trek.
The basic theme of Star Trek, however, is the voyage of discovery and the human journey.
That's not to say I don't enjoy these movies. They are a hell of a lot of fun. I knew Gene Roddenberry for 30 years before he died, and he offered me a chance to write for the show a long time ago. I couldn't do that because they weren't my characters and my ideas. There are bits and pieces that are very nice ideas for a television show and I am glad that they are popular, but it's just not my type of thing.
On December 4, the Mars Pathfinder was launched from Cape Canaveral to study rock surfaces on Mars. What effect do you think this will have on the public opinion of the space program?
All of this stuff is exciting. I hope we can get ourselves together and go back to the moon and stay there and then go on to Mars. I think anything that draws attention to space again is wonderful because the space shuttle is not that much fun. We should have started with the space shuttle 30 years ago and then gone on to the Apollo missions and kept going. The problem is that our politicians aren't interested in space. The only person in the senate who cared about it was Bob Packwood and he's gone because of these stupid women who are suddenly offended 20 years later. If they were so upset, they should have done something the next day.
It has become fashionable these days to blame everything on the media. You voice very strong arguments against television news and magazines.
Everywhere I lecture, I tell people to turn off the local news. It's all murders and rapes and funerals. You watch that for a thousand nights and you think the world is coming to an end, and that mankind is absolutely not worth bothering with. That's where this feeling of doom comes from. It's not true. We're doing quite well. Not as well as we should be doing, but nevertheless we are surviving better than most of the countries in the world. We're still the leader of certain kinds of ideas, but we forget this because of the negative things we see on television and the local news every night.
It's both, really. It's sort of a self-fulfilling prophecy. You can say we want junk and we get junk. If all we get fed is junk, then it increases the appetite for nothingness. When the public demands more moronic fodder, they'll get it. On the other hand, I believe we should be giving them better than that. We need to get the local TV news to stop doing 15-second news bites and completely negative things. Look for the quality shows and stay away from the local news.
What's wrong with our educational system and what can we do to fix it?
You have got to make sure that by the time kids are out of kindergarten and the first grade, they know how to read - completely. No excuses. The teachers have to do it. Who else will if the parents are neglectful? It is up to the teacher to guarantee civilization because unless they do it, the rest of the system can't work. How can you teach something in the fourth grade if no one in the class knows how to read? There's nothing wrong with most teaching that reading can't cure. That would also apply to our drug problem. How much of our drug problem and our criminal problem is due to the ignorance and stupidity of the criminal who is not taught to read? His head is full of emptiness, so they fill that with violence and drugs and you've got a bad society. I think we can cure a good part of the educational system in the first grade and maybe some small part of the drug problem in the process. I have a feeling that the prisons are full of people who can't read. That should be telling us something.
How would you define urban decay based on what's happening today?
First of all, most mayors and city councilmen don't know anything about cities. City fathers don't understand what cities are and how businesses work. They are also not crazy about the ideas of cities. You've got to be a maniac to be a mayor and you really have to care about the future. The malls are there because the cities failed. If your city is not doing what it's supposed to be doing, the mall will come along and say "I've got everything the city once had and I've got it even better - but I've got it in one place." The beginning of the fragmentation of the cities is when large stores move out of the downtown area. They should have been encouraged by tax cuts to stay in the center of town.
Russell Baker of The New York Times wrote that you predicted the O.J. Simpson Bronco chase in the ending of Fahrenheit 451. Virtual reality, interactive television, and even the Walkman are also believed by many to have been conceived in works of yours. How do you handle being known as a space-age prophet?
It's nice to discover you did something without knowing you did it. That's the only way to live. International film director Federico Fellini once said, "Don't tell me what I'm doing. I don't want to know." Just get your work done. If you know what you're doing too well, it stops that process. That's the way I worked with Fahrenheit 451.
The technology you mention is all mindless activity. I lectured to virtual reality people a year ago in Los Angeles and I said, "Do you know you have no brains?" It's all fireworks. I love fireworks, but once they blow, the sky is empty and the smoke blows away. There's no intellectual stimulation to it. I said, "For God's sake, put some ideas in the center of those fireworks so when we come out of the theatre, we know what we've seen."
In the age of user-friendly CD-ROMs, the internet, and multimedia, do you think we are progressing or digressing as a technological society?
It's both. People like Bill Gates are making billions of dollars on it, so why shouldn't they try to convince us that it's all worthwhile? It's all a lot of crap. It's male macho junk. The best place to be creative is the library. You go in there and live there. I've lived there since I was ten. You can't get that kind of creativity and ambiance on the internet.
Chad Lambert is a five-time Howard E. Day Memorial Award finalist and two-time Champion City Award nominee for his work in small press comics, including Possum At Large, Kill the Revisionist, and Return to Point Pleasant. Ray Bradbury referred to Return to Point Pleasant as "superb and frightening! Bravo!"
Lambert's latest work, a series of short stories about his days in radio, will debut in Dark Horse Presents #14, on sale July 18th.
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