Kage Baker greatly admired Ray Bradbury. William Shakespeare was one of the gods of her idolotry. I think most literate English speakers would class both of them as masters in their respective crafts – Sweet William in world-class plays, and dear Ray Bradbury in 20th century American literature.
It’s a good news/bad news day for these two venerable gentlemen.
First, the good news. The remains of The Curtain – which was the home base theatre for the Lord Chamberlain’s Men (for whom Shakespeare wrote) between playing at The World and The Globe – long lost to history, have been found. In one of the standard exploratory digs that the UK routinely mandates before digging into the rich heritage in its soil, the theatre was uncovered behind a pub in Shoreditch, scheduled for redevelopment. Not only will it be thoroughly investigated before the redevelopment begins, the theatre site will now become the centrepiece of the new development. Huzzah!
Kage would be dancing a fierce dance of glee over this.
Second, the bad news: Ray Bradbury has died. It’s sad but hardly a surprise – he was 91 and had remained active to the end. But, full of years that he had generously shared with the world, he passed away last night. A real literary voice, as well as one of the Masters of American science fiction, has gone to his next gig.
Kage loved him because he wrote strange beautiful stories like nothing else in science fiction. She didn’t actually care for science fiction as a kid – but Momma did, and was always pressing her favourites on Kage. Momma liked “lyric” science fiction – Bradbury, Zenna Henderson, Anne McCaffrey. She got Kage to read Bradbury by extolling his virtues as a fantasist – at the time, Kage was deep into fantasies by writers like Lord Dunsany, Saki, and C.S. Lewis. She adored the children’s books of the Narnia series, and that led her into Lewis’ Perelandra series – which was also a whole new kind of science fiction.
Bradbury showed Kage how there were only the frailest of boundaries between the flavours of speculative fiction. He wrote pretty hard, classic science fiction; he also wrote supernatural fantasy with a wonderful American atmosphere. His stories enchanted Kage, whether is was the crepuscular romance of A Medicine for Melancholy or the Martian canals brimming with the telepathic dreams of long-dead, gold-eyed lovers. And his writing showed Kage that she could write whatever she wanted, let the world label it whatever it wanted: and it would make no difference. If the story was good, it would fly.
A teenaged girl – even a nascent writer – hates admitting her mother was right. But Momma was, and Kage knew it. She retaliated by turning Momma onto Ursula LeGuin.
Like all of us, Kage cheered and marvelled at Ray Bradbury’s joyously determined longevity. She’d be very sad today, to know that he has departed – but sad because there will be no more stories from that consummate tale-teller; sad for all of us who have literally relied upon his pen our entire lives.
I hope he has gone home to the white towns of his boyhood, where the hills are green beside a free-running stream – except when they are gold with corn and orange with pumpkins. I hope he’s 12 years old again, running barefoot in the warm silky dust of a June twilight, somewhere where there are lightning bugs and cicadas and wonderful, terrible carnivals arriving in the perfumed dark.
Rest in peace, Mr. Bradbury. If that’s what you want.
But I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s not.