We lost a great one last week.
Indeed, I believe Ray Bradbury was probably the greatest writer of the Golden Age. Don't get me wrong: I'm also a pretty big fan of Robert A. Heinlein. But when it comes to seamlessly melding the "gee whiz!" factor with the timeless human element, Bradbury certainly rises above his contemporaries. It was Bradbury who could, for example, take a fantastic setting like a colony on the planet Venus and use it to weave a universal yarn featuring the casual cruelty of young children.
As I noted back when I reviewed Fahrenheit 451, Bradbury was one of the few science fiction authors who garnered the respect of the literati -- and crucially, he didn't accomplish this by denigrating his sci-fi roots or being false to himself. Instead, he was unfailingly honest in his depiction of human nature, thereby grabbing the attention of the world.
Bradbury grew up poor during the Great Depression and consequently didn't go to college -- yet he could still think rings around our supposed intellectual elites. At mid-century, he foresaw the mind-deadening consequences of total media saturation. He also warned his readers not to succumb to technocratic hubris. And he was clearly a small-c conservative in temperament; throughout his impressive bibliography lurks a consciousness of the immutable flaws of the human soul.
I don't feel sad for Bradbury. He died a nonagenarian, which means his life was longer and richer than any man has a right to expect. I do, however, feel a little sad for the rest of us, as we will no longer be able to pick Bradbury's ginormous brain for new insights.
On the other hand, Bradbury did leave behind a large - and eternal - body of work that we can continue to mine for wisdom. Thus, over the next few months, I will be re-reading and discussing as many classic Bradbury stories as I can acquire. This seems to be the best way to honor Bradbury's legacy.