Much-beloved sci-fi writer Ray Bradbury has died. His science fiction wasn’t very scientific–as he'd be the first to admit. It owed its popularity to his poetic, nostalgic style.
I’m not deeply read in Ray Bradbury. But my impression is that Bradbury peaked early. He basically had to great novels in him (The Martian Chronicles, Dandelion Wine), plus some memorable short stories. The Illustrated Man is really an anthology of disparate short stories.
The Martian Chronicles was written in 1950, and Dandelion Wine in 1957. He lived for another 55 years, but his creative imagination ran dry after that. Not that he didn’t keep writing stuff. But he couldn’t recapture his early triumphs.
Dandelion Wine was a tribute to his halcyon boyhood. But that was a one-time exercise.
He was about 30 when he published The Martian Chronicles, and about 37 when he published Dandelion Wine. Although he died at 91, his best work was written before he hit 40 (although some short stories may be exceptions).
By contrast, Cordwainer-Smith–another science-fiction writers–was doing some of his best work when he died at 53. He clearly had more great stuff in the pipeline.
So what happened to Bradbury? Why did the stream of inspiration run so low in the last five decades of his life? My guess is that his talent was bigger than his worldview.
I’m reminded of Arthur Miller. He died at in 2005, at 89. Wrote many plays. But he’s only remembered for one play: Death of a Salesman–which he penned in 1949, when he was about 34.
I’m also reminded of how Ruskin lost his love of nature after he lost his faith. When he no longer saw the nature world through the eyes of faith, it lost that hierophanic dimension.
Or, consider Sagan’s Contact. I’m thinking of the movie. You have a big build-up. But when we’re finally transported to the alien planet and encounter the alien intelligence, it’s so banal. Such a letdown. That’s because a fictitious alien can’t be any greater than Sagan’s utterly human imagination.
As a Christian, I like to periodically revisit certain places after a long absence. I’m returning to the same place, but in another sense, it’s not the same. Comparing past and present, the same place acquires new meaning with the passage of time. As we age, we have more sense of God’s providence in our lives, for we have more life to compare past and present. We’re further into the narrative arc of God’s story for our lives. The hidden wisdom of God’s purpose in our lives becomes more evident with the passage of time. What seemed bad at the time is better in retrospect. What seemed forgettable at the time is memorable in hindsight. What appeared to be mundane at the time becomes numinous as we look back on God’s subtle guidance. There is always more to find, not by exploring different places, but by exploring the same place at different times of life.
In contrast to Bradbury, Cordwainer-Smith, a convert to Christianity in middle age, was going from strength to strength when he died. As an atheist, Bradbury projected significance onto the world. But a Christian elicits significance from the world.