The Bradbury Chronicles: Future perfect: Sci-fi/fantasy author awakens each day to the sound of creation. He's only too happy to play along.

February 07, 1996|By Carl Schoettler | Carl Schoettler,SUN STAFF

At 75, Ray Bradbury, the grand master of fantasy and science fiction, still starts each day with the "theater of the morning" playing in his head.

"I hear these voices, just when I awaken at 6 or 7 o'clock, half in and half out of sleep," he says. "I hear these voices talking, and I do what they say."

He types up what his voices say on his IBM Wheelwriter, and they become short stories and novels and poems and essays.

He loves his Wheelwriter because it recalls for him an old-time manual typewriter: black letters appear on white paper.

"It makes the clunking sound of an old Underwood," he says. "I like the sound of creation."

He's oddly old-fashioned for an author who has spent much of his life writing about the future. He doesn't like computers. They make mistakes. He doesn't drive a car either. They kill too many people. He long ago wrote a story about a time to come when you get arrested for taking an evening stroll. He only learned in recent years that he's not too fearful to fly.

He'll fly into Baltimore tomorrow for a lecture sponsored by the Office of Special Events at Johns Hopkins University's Shriver Hall. He's calling it "One Thousand and One Ways to Solve the Future," which might be an overall title for his prolific literary output. His myriad novels and stories have long since passed beyond outer space into the even more rarefied atmosphere of grudging literary acceptance.

In his interpretive biography of Mr. Bradbury, Colorado State University English professor David Mogen says the science-fiction author is in the enviable position of having "an enthusiastic popular following and eloquent praise from major figures in the literary establishment."

But Mr. Mogen notes that even though Mr. Bradbury may be "the world's best-known science-fiction personality, [his] reputation within the science-fiction community itself has always been ambivalent."

Basically, even though Mr. Bradbury championed space travel long before space travel existed, he's always been willing to jettison science for story, which irritates sci-fi purists.

"I want to have fun with science," Mr. Bradbury once said. "I don't want to know how to build a rocket ship, I want to know what can happen when people fly them. It's the people I'm interested in."

But he has won the Grand Master Award from the Science Fiction Writers of America, the World Fantasy Award for Lifetime Achievement, an O. Henry Prize and an award from the National Institute of Arts and Letters.

"I've written every day for 45 years now," Mr. Bradbury says during a long phone conversation. "More than a 1,000 words a day, 2,000 now. I often wonder what people do with their time if they don't do anything. I can't imagine that."

He's at his home just outside Los Angeles, the city he loves. Waukegan, Ill., where he was born in 1920, is the green town he loves. Waukegan inspired countless short stories and the nostalgic villages on the space frontier of Mars in his collection "The Martian Chronicles," which was published in 1950 and established Mr. Bradbury's reputation. His two other most famous works, the growing-up fantasy "Dandelion Wine" and the small-town conformity corrupted into totalitarian book-burning in "Fahrenheit 451," were also based on Waukegan. All three books have not been out print since they were published.

"I don't get up and go to work," Mr. Bradbury says. "I get up and go to play. Writing must never be work or else it's no good. It's gotta be fun. If you hear I retired, it means it has stopped being fun.

"All I need is two hours," he says. "Than I can answer my mail and spoil my cats and spoil my wife."

He and his wife of 48 years, Marguerite, have four cats. "Down from 22," he says. He loves cats, and dogs, too, but dogs get killed too easily by cars.

"My Christmas poem this year was titled 'Dogs Think Every Day Is Christmas,' " he says. "They really do, the way they run to you and love you."

He believes we'd all be better off if we were more like dogs.

"If we all learned to put our heads out the car windows with our tongues out and take the air like dogs," he says. "Don't you envy that?"

He writes a poem one morning, the next a short story, on another an essay, some mornings all three.

"About three weeks ago," he says, "I woke up with these words in my head: 'Just gimme that old brass music . . .' "

He got up and wrote a marching song about 60 or 70 lines long.

"I've been writing poems for Trumpet, a magazine for brass players," he says. "I wrote a poem about Louis Armstrong, published in the Trumpet about three or four years ago."

He's going to speak at a June conference for brass instrument players.

"I plan to find a composer to put my marching poem to music," he says. "And I'm going to get up and sing it."

Mr. Bradbury began writing in earnest at the end of the summer of 1932 when Mr. Electrico arrived in Waukegan with the Dill Brothers carnival. He recalls Mr. Electrico seated in an electric chair, eyes ablaze, white hair on end, sparks sizzling between his teeth.

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