Back in 1920, in Waukegan, Illinois, the Earth, Mars, and the whole Universe witnessed the birth of a man whose fiction work would motivate a generation to explore the vast and rich outer space. Most importantly, it would inspire generations to come to be a better version of themselves. One hundred years ago, one of the best fiction writers the world has seen was born: Ray Bradbury.
Here in The Cake, we decided to celebrate his 100th birthday with a special edition where we’ll talk about some of our favorite books and stories made by him (we even have a guest writer!). Also, we’ll give you a brief introduction to his various contributions to high and popular culture. If you haven’t read any of his books, for sure, you have seen a story written by him adapted in a comic, a TV series, or a movie. He was a simple man who loved simple geeky things, and that’s why we love him!
As a writer, Ray Bradbury is well known for being the creator of iconical books such as The Martian Chronicles, Fahrenheit 451, Something Wicked this Way Comes, The Halloween Tree, and The Illustrated Man. In his stories, he explored deep questions about the complexities of being human: he talked about our rejection of the unknown and different, our fear of death and being born, why we seek to love and build communities. For him, the scientific aspects of a science fiction story were barely ornaments to tell a more important message about our existence’s difficulties and beauties.
However, his contributions to (pop) culture were not limited to books. He started his carrier as a 1940’s pulp writer, where he wrote horror and detective stories. He wrote screenplays for movies such as It came From Outer Space (1953)*, Moby Dick (1956), Disney’s Something Wicked this Way Comes (1983), Hanna Barbera’s the Halloween Tree (1981) and for the famous adaptation of director François Truffaut of Fahrenheit 451 (1966).
Some of his stories were adapted in various media: acclaimed tv series such as The Twilight Zone, The Outer Limits, Alfred Hitchcock Presents, and The Alfred Hitchcock Hour have episodes based in short stories made by him. The Oscar-nominated short animation Icarus Montgolfier Wright (1962) was written by him. Also, the acclaimed Simpson’s episode Time and Punishment (1994) of the Treehouse of Horror series was inspired by one of his most famous stories. He made and inspired comics, theater plays, and so much more! As a fun fact, he loved Disneyland to the point that he helped Disney’s Imagineers with the construction of the iconic ride Space Mountain, and he has a tree or better said a Halloween Tree dedicated to him since 2007 in Disney.
He was a man of books and of comics, movies, and geeky stuff as well. He understood that popular media (often treated inferiorly by intellectuals) have an enormous power to communicate brilliant ideas in a way as unique and delightful as books. He loved his work and life, he never stopped being a 20 years old boy in his heart. Thanks for letting us dream of incredible worlds and universes, where the most astonishing thing is our ability to transform them. Thanks for all, Ray, and have a happy birthday!
And now, different bakers (including a special guest) of the cake will talk about some of his favorite texts from him.
The Martian Chronicles
Adjani Gama Dessavre
Ray Bradbury was a man who understood the importance of art in our lives and the importance of nature. I recently read the Martian Chronicles; it is a must-read. Especially in these times, times in which we feel humanity is destroying the world.
The Martian Chronicles is an episodic novel about humanity going to Mars. It starts by showing us four expeditions into this planet
(three unsuccessful ones), and then it tells us what happens once humanity reaches and populates Mars. The two things I love the most is how he captures human essence and his abilities as a storyteller.
Throughout these stories, we see how humans can be so afraid of the unknown, so scared that the first possible reaction is aggression. It tells us that we could have a new planet, all perfect to start all over again, and we would repeat some of our same mistakes. We would even destroy what’s there and build things we find familiar.
Though the story is set on Mars, it is not about funky and bewildering extraterrestrial technology. The critical part is human behavior. This being said, I find enthralling how he paints Martians; they even have psychic abilities and beautiful cities. A detail I love: Martian books. I won’t describe them, I’ll let you see them in your imagination, maybe you’ll like them as much as me.
It is surprising how much you can learn from fantasy and science fiction. The truth is always there mixed with fantastic worlds. Ray Bradbury understood this perfectly. We need books in our life to understand our past, to avoid the same mistakes, to be better. It’d be wonderful that everyone read this book and got the message in it. Let’s not be afraid of what is different, and let’s be the best we can be!
Zen in the Art of Writing
Bradbury has also got a small, though quite a nice collection of non-fiction works. Perhaps the most popular of these is Zen in the Art of Writing, a compilation of essays on his love for… yes, you guessed it right: his love for writing.
I think it’s important to clarify that this book is not an instruction manual, so if you are looking for a practical guide on how to write, this might not be the one you’re looking for. This one is about a man’s passion. We all know Bradbury to be astoundingly prolific, and some of us have read or listened to him encouraging young writers to get down to it and start to work (in this video of a 2001 symposium he gives us some interesting pieces of advice, my personal favorite being ‘Fall in love with movies. Preferably old ones’). And in the essays gathered in Zen, he very frequently makes references to many of his stories, but you don’t have to be a Bradbury connoisseur to find inspiration reading them. What you have to be is passionate about stories and storytelling, and willing to create some yourself.
He starts off Zen by explaining that you only need two things in writing: zest and gusto. And ‘if you are writing without zest, without gusto, without love, without fun, you are only half a writer.’ Your stories will fall apart. He then continues talking lovingly, lightheartedly about subjects that could even be considered philosophical, and in such a command of the English language that just for that you most certainly will enjoy the book.
But he makes two other very important points for those who are still in need of a push, and I mention these because I think they can be the watershed in deciding whether you really, really, want to create stories, like me: don’t do it for the money, and don’t do it for the fame. Do it for you!
A Sound of Thunder
A Sound of Thunder is one of the best-known short stories written by Ray Bradbury. If you haven’t read it, you have probably seen it adapted or reinterpreted in comics, the Simpsons, the Ray Bradbury Theather (a tv series), or many other places. In summary, the text narrates the story of a time-traveling safari expedition that goes back in time to hunt a Tynarisouris rex. However, one member of the safari accidentally changed something in the past, and that change ends up having catastrophic consequences in the future. The plot sounds familiar, right?
A Sound of Thunder is notably recognized as the first known fictional text that explores the Butterfly Effect in the context of time-traveling. The Butterfly Effect is a result studied in chaos theory that is popularly summarized with something similar to the following statement “a butterfly that beats its wings in one corner of the globe can with that single action changes the weather halfway across the world.” A fun fact is that some people erroneously believe that the term Butterfly Effect comes from this text. However, you should know that the name it’s actually associated with the studies made by Edward Lorenz on how small variations on the initial conditions of a deterministic non-linear dynamic system for predicting weather results on significant changes in the prediction. Although A Sound of Thunder was written in 1952 and these theories developed in the 1960s, the name does not relate to Bradbury’s story.
Now, what makes this text great is not its physics accuracy. Many papers have updated the Butterfly Effect’s ideas and how other elements in a model, such as the prediction method being used, have a more significant contribution to a drastic change in its prediction. Some have even simulated how small changes in a past time could affect its future and have disproof the radical changes described by the plot. However, as a fiction writer, Bradbury never really care about the scientific accuracy of its plot, but the message he could tell with these fictional settings. He wanted to give a metaphor on how small changes in our reality or life could have a significant effect on the life of others. Little things such as being kind to someone, an individual fight for the rights of minorities, a book, or play well written (I’m starting to describe the plot of cloud atlas hahaha) could lead to big changes on our current political system. And then these changes could help create a better world for the animals that live in it and us. In the end, we all are butterflies flying around in a world of dinosaurs.
*He actually wrote the treatment for this movie
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Featured image from hyaengallery