I was just thinking about Ray Bradbury yesterday as I shook my fist at the sky and groused because Connecticut weather was cloudy and I couldn’t see the transit of Venus. My favorite Ray Bradbury story takes place on Venus—not the broiling rocky soup of carbon dioxide and sulfuric acid clouds that just pinholed our view of the sun yesterday, but on a Venus very similar to our Earth.
On Ray Bradbury’s Venus, rain pours down every day except for one day that only happens every seven years. On that day, the beleaguered citizens of Venus get to see the sun for just a few hours before the clouds roll back in and the rain pours down. A child named Margot, who has been longing to see the sun, gets locked in a closet and forgotten by her classmates on the day that the sun comes out. “All Summer in a Day” gives you that signature Bradbury feeling in your gut, that feeling of dawning horror and discomfort that you get when you reach the ending of one of his stories.
I read The Martian Chronicles about five or six years ago. I think of it as one of my favorite books, even though the details have dimmed except for my memory of three of the stories that it contained. One in which a woman kills her good-for-nothing husband, and one meant to emulate Poe’s “The Fall of the House of Usher.” And then there’s the one about the priest, trying to reinvent religion in the powdery red dust of the Martian plain.
I’ve often wondered if large book selling companies kept tabs on authors who were their deathbeds so that they could quickly roll out what all booksellers know as the death endcap. The death endcap is that display, on the main aisle if you’re lucky and tucked in the back corner if you’re not (although you’re dead, so how lucky could you be?). The sign always says “A Lifetime Remembered,” and the display features some copies of the dead author’s books that have been pumped out from the distribution center almost as quickly as if the bookstore had a direct line to hospice. Great authors must be venerated but, even more importantly, some quick cash must be made off of their demises.
Of course, I never met Ray Bradbury. He existed as a figment of thought for me, only living and breathing through the pages of his novels and stories. Bradbury was one of those authors who just happened to be writing the right thing at the right moment, one of the fortunate ones who actually managed not only to become famous but also to achieve promotion into the category of “literature.” My world is emptier today because he is gone. I feel his absence the way that a child feels the disappointment of a missing puzzle piece. I wonder if anyone will come along to fill the void that he left behind.
That person won’t be me. I have no delusions about my novels being catapulted to “literature” status. But maybe, just maybe, I’ll earn the death endcap someday. “A Lifetime Remembered” and a few scribbles that entertained a few people, even if my death endcap faces the back wall of the store that’s adjacent to the emergency exit.
Ray Bradbury is gone forever. May his death endcap be placed at the front of the store. Even better, let it be turned into a mission table. He earned it.