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August 22: Ray Bradbury

Ray Bradbury (1920)

Ray Bradbury

It was on this date, August 22, 1920, that prolific science fiction author Ray Douglas Bradbury was born in Waukegan, Illinois. His formal education ended when he graduated from a Los Angeles high school in 1938. He became a full-time writer in 1943. Bradbury has published more than thirty books, including about 600 short stories, numerous poems, essays, and plays. He has been awarded the O. Henry Memorial Award, the World Fantasy Award for Lifetime Achievement, the Grand Master Award from the Science Fiction Writers of America, the PEN Center USA West Lifetime Achievement Award, and the National Book Foundation Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters.

Bradbury wrote the script for director John Huston's 1956 film version of Herman Melville's Moby Dick, but he is best known for his science fiction and fantasy works. The Martian Chronicles (1950) describes the first attempts of Earth people to conquer and colonize Mars; The Illustrated Man (1951) is about a tatooed man whose markings move and tell stories; Fahrenheit 451 (1953), which helped to launch Playboy magazine, is a cautionary tale about censorship, set in a future society where the written word is forbidden, and firemen burn books instead of putting out fires; and Something Wicked This Way Comes (1962) influenced Stan Lee when he created his villain, "Ringmaster," and Stephen King's IT.

Bradbury's fiction sometimes even anticipates the future. A 1949 short story called "The Veldt" described microwave ovens and virtual reality – yet the author himself admits to being a skeptic of technology. As for his attitudes toward religion, interviewers rarely ask and Bradbury rarely offers information. He married his wife, Maggie, in a Los Angeles Episcopal church on 27 September 1947, and he has remarked that his writing habit is "God-given. It's not discipline; it's passion. Passion is the discipline." But Bradbury seems to have a theistic, if not a Pantheistic, view of the universe.

In an interview about his 2001 book, a ghost story called From the Dust Returned, Bradbury says, "Ghosts are memories, so there are no real ghosts, the way we imagine. It's a nice idea, ghosts, just like flying saucers are a nice idea, but it's a complete lie. Ghosts are just memories." And in a commencement Speech to the Caltech Class of 2000, Bradbury answers the question, "Why are we here?" –

We don't believe in God – we pretend not to believe in God. Well, you've got to believe in the universe, don't you? You have to believe in the universe. Now, why are you here? I'll tell you why you're here. You've been put here because the universe exists. There's no use the universe existing, if there isn't someone there to see it. Your job is to see it. Your job is to witness. To witness; to understand; to comprehend and to celebrate! To celebrate with your lives. ... you're here one time, you're not coming back. And you owe, don't you? You owe back for the gift of life.

Originally published August 2003 by Ronald Bruce Meyer.

Ronald Bruce Meyer

Our Fearless Leader.

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March 31: René Descartes

Descartes reasoned from the principle that nothing can be believed to be true until it is evidently true. The only assumption he would allow was his own existence: I think, therefore I am.

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