Posts tagged ‘Ray Bradbury’

Frederik Pohl Ray Bradbury
Frederik Pohl (2009)   Ray Bradbury (1975)

Does Fred get his due as an author? Here’s a 2008 interview by Liz Armstrong at, in which she asserts he doesn’t, particularly in comparison to Waukegan’s favorite son, Ray Bradbury.

She begins:

Screw Ray Bradbury and all his Midwestern sci-fi fame and glory. It’s great that he gets all moony over rolling fields of grass, and sure he’s a jolly read, but his characters never really tickle danger. Where’s the fucking, the profanity, the evil? It’s a bad gimmick, but what the hell, why not even toss in a random alien-zapping dickwad once in a while? He’s not writing sci-fi, he’s writing fantasy. For elementary school children. When Chicago declared a couple years ago that April 15 was officially Ray Bradbury Day, why was there no looting and rioting? Bradbury’s a longtime Californian, first of all, and second, he’s no Frederik Pohl.

Read what Fred had to say about it at Vice.

—the blog team

Bradbury photo by Alan Light.

Ray Bradbury

Ray Bradbury

A few days ago, I received a telephone call to tell me that Ray Bradbury had just died.

I can’t write a proper obituary about the man who had been a friend for very nearly three-quarters of a century, ever since that day in 1939 when both of us — kid fans, yearning to be writers, though neither of us had sold a story yet — ran into each other at the very first World Science Fiction Convention ever. Ray had dreamed of going, but didn’t have the price of bus fare until the great father figure of fandom, Forrest J Ackerman, loaned it to him — and, once present, Ray spent most of his time trying to interest New York editors in the cover art of his friend, Hannes Bok.

In the seventy-odd years since then, our lives intersected from time to time. Now and then I would buy something of his for some magazine or anthology I was editing; sometimes we would appear on some con program together, occasionally I would take him to lunch in the endeavor, usually unsuccessful, to persuade him to write more for me.

One particular lunch, early on, sticks in my mind. We were walking toward a restaurant in Century City when a cab driver slowed, leaned out of his window and called, “How you doing, Ray?” And somewhat sheepishly Ray admitted to me that many of the cabbies in the Los Angeles area knew him well, as a steady customer, because he never himself drove a car. (Later, as he prospered, he kept a car and driver of his own.)

I saw Ray last a couple of years ago, when he and I were joint guests for the science-fiction program at UC-Riverside. He was feisty as ever, rather startlingly denouncing current science fiction as trash or worse — though it turned out that what he meant to be denouncing wasn’t print science fiction, but only the current crop of sf films. I would have liked to go into that in more detail, and to ask if he included the film Avatar. But time didn’t permit, and now I never can.

So long, Ray. You’re leaving me feeling a little lonesome.

Illustration by Hannes Bok.

I commissioned this illustration from Hannes Bok after seeing his work in 1939.

The Futurians had any number of members who won awards for writing, but we only had one who earned his Hugo by the beauty of the things he drew and painted. That was Wayne Woodard, as his parents called him when he was born in 1914, though he became better known to fans and to art-lovers all over the world by the name he chose for himself when he needed something to sign to his artwork, Hannes Bok.

Most magazine illustrators get their start with the magazines by visiting their offices, a bunch of samples under their arms, and showing them to whoever on the masthead would look at them until somebody showed up who liked the samples well enough to use a few in their magazines. That wasn’t possible for Hannes. He was a West Coast kid and he had no possibility of affording a bus ticket to where the magazines were. But he had a stroke of luck.

When he moved to Los Angeles — which he did early in 1939 — he met a kid fan named Raymond Bradbury — “Ray,” for short — who was almost as badly off as himself. The kid wasn’t aiming to be an artist; his dream was to become a writer, but he was as unsuccessful at it as Hannes was with his art. However. he belonged to a group of people who, like Hannes, were interested in science fiction and fantasy. The group, the Los Angeles Science Fiction League, would later become the Los Angeles Science Fantasy Society. They met in an upper room of a place called Clifton’s Cafeteria.

LASFS was a welcoming group for Hannes. Among the people he met there was a writer named Emil Petaja, who did get some of his stories published in the prozines and became Hannes’ best and lifelong friend. Another was a fan, or actually a kind of superfan who knew everybody involved in making of sf films, named Forrest J (No Period!) Ackerman.

The big news in science fiction, at least as far as the LASFS was concerned, was what was going to happen in New York that summer. The city was planning a huge show called the New York World’s Fair, and the fans in New York had uncharacteristically abandoned their blood feuding to work together to create a wonderful new project, a World Science Fiction Convention. It was the chance of a lifetime, they reasoned, because they could take advantage of all the foreigners who would come to New York for the Fair. Some fraction of them, they calculated, were sure to be fans who would be likely to stay for this Worldcon.

It was every last LASFS member’s dearest dream to be among them, but for most they knew it was only a dream. The Depression was dwindling fast, but its effects were not altogether over. And LASFS was made up mainly of teenagers with few resources to draw on.

But one resource was Forry Ackerman. A small inheritance had left him with money in the bank, so he was going to the Worldcon himself. So was a female fan named Myrtle R. Jones — or, as you would say it in Forry’s favorite second tongue, Esperanto, “Morojo.” And, when Forry had had a couple weeks of exposure to the woebegone expression on Ray’s face, he figured out a way of solving one problem. He could lend Ray Bradbury the bus fare. So he tapped the bank account a little harder, and pulled out enough cash to lend Ray Bradbury the price of a ticket to New York.

That was not a risk-free investment on Forry’s part, because the only source of income Ray had to pay him back was what he earned as a newsboy, selling papers on the streets of Los Angeles. But it wasn’t just a kindness to Ray. To Forry’s generosity, Ray added on a kindness of his own. He was going to do his best to meet every sf editor in the world, or at least every one who made it to the Worldcon, and while he was introducing them to himself there was no reason — assuming Hannes would lend him some samples to take along — why he couldn’t introduce them to the work of Hannes Bok at the same time.

And that is how it all fell out. Ray wheeled and dealt with such good effect at the Worldcon that, if I’m not mistaken, some of Hannes’ samples were actually bought and published by an editor, and several other editors asked him to do work for them.

One of this latter class was me. I met Ray Bradbury, and heard of Hannes Bok, for the first time at (or, more accurately, near — but that’s another story) the Worldcon, and shortly thereafter commissioned a set of illustrations for a story of my own from Hannes. (I still have one of the drawings on the wall of my office at home.)

That expedition worked so well for Hannes that it gave him the funds to make the move to New York, and that too worked pretty well. Well enough, at least, for Hannes to enjoy some years of relative affluence — affluence enough, that is, for him to pay the rent and have enough left over to eat regular meals.

I think he must have been a pleasant person to be around then. Unfortunately, I wasn’t around him for most of that period, because I had received an employment offer — the kind of an offer that you just can’t say no to — from the Armed Services of the United States of America.

Watch for Part 2, covering how all this worked out, coming soon — provided “soon” is when I write it.

Related post:

Part 7 of “Alfred Bester and Frederik Pohl — The Conversation,” recorded 26 June 1978 at The Tyneside Cinema, Newcastle upon Tyne, UK.

Alfred Bester, ca. 1964.

    Alfred Bester, ca. 1964.

Pohl: I want to tell you something about this arrogance that you were talking about. It is not just editors, although the best in science fiction have been pretty insufferable in one way or another. We’ve mentioned Horace Gold, who was also demented. John Campbell clearly had a very decisive personality and impressed it on everybody around him all the time.

Some years ago two psychologists decided they wanted to find out what science-fiction writers were like. They sent out a questionnaire to a bunch of science-fiction writers and asked them to answer the sort of questions you get on psychological-testing papers. How do you feel about your mother and this and that. And from these they prepared a group psychological profile of science fiction writers.

They compared it with a similar group profile for some other kind of writers and for a third group of people. They found out that the science fiction writers were in many ways similar to most human beings! There were a couple of differences, and one was in what is called “aggressive” versus “withdrawn” “cyclothymia.”

Bester: What is “cyclothymia”?

Pohl: It’s a kind of lunacy. [Editor’s note: Cycling mood swings, but short of actual bipolar affective disorder.] But the question was not whether you had it, but if you had it which way you would go. Withdrawn cyclothymic people are more or less passive and tend to let things go; they overlook something that is wrong. The people who tend the other way are stubborn and won’t take nothing from nobody, and have their own opinions which you’re not going to change with an ax!

And science fiction writers were like that — the stubbornest, most difficult human beings alive!

Audience: How do writers get along with their readerships?

Bester: Fine, splendid. People ask me questions, and I answer them. People ask for autographs and I sign them. People want to talk to me. They’d like to be writers, so l try to help as hard as l can. I get along fine with readers.

Fred, have you ever been attacked by a reader?

Pohl: Not physically, no! But I went to a meeting in Boston some years ago; it was a Mensa meeting, and I was supposed to talk about science fiction and discuss it with somebody else, and this person came up to me and handed me a copy of one of my books.

I said, “Oh, you want my autograph.”

And he said, “No, I want to give it back to you. I hate it. I don’t want it in my possession.” And that’s the closest I ever came to being attacked. Of course, I started out as a fan.

Bester: So did I. I read what’s his name’s Amazing Stories when I was only that high. I couldn’t even afford to buy any. I used to read it on the newsstand. Until they chased me, and I’d come back five minutes later and I’d finish the story.

Pohl: Well, I didn’t do that. I bought them in secondhand stores and got them for a nickel. I identify more closely with readers than I do with most writers. I still read science fiction for pleasure. Not all of it, because who can? 1,200 books a year is more than I can handle. But when I have finished reading what I have to read professionally in science fiction, I read some just for fun.

Bester: Fortunately I don’t have to read it professionally. I read it just for fun, and I do read science fiction regularly.

Alas, there is not as much fun for me today because now that I’m a professional writer, always in the back of the mind is the critical writer, saying “Oh man, you loused that scene, you could have done it better.” That kind of thing kills a lot of stories for me. But occasionally a beaut comes along.

Continue reading ‘Me and Alfie, Part 7: Cyclothymia’ »

MS Ryndam Upper Promenade

MS Ryndam Upper Promenade

Every other cruise ship I’ve ever been on, several other Holland-America vessels among them, has had a place which they admitted was a ship’s library, where they kept books made available to relieve passenger boredom when shore visits, lectures and native dance performances by members of the ship’s crew failed. MS Ryndam indeed has just such a place, with even more books than usual, but it isn’t called a library anymore. Now it’s an “Explorer’s Lounge,” I suppose to avoid those boring booky connotations, and to make it trendier still, it even has its own built-in copy of a Starbucks. (O tempora! O mores, for that matter.)

So being bound to the Ryndam’s literary resources for a month has somewhat the feel of spending a month in the country home of a well-to-do friend whose library is significant, but whose interests don’t resemble mine. There isn’t a speck of science fiction on the shelves, for example. No Heinlein, no Clarke, not even a Bradbury, and definitely no me. (This I think pretty chintzy of Holland-America, since such large chunks of one or another of mine were written on Holland-America ships.)

Still, I did find a fair number of volumes I was glad to read. As people do sometimes ask for lists of what books I’ve been reading for pleasure, I will append the record of what I’ve just finished. (You don’t have to read it if you don’t want to. I won’t mind.)

First, a couple that I started but didn’t finish: Peter Galison’s Einstein’s Clocks, Poincare’s Maps was about how the central importance of their revolution in thought wasn’t relativity but the attempt to pin down the concept of simultaneity. (I thought it a interesting idea, but Galison bogged down in an interminable discussion of the struggle to establish time zones around the world, which I had recently read all about from another source, and I gave up.)

Then there was Maureen Dowd’s Are Men Necessary? Dowd is one of the acutest, sharp-toothedest political writers around, and when I found this in the same “Science” stacks as the Galison, I had to pick it up. Barring a few pages about future chromosomal possibilities, though, it wasn’t about science but about the current situation in feminism. On this subject I am well informed by my wife, so I put the Dowd back and picked up the fat book on politics, courageously simply entitled Politics, by another of my all-time favorite writers on the subject, Hendrik Hertzberg.

This reprints some of his columns of the last four or five decades. It is all good stuff, but all the recent material I had already read in The New Yorker, where it first appeared, and the older pieces are, well, older. Reading about Bernardine Dohrn and Yoko Ono was more interesting in the ’70s than it is toward the end of the first decade of the 21st century.

Finally, Augustine. I picked it up because I had a mild interest in the man whose Confessions have stayed in print for more than a millennium and a half, was interested enough in the lively opening pages to think I might want to read it all the way through and then discovered that those were the only lively pages in the book. Not being greatly interested in the vicious infighting among the various Christian sects (and having anyway got the general idea long before from L. Sprague de Camp’s Lest Darkness Fall), I gave it up and started reading something else.

This one not only was good, it made me laugh out loud, startling the dickens out of my somnolent fellow-explorers in the Lounge. The book was called Mary, Mary, and it was written by at least two of the most interesting writers around: Ed McBain, which is a pseudonym of Evan Hunter, which in turn is a pseudonym of Sal Lombino, whom I had known slightly back around 1950, when he was a sort of office manager for the Scott Meredith Literary Agency.

The story goes that Lombino answered the phone one day when a publisher was calling.

Publisher: “Listen, we have a great novel title and we need somebody to write the novel for it. The title is The Blackboard Jungle and it should be about troubles in our high schools. Got anybody who could do that?”

Lombino: “Sure we do. How about, let me see, oh, yeah. How about, uh, Evan, ah, Hunter?”

Well, something like that, anyway. I don’t guarantee I’ve got all the details straight.

Anyway Lombino did a great job with The Blackboard Jungle and, a little later, an even greater one under the McBain name with his splendid “87th Precinct” stories. Mary, Mary is about crimes in Florida rather than in the somewhat disguised New York City 87th Precinct, but even second-string McBain is worth a read. And this is the part that made me laugh out loud:

(P. 133.) “I’ve always felt,” the narrator of the book says, “that people should be called what they wish to be called, don’t you? If Salvatore wants to be called Evan, I owe him the dignity and respect of free choice, which isn’t always so easy to come by in the land of the free and home of the brave.”

Well, I haven’t got around to talking about some books I’m glad to have read, but I’m using up blog space faster than I like. So I’m going to quit this now. Maybe I’ll get back to the others another time.