Everyone is talking about Ray Bradbury, and rightly so. We lost one of our greatest writers yesterday. Instead of writing about Ray's influence on my own life, and myself as a reader and lover of all things fantastic, I thought that I'd share a cool story about the man.
It was DragonCon '98. My first convention in a long time, and I was pretty wet behind the ears. I was running around, meeting people, acting like a little kid. Which is what one should do at a fantasy convention. I met a lot of people that year. Harlan Ellison, Forrest J Ackerman, Ray Harryhausen, and a lot of others. I also met Ray Bradbury.
I'm sure that Ray Bradbury has been approached countless times by fans. Either at cons or at appearances, or just when he is out minding his own business. I stopped Ray as he was walking through the lobby of the hotel and thrust my hand out like the pathetic fan I was. The man gamely returned my handshake and smiled at me. I told him that I had been a fan since I was a little boy. Ray thanked me and said, "You have good taste". If he didn't genuinely appreciate the words I had said, he must have been a hell of an actor.
That's not the anecdote I wish to share.
There was a dinner held that year, with proceeds to go toward legal defense for comic book publishers in trouble for putting out objectionable materials. It was $25.00 a plate and seating was limited. I wanted the whole con experience, so I signed up for it.
The dinner was light, but good, and several people gave talks. Ellison told a very funny joke that involved his friend, Julius Schwartz. Bradbury was the keynote speaker.
This was, you'll remember, 1998. Right in the heyday of the Goth movement. A lot of them were at the reception, decked out in their full-blown gloomy attire. They had come to see Ray Bradbury, who was a hero to them. Mostly for The Illustrated Man.
Ray Bradbury approached the podium and smiled warmly out at the audience. There was no one iota of judgmental attitude in his demeanor. It's been fourteen years, and my memory is a little hazy, but here is a summery of what he said:
I look out at all of you, and I am reminded of myself and my friends when we were young. Your families do not understand you, am I correct? The other kids at school think you are weird. It was the same way with us. We did not conform to their standards. We cherished our imaginations and we pledged to never grow up and join the bleak establishment. We used our differences to our advantage and made careers out of them. You all can do the same thing.
There was more and I'm sure that I am not doing it justice. That is the gist of it, though, and it was the perfect talk to give to that room. His words moved everyone. Funny how a conservatively-dressed man who was decades older than the average person there demolished the barriers of age and customs with those simple words of wisdom and encouragement.