June 6, 2012

From The State archives: Ray Bradbury speaks to USC students in 1997

Science fiction author Ray Bradbury died Tuesday. Read this story by John Monk, who attended a lecture in 1997.

Science fiction author Ray Bradbury, who died Tuesday at the age of 91, is a recipient of the Thomas Cooper medal from the University of South Carolina. In this story from The State, Nov. 2, 1997, staff writer John Monk describes Bradbury’s talk to students.

Editor's note: Best-selling science fiction writer Ray Bradbury has his own crater on the moon.

It's called Dandelion Crater, after his book, Dandelion Wine, a magical work on the summer of a 12-year-boy.

Recently, when Bradbury spoke to an audience of the Thomas Cooper Society at the University of South Carolina, he talked for an hour without notes, almost in a stream of consciousness, mixing stories and observations.

“I don't do Windows,” he said to laughter. Though he looks to the future in his work, Bradbury shuns the computer and word processing machines.

What matters to him are books, the human spirit, America and space travel. Here are some excerpts:

“Surprise is the important thing - to suddenly grab a book off the shelf and discover . . . some part of yourself for the first time . . .

“Instead of going to college, I went to the library. They have this wonderful big library in downtown Los Angeles. I spent four days a week in the library, (visiting) every room, not just one room, except for psychiatry, which I thought was nonsense . . . I went to the children's room again and again . . . I love children's stories and myths, and I love illustrations . . ..”

In 1950, Bradbury found a room in UCLA's library where he rented a typewriter for 10 cents a half hour:

“I took a bag of dimes with me, and in 9 days, at $9.80 worth of dimes, I wrote Fahrenheit 451 . . . which means I wrote a dime novel, right? Can you imagine how exciting it was to me to be typing down there with this great idea that I loved and then . . . to run upstairs in the library to run along the stacks and to grab strange books off and open them?

“That is the trouble with the Internet - you can't have that same kind of ambiance, the same kind of smelling books. The books have to read you as much as you read them.”

Bradbury is in love with America, but not hesitant to criticize some things:

“You really want to watch that stuff (local television news)? It's terrible, isn't it? Fifteen-second sound bites on funerals, rapes, murders . . .. You watch local television news every night for 1,000 nights, you are going to believe that America is no good . . .

“We're still the greatest society in the history of the world . . .. We've saved the world constantly, and we've forgotten so soon, all the good things we've done . . .. (Local television news) is one percent of the truth.”

“Twice (in the last 30 years), I have had reason to weep with joy, the night we landed on the moon, and the whole world wept with elation, that after millions of years, we landed on the moon, we did gravity in . . .. (The second time was when) the Czech people have come in from the cold. They have landed back among us.”

Bradbury shared his religious side with us:

“God, the cosmos, the life-force or whatever you want to call it, has been here forever, and we're part of this . . . we're part of the Growing Edge of Cognizance.

“People always say, 'Why should we have space travel? Why should we go off to the Moon and to Mars?' . . .. My answer has always been, we are here to witness and to celebrate . . ..

“If we were not here to see the universe, this part of the universe would be partially dead, would it not? We are put here so we can look at all of this and become truly religious, to really celebrate life itself. That is why we're here, that is our function, that is what space travel is all about . . . it's not a technological feat.

“When we leave, we want it written on our gravestone that some small part of our world was improved by us . . . with our business, with our families. My God - raising a family is an incredible thing . . . if you just do that well enough!

“Or, if you are loving teachers, and teach the love of life, and have enough students come out from under your hand to go forth into the world and improve it . . . it's amazing!

“Every time I hear some astronomer say, 'Our expedition to Saturn will maybe help us solve the mystery of the certain universe,' I say, 'Come on - nonsense. We're never going to know that. Stop thinking about that.' . . . Space travel is not going to improve us as human beings, but it will improve part of our spirit . . .. I try to teach that and speak of it as often as I can . . ..

“The great thing about science fiction is it fools people. You pretend you are describing about the future, but what you are writing is the present . . .”

Bradbury finished by telling us about his sources of inspiration - Shakespeare, the Old Testament and the great English poets:

“I've read them all . . .. You pack all those metaphors into your skull . . . (and) have all those seeds in your head, you cannot help but explode like a pomegranate . . ..”

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