Jason is the Director of Education and Programs at MoPOP.
MoPOP Book Club Recap: What We Learned From Ray Bradbury's 'The Illustrated Man'
Throughout the last four weeks at the Museum of Pop Culture we’ve been celebrating the 100th birthday of Ray Bradbury, beloved author, screenwriter, futurist, science fiction advocate, and member of our Science Fiction and Fantasy Fantasy Hall of Fame. We’ve published blogs on tattoos and cats, hosted online story discussions, heard from Bradbury friends and fans, conducted a Twitter chat, featured quotes from our oral history with Bradbury, and watched a film adaptation of a few of the short stories. It’s been a wonderful dive back into this canonical author’s life and work, and before we close the book on The Illustrated Man, I thought I’d share a few parting thoughts.
First, to everyone who participated in any or all of our events, thank you. You’ve made these activities all the richer and more exciting. Bradbury continues to be relevant as an influencer and inspiration for science fiction creators and fans, and it’s been wonderful for us at MoPOP to connect with you and celebrate with you.
Second, during this process, perhaps like some of you, I’ve spent some time revisiting my own history with Bradbury. My earliest memory is taking a paperback copy of the The Martian Chronicles off of my mother’s nightstand and reading it. I read voraciously as a young person, and the stories frightened me and creeped me out in the best ways. From there, of course, I found my way to the novels—Fahrenheit 451 in school—and to some of the many televised adaptations of the stories that were made in the '80s and '90s.
I am not a completest in anything really, so I have many blind spots in the Bradbury literary universe, and one of the great discoveries of working on this book club has been to see how far and deep the tendrils of his work reach. There are so many stories and television episodes and great interviews with him with amazing 1970's hair and terrific anecdotes of him meeting Walt Disney and working on Moby Dick and going to meetings of the Science Fiction Society at Clifford’s in Los Angeles. Bradbury’s influence and inspiration seem to be everywhere, even among contemporary writers. For that, I have been so grateful for this book club, just for these reminders.
Third, I have been amazed at the ways in which the themes and questions in these stories still resonate in 2020, even amid a pandemic. Bradbury’s wonderings about our species' self-destruction, our exploration of other worlds, our struggles with relationships and parenting and technology, it all seems eerily current upon revisiting. He claimed, in an interview with MoPOP in 2003, that as a science fiction writer he (and his fellow sci-fi and fantasy writers) took, “joy in being curious and wanting to change the world.” And I think that combination of joy and curiosity meant that his concerns were not primarily in the ways in which the future would work—how robots would run our homes or the mechanics of our travel from Mars to Mercury—but in how we would live and conduct ourselves, how we would love or denigrate one another, in what state we would leave the world to our descendants, and to what degree we would take action when our own hubris goes out of control.
In the end, I think Bradbury, purveyor of futuristic ideas, atomic age anxiety, and dire warnings about technology replacing our relationships, was really a humanist. And his reminding us of our humanity has been a welcome relief during a time when humanity has felt like it’s in such a fragile state. Thank you, Ray Bradbury, and happy 100th birthday!
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