Exploring the universe to understand ourselves

Ray Bradbury could be a Martian. If the Martians were ever to infiltrate Earth with manlike creatures, Ray Bradbury, author of the "The Martian Chronicles," upon which the current NBC miniseries being viewed by millions of Americans is based, might very well be the kind of gadfly-curmudgeon humanoid they would send.

Commenting upon the television version of his own book, he says frankly, to the consternation of NBC executives: "i have mixed feelings about the miniseries. I loved the second two hours and much of the last two hours. But the first two hours. . . . Boring. It isn't harmful or damaging, it's just rather boring. But then, the only thing I've ever written that turned out as exciting as the original was the script I turned in for the movie "Moby Dick." I wrote the screenplay for John Huston, and it turned out to be a great movie. But in TV there are time and money problems, too many executives, and nobody really in complete control. . . ."

Mr. Bradbury, who has published more than 400 short stories, essays, poems, and plays, has recently written a screenplay of his own novel, "Something Wicked Comes This Way." He is also helping to design a Disney prototype community of the future, lectures before college groups, and speaks out about everything before everybody.

But Ray Bradbury, a novelist, playwright, short-story writer, considers himself basically something else.

"I am a poet. But I didn't realize that I was a poet until my early 30s. I had tea one afternoon with Aldous Huxley, a wonderful encounter. In the middle of the afternoon, he said: 'Mr. Bradbury, do you realize that you are a poet?" I said: 'Am I?' and he grabbed a section of 'The Martian Chronicles' and read it to me to prove it.

"However, if you're a poet, you're also a screenwriter because you are dealing with metaphors, visual metaphors. . . ."

Metaphor is a word he uses often. "Our space effort, too, is an endeavor by mankind to make some sort of metaphor with the universe, to understand ourselves in terms of survival. In this part of the universe we are the thing that thinks , and we know that we think. That's very special -- a fantastic gift and we have to be responsible about that, don't we?"

For the past 38 years, ray Bradbury has been America's No. 1 purveyor of science-fiction writing. It all started, he says, when his mother took him to see the movie version of "The Hunchback of Notre Dame."

"I was three years old and I fell in love with Lon Chaney," he says fondly. "I was entanced by all the Douglas Fairbanks films and was wild about the gorilla that fell off of the Empire State Building. So I'm not snobbish about movies at all."

He freely comments about recent science-fiction films, especially those which preceded "Star Trek" and "Black Hole."

"I saw 'Alien' and loved it. I think it was a fantastic job of redoing Dracula. 'Star Wars' is a brainless wonder. But 'Close Encounters of the Third Kind' is one of the greatest films of our time. How many films have you seen that have ideas, philosophic concept? There is not one of us who wouldn't get on board that fantastic craft and go off into space. . . ."

Mr. Bradbury was thrilled to be invited to France two years ago to celebrate the 150th birthday of Jules Verne, whom he regards as the greatest science-fiction writer of all time.

"He romanced us into growth -- and that's what science-fiction is all about. Verne and H. G. Wells and Edgar Rice Burroughs -- they were the greatest.

"Carl Sagan is a product of Verne and Burroughs. I am one of their descendants, too. All the astronauts as well. . . ."

Despite his acceptance of the idea of the equality of living creatures on other planets, Mr. Bradbury has narrow views of the role of women in our society.

"Women are not interested in science," he insists. "Boys read Popular Mechanics, but girls couldn't care less.

There are two races of people on earth -- men and women, and we'll always be that way." Mr. Bradbury has several other blind spots in his vision of earth -- and he is determined to speak about them, come what may.

"Don't talk to me about the dangers of nuclear power," he says vehemently. "Talk about cars and what they have done to our society -- the biggest danger in the history of our country. Eight of my relatives have been killed by cars. I care about that. And still we talk about the dangers of nuclear power. That is not the problem."

Does Mr. Bradbury envision our coming into the 1984 era of Big Brother?

"I am a preventer of Big Brother. I'm optimistic, and I believe that I can emasculate Big Brother before he does too much harm.

Is Ray Bradbury, once considered a radical, now a conservative?

"I'm a radical, conservative, right, left, liberal, Democrat . . . madman. Anybody who gets in my way, gets knocked down by words. I believe in speaking out. I believe in all individuals speaking out -- I hate groups and group action. If people say about me: 'He's an idiot but I like him,' that's okay, too.'

Mr. Bradbury, despite past dire predictions about the destruction of our universe, is now a space optimist.

"I love space because I love mankind with all its warts and mistakes. We deserve a chance. Space travel is an endeavor by mankind to move out of the universe and survive. We are worth preserving.

"We have grown up in the midst of a miracle -- divided in half. There is the scientific half, trying to understand the data. And there is the theological half, trying to understand the mystery.

"So, the two halves of our ignorance move into space to survive. If we do it well, we will live forever. Because that's what space travel really is -- the endeavor by mankind to live forever. Ten million years from now the images of all our wonderful faces will be duplicated on far worlds. Now, that's worth thinking about isn't it?"

Yes. And it's something the Martians would have us think about too, isn't it?

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