Ray Bradbury wrote the most-beautiful-and-scary thing I have ever read. Outside of newspapers, it is definitely the most scary thing I have ever read. The fact that it is simultaneously beautiful takes it from just being another moment intended to shake you, and puts it on another level.
If you’re a Bradburyista, you’ll have read it (and will probably tell me I’ve described it incorrectly). If you’re not, there’s not much point in your reading this entry, because this entry is about Ray Bradbury. Go away and read all his books, and then come back and read this.
Go on! Look at my face, I’m not messing.
The beautiful-scary thing was in The Martian Chronicles. I’ve only read them once. This is deliberate. Some books can be re-read easily. Some you need to wait 20 years before you re-read them, and it’s as if you’re reading a whole new book because in the meantime you have changed. But some must only be read once. The Martian Chronicles is one of those books. I’m going to paraphrase the bit I’m referring to, and I may get it wrong, but that doesn’t matter. This is what I took away from that book, and what you take away from a book is never wrong.
A man leaves the base camp, and goes off into the desert of Mars, alone. He’s all suited up, one of those big mirrored helmet things on, and he’s armed and everything. And he goes missing, and the other guys don’t know where he is. Days pass. Long after he must, logically, be dead, he walks out of the desert, looking perfectly intact. He meets one of his colleagues, who is obviously surprised to see him, and to see him alive. And he says to his friend, “While I was out there, I met a Martian.” And his friend doesn’t believe him because there aren’t any Martians. And the dude persists, and he says the Martian asked to have a go of his helmet, so he gave it his helmet. And then it asked for his suit, so he gave it his suit. And then it asked for his gun.
In that passage, you slowly realise two things: that what is inside the suit is no longer human; and that nothing happened to the man in the suit. Mars… the fact of Mars just got inside him and changed him, the way all our environments, all our jobs, all our families, all our habits, all the company we keep, all the things we read, get inside us and change us.
Sometimes a passage in a book is just that – a passage. A route from one way of being, one way of thinking, one way of understanding your experiences and the world, and your self, into a new one.
Ray Bradbury was very good at writing that sort of passage.
When you get a chance, watch this, in all its rambling magnificence:
Safe passage, Ray. x