Idea Man
Bradbury: An Optimist

Prolific sci-fi author Ray Bradbury will bring his imagination and intellect to bear in Wednesday's "Final Frontier' lecture series

By Paul Freeman

For almost half a century, Ray Bradbury has been propelling wide-eyed readers into the future. So it seems appropriate that he's the first speaker in the 'Tales From The Final Frontier" series being launched by San Jose's Tech Museum of Innovation.

Bradbury says he has yet to decide what he will say during Wednesday's talk, which will be presented at the Flint Center in Cupertino. But he is accustomed to forgoing elaborate preparation in favor of letting his instincts and intellect lead the way. Generating ideas has never been a problem for him.

"They come from inside, for their own reasons," says the 76-year-old author, reached by phone at his Los Angeles home. "I wake up every morning and there's a new one there and it says, 'I'm next! Write me!' So I write it. I never know what I'm going to write from day to day."

More than 500 of his works have been published, including short stories, novels, plays, screenplays- ' television scripts and verse. His latest collection of short stories, "Quicker Than The Eye" (Avon Books, $22), covers diverse subjects, and shows off Bradbury's remarkable agility in dealing with everything from fantasy and futuristic landscapes to down-to-Earth themes such as racism, censorship and war. He is a master at raising social and political issues in ways that inspire readers to think for themselves.

'The enlightenment should be part of the story," he says of his best work. "The Martian Chronicles' is an interesting book because it's both intellectual and entertaining."

Bradbury is fortunate he notes, to live in an era of rapidly emerging technology, which provides some intriguing parallels to ideas expressed in his writing.

"Think of what's happened in the computer field alone in the last 15 years. It's amazing," he says. "Look at the whole Internet thing. Then, in motion pictures, there's the development of special effects, where our brains haven't caught up with the effects. Then there are the virtual realists. I've been writing about these sorts of things for 45 years."

Of course, reality has yet to catch up to many of Bradbury's futuristic portraits, and at times he wishes technology would move along a little quicker.

"We should be on the moon right now, of course," Bradbury says. "I'm sorry that we didn't stay there. But we've got to go back and then we've got to go from there to Mars. I hope that will happen in the very near future."

His philosophical approach to writing is straightforward: Write about what interests you. Write and read every day. Keep the juices flowing. If you write what you love, he says, you never have a dry spell.

"The people who have mental blocks are the people who do things they shouldn't be doing. The people who take screenplays they shouldn't write or books they shouldn't write - they're going to wind up with dry spells, because their subconscious says, 'I'm going to cut off the water works!'" At the moment, Bradbury's life revolves around the creation of three screenplays: new versions of his classics "Fahrenheit 451 " (with Mel Gibson) and 'The Martian Chronicles," plus an adaptation of "The Wonderful Ice Cream Suit," a period piece depicting his experiences with the Mexican-American community.

He has been pleased with some of the films made from his stories, disappointed with others. The film version of "Something Wicked This Way Comes" was good, he says, while the slow-paced version of "Illustrated Man," directed by Jack Smight, was a disaster. But Bradbury seems optimistic about his new Hollywood projects, and even about life in general. His depictions of futuristic terrors and America's social malaise notwithstanding, the country is in decent shape, he says.

"Why shouldn't we be optimistic? We've done everything we've set out to do. We're still the most important country in the world. We still have 400,000 immigrants coming in here every year. We've done that for 80 years now. That's very optimistic, isn't it?"

Reprinted with permission from the San Mateo County Times