AMHERST - He's the dean of science fiction writers, a man who gave the genre literary merit and has spent the better part of his life creating fantasy worlds involving space travel and futuristic scenarios.

But when it comes to some aspects of modern technology, Ray Bradbury would just as soon do things the old-fashioned way.

"The hell with the computer," he said to some 500 people at the Fine Arts Center at the University of Massachusetts Monday night. "Go into the library and take the books off the shelf ... you can handle them, you can turn the pages ... you can't do that with a computer."

Bradbury, 77, the noted author of "The Martian Chronicles," "Fahrenheit 451" and other science fiction works, spoke as part of the university's Distinguished Visitors Program, which brings writers, politicians, athletes and other notables to UMass to help foster discussion of different issues.

During an hour-long talk, he focused primarily on his long career as an author of novels, short stories and screenplays for television and the movies.

But despite his Luddite comments about computers, Bradbury hasn't lost any of his enthusiasm for space exploration: He called it "a way to live forever," a vital and necessary venture for mankind that draws on the human capacity for courage, curiosity and invention.

His writing career began when he was just 12, he said, when he became infatuated with the idea of space travel, personified at that time by the comic strip character Buck Rogers.

He recalled that he'd clipped dozens of Buck Rogers strips from the newspaper, then ripped up his collection when other children laughed at him, telling him space travel would never take place.

Later on, he started collecting the strips again, he noted, adding, "I never listened to one damn fool after that."

While he started writing for fun, Bradbury eventually began earning a living at his craft, selling his first story at 20 and making regular sales to what he called "pulp magazines."

And by the early 1950s he'd published "The Martian Chronicles" and "The Illustrated Man," books that sold modestly - at first, anyway - but were critically well received for their mixture of rich fantasy and social and technological criticism.

Then a meeting in 1953 with one of his favorite film directors, John Huston, led to an offer from Huston to write a screenplay for "Moby Dick," a seeming opportunity to broaden his writing life.

There was only one problem, as Bradbury related last night: "Gee, Mr. Huston, I've never been able to read the damned book."

According to Bradbury, Huston looked at him a moment, shrugged, and said, "Well, just read as much as you can."

In fact, Bradbury said, he eventually read Moby Dick, wrote the screenplay for the movie, and developed a real liking for author Herman Melville, which led him in turn to write an essay comparing Melville's character of Captain Ahab with Jules Verne's fictional creation Captain Nimo.

That essay led in turn to an offer to write a brief synopsis of U.S. history, broadcast as part of the World's Fair exhibit in New York in 1964, he said, and a whole new career as the creator of similar voice overs at various planetariums and science exhibits.

"Why am I telling you all this?"Bradbury said. "I say it because it shows you how all my craziness, all my falling in love with things, led to a lot of opportunities ... I'm still excited about a lot of things... and I want you to be excited too, about what you might do when you leave here too.

Bradbury, who's published more than 500 stories, screenplays and other works, also said he's written screenplays for three upcoming films, one due to star Mel Gibson, another a new version of "The Martian Chronicles" slated to be produced by Steven Spielberg.

"I haven't calmed down since I was three," he said.

Reprinted with permission from the Daily Hampshire Gazette
Published: 12/10/97