Raise your glass of dandelion wine: It’s Ray Bradbury’s 90th birthday

A gallery of Ray Bradbury covers

Yes, today's the day that one of the world's most influential sci-fi authors turns 90. To mark the occasion, his adopted hometown of Los Angeles has been whooping it up all week. Chances are that anyone reading this post has, at some point, spent some quality time with Bradbury's writing.

For all his ubiquity, though, how much do you know about the man himself? If you answered "Gee, nothing, really," don't worry -- that's why articles like "10 Things You Didn't Know About Ray Bradbury" exist. But you owe it to yourself to dig a little deeper. (Turns out, he's a pretty delightful public speaker -- check out his "Telling the Truth" 2001 keynote address, aimed at aspiring writers.)

Today, we'd like like to kick off our birthday tribute to our favorite Martian chronicler with an especially telling passage excerpted from an essay he wrote nearly 10 years ago, about how he learned the secret to immortality:

Back when I was twelve years old I was madly in love with L. Frank Baum and the Oz books, along with the novels of Jules Verne and H.G. Wells, and especially the Tarzan books and the John Carter, Warlord of Mars books by Edgar Rice Burroughs. I began to think about becoming a writer at that time. ...

It was an encounter with another magician that changed my life forever.

During the Labor Day week of 1932 a favorite uncle of mine died; his funeral was held on the Labor Day Saturday. If he hadn't died that week, my life might not have changed because, returning from his funeral at noon on that Saturday, I saw carnival tent down by Lake Michigan. I knew that down there, by the lake, in his special tent, was a magician named Mr. Electrico.

Mr. Electrico was a fantastic creator of marvels. He sat in his electric chair every night and was electrocuted in front of all the people, young and old, of Waukegan, Illinois. When the electricity surged through his body he raised a sword and knighted all the kids sitting in the front row below his platform. I had been to see Mr. Electrico the night before. When he reached me, he pointed his sword at my head and touched my brow. The electricity rushed down the sword, inside my skull, made my hair stand up and sparks fly out of my ears. He then shouted at me, "Live forever!"

I thought that was a wonderful idea, but how did you do it?

Well, we all know the answer to that, at least in Bradbury's case -- talk about an indelible legacy. Let's just step back for a second and think about what it means that Bradbury is now entering his 10th decade of life, spanning two centuries. To put this into perspective:

Technological/scientific advances that have taken place in Bradbury's lifetime (for more, here's Wikipedia's timeline of historic inventions):

-Polygraph (1921)
-Radar (1922)
-Sound film, aka "talkies" (1923)
-LEDs (1927)
-Jet engines (1937)
-Nuclear reactors (1942)
-Holography (1948)
-The floppy disk (1952)
-Satellites (1957)
-Lasers (1960)
-Human spaceflight (1961)
-Video cassettes (1969)
-Space rovers (1970)
-Personal computers (1973)
-Mobile phone (1977)
-Walkman (1979)
-CDs (1980)
-Artificial hearts (1982)
-Tetris (1984)
-DNA fingerprinting (1985)
-Digital camera (1988)
-GPS (1993)
-DVDs (1995)
-Ultima Online (1997)
-Napster (1999)
-Human genome sequencing (2000)
-Self-replicating robots (2002)
-Corneal stem-cell transplants (2003)
-Ice discovered on Mars (2008)
-Solid-state quantum processor (2009)

Technological/scientific advances that Bradbury predicted:
-Virtual reality
-Ear buds
-Smart homes
-Butterfly Effect theory
-Televised surveillance footage

Technological advances that Bradbury has maligned, much to the howling scorn of BoingBoing commenters:
-The Internet

Rather, make that "the stupid Internet," as he put it in this 1998 Wired interview, the same one where he talks about how his Fahrenheit 451 forecast came true:

"Almost everything in Fahrenheit 451 [first published in 1953] has come about, one way or the other -- the influence of television, the rise of local TV news, the neglect of education. As a result, one area of our society is brainless. But I utilized those things in the novel because I was trying to prevent a future, not predict one."

Yes, Bradbury's the kind of guy who gets his dander up about stuff like Napster and Kindle. But to think of Bradbury purely as a humorless curmudgeon would be a mistake. I mean, would someone who can't poke fun at himself ever agree to do something like this?

Right, that was the author, selling mini-packs of Sunsweet prunes with his expertise on "pneumatic people tubes." Yessss.

Now, of course, it wouldn't be a birthday party without a party-crasher, and this year, it's an uninvited guest with a NSFW agenda. Perhaps if sensitive little thought criminal Clarisse McClellan had been raised on a steady diet of Glee and the antics of 4chan attention whores, she too might have whipped up something like Rachel Bloom's "Fuck Me, Ray Bradbury." Strangely, the best line in the whole thing isn't even directly Bradbury-related -- that'd be "Houston, we have a throblem," which you're free to use in your nerd pickup bar of choice. (You're welcome.)

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