One of my summer rituals while growing up was reading Dandelion Wine. This wonderful novel by Ray Bradbury is one of my all time favorite books, and it always set the tone for my summers after I discovered it sometime in junior high. While I am really nothing like Douglas in the novel, the stories of his adventures spurred my imagination and transported me far away from where I lived in Wenatchee, Washington, a town not too unlike Green Town, Illinois of the novel.
This past week, Ray Bradbury died, leaving a legacy of imagination and insight. In many ways his writings anticipated much of what we now know and take for granted. One retrospective called him one of the trinity of science fiction writers: Heinlein, Asimov and Bradbury. While this is pretty heady company, and well deserved, Bradbury’s writings for me were significantly different. For me, he is more akin to Arthur C. Clarke, who, you could argue, deserves a place in the pantheon of greatest science fiction writers. In some ways it is Bradbury and Clarke who anticipated more realistically the human condition and its response to the changes wrought by future technology. It was this ability to capture an individual’s wonder and for readers to put themselves into the narrative which set Bradbury’s stories apart. The scene at the end of The Martian Chronicles makes this incredibly clear. A family sets out to go see the martians…
“I’ve always wanted to see a Martian,” said Michael.
“Where are they, Dad? You promised.”
“There they are,” said Dad, and he shifted Michael on his shoulder and pointed straight down.
The Martians were there. Timothy began to shiver.
The Martians were there–in the canal–reflected in the water. Timothy and Michael and Robert and Mom and Dad.
The Martians stared back up at them for a long, long silent time from the rippling water. . . .
In some ways we have lost as a society the ability to see ourselves, or perhaps to make the shift to see ourselves differently, to dream of the future. In the current political and economic climate of our country, our ability to dream is getting taken away. As a people, as humans, we need to have the ability to look out and see the world and universe as it could be. To explore, to go to the undiscovered country and see what there is, and perhaps make a better life. It is in our nature to dream and explore. And to kill this part of our nature is to sentence our country and even all of humanity to extinction and oblivion. It is up to us to insist our leaders embrace the dream, to once again allow people to see themselves as part of the dream, and to think one day the dream will become reality. One of our most eloquent voices this century is Neil deGrasse Tyson. Here is Tyson talking about the importance of dreaming, and how NASA is the one government agency which actively promotes dreaming: