I posted this originally in 2010, and thought it appropiate to republish now in honor of one of the great storytellers, the late Ray Bradbury.-tb
It was my good fortune to happen upon a Ray Bradbury panel at the 2009 ComicCon in San Diego,where the Master himself was taking and answering questions from a large, adoring crowd. It was , of course, a love fest for one the pioneers of fantasy and speculative fiction, an appreciation for a writer many of us have a lifetime's relationship with this imagination. For all his work in pre-Code horror comics, pulp fiction magazines and paperback books, considered for years to the be the Red Light District of Literature, his oeuvre is one those rare productions that have proven to be something everyone else, from critics to mainstream media, have had to catch up with. The callowest of lit-crit 101 pronouncements are applied here: does the work have legs, and do you marvel at the style and techniques the writer used to move you along with the narrative . A good writer is able to overcome a reader's objection to fantastic tales; the writer who's work remains current is the rare breed who's tales transcend the genre from which they originally sprang. So one learns how to get adult" about those pulpy fantasies that gave you pleasure when you were a teen, someone still learning about the world through the stories one heard.You have to say that you did a fair and accurate summary of Bradbury's career and a fair estimation of his work. If you’re a good genre writer and you stick around long enough, you have a very good chance of having a host of recently minted book critics and biographers elevating you the higher ranks of Faulkner or Twain.
It's happened a dozen or so times , particularly in the mystery/crime arena with the likes of Raymond Chandler and Dashiel Hammett. Sometimes the shoe actually fits, given that Chandler and Hammett were both innovators of form who had their lyric flights and coolly compressed melodramas informed by a tangible and subtle played romanticism.
Others have been less believable, as in the case of Jim Thompson, who is genuinely creepy and entertaining, but lacks music and wit, or James Ellroy, who mistakes intensity and encroaching unreadability as requirements of writerly worth. Elmore Leonard resists the temptation to let critics and upper echelon authors seduce him with praise and a general invitation to take his work more seriously; he is the kind of professional you most admire, someone who continues the work, writing one brilliantly middlebrow entertainment after another.Would that a few of our "serious" authors adopted the work ethic and wasted fewer pages and less of our time with their reputations.Some writers literally beg to be taken seriously; they implore us to read their novels deeply and let the philosophical conflicts resonate long and loudly.Has there been a John LeCarre novel that hasn't been compared to the world weary speculations of Graham Green's ambivalent attaches and minor couriers wrestling with the issue of Good versus Evil under a shadow of a silent Catholic God? Has there been a discussion among fans of James Lee Burke that didn't slip into a tangent about the American Southern tradition, with Faulkner's and Flannery O'Conner's names repeatedly dropped like greasy coins? It's not such a bad thing, though. LeCarre and Burke are fine writers and do manage to provide a complex settings where the moral battles take place in their work. Their presence in the high rankings needn't make anyone squeamish.
Stephen King, try as he might, will not remain on the top shelf no matter who places him there. He is the master of premise, one great and magnificent idea after another, but then he goes soft in the head and rushes through his novels with flights of illogical that even excusing them as part of a horror novel's delirious nature cannot excuse the slip shod execution. Bradbury? He is very good, sometimes even brilliant in all his amazing convolutions, and I think it would do everyone a great favor to not burden him with the weight of "literary importance". There are issues and morals and philosophies galore slithering through the paragraphs of his stories and novels, but Bradbury above all else is fun to read. I think it's enough that he be admired as craftsman with a slight touch of the poet. Bradbury, however sage we might wish him to be, never shed the basic rule of all professional writers go by; you need to be read by an audience that wants to be entertained.