About 15-20 years ago, I began a very short but intense interest in the works of writer Philip K Dick. Ever hear of him? I’m not surprised. In my experience, he’s one of those writers who made a huge impact in writing and speculative fiction in particular, but outside his sphere of influence he usually garners not much more than blank stares and cocked heads.
Ever see Blade Runner? Total Recall? Minority Report? Well then, you’ve heard of him, even if you didn’t realize it. His stories formed the basis of and inspired these and many other movies that have been produced since his death in 1982.
While I don’t think I could (or can) call myself a dickhead*, I nevertheless found his work very engrossing. At the tale end of my interest, I began to branch off to associated works, one of the more notable of which was Philip K Dick is Dead, Alas by Michael Bishop. In one of the first scenes of the book, the protagonist learns that Dick has just died and he is moved to poetry. He writes the eponymous lines, “Philip K Dick is dead, alas / Let’s all go and kick some ass.” Or something like that.
*(Author’s Note: In most circumstances, the term “dickhead" is an epithet of the most vile nature. In this case, however, it is not. Used in this context, it is an SF slang term that identifies devotees of the works and philosophy of the writer Philip K Dick, much in the same that “trekker/trekkie”identifies a fan of Star Trek. You get the picture.)
Why is this important? As I hope everyone who has not completely succumbed to the dumbing of America already knows, Ray Bradbury passed away last week. Of Bradbury I can say his impact on me as a reader and writer happened much earlier, and with much deeper effect. With his help I explored the dunes of Mars, ran through the soaked rainforests of Venus as well as developed an unhealthy suspicion of tattooed people and carousels that lasted well into my freshman year of high school. He also taught me the importance of metaphor and symbolism, and that writers aren't just storytellers. They are the makers and purveyors of myth in its purest, most Campbellian form.
When I heard that Bradbury died, I remembered the ...Alas scene above. I wasn’t sure why. Did my subconscious wanted me to spring into rhyme and metre? I doubted it. I finished my poetry phase long ago. Besides, all I ever did was free verse, a form Bradbury loathed. I heard him say as much when I heard him speak during a writer’s conference at the University of Arizona in the mid-1990’s.
I’m still not sure, why that scene came to mind. I am sure, though, that he lived along, fruitful life and raised a genre considered by many to be at best hack work to the heights of literature. He will be missed by me and countless others, many of whom have yet to be born.
So I mourned him, even as I marveled at images of Venus tracking across the sky between the Sun and Earth. I found it an odd coincidence, but fitting in the highest level, as if symbolically she was calling her wayward son home.
Dandylion wine, anyone?
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