I started reading science-fiction in early 1950, when I was only nine years old. I quickly read through my local public library’s children’s s-f (a few Heinlein juveniles), and turned to the adult fiction shelves (where I was technically not supposed to go). I was too young to appreciate most of the few s-f books that it had besides H. G. Wells and Jules Verne (Aldous Huxley, Olaf Stapledon), but I loved Ray Bradbury’s new collections that the library was just getting: The Martian Chronicles, The Illustrated Man, The Golden Apples of the Sun. I entered junior high school just as Ballantine Books started publishing original s-f paperbacks. While my teachers looked down on most paperbacks as cheap trash, they approved of Ballantine’s as Literature. One of Ballantine’s first s-f titles, and one of the first “adult” books that I bought for myself, was Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451. I thrilled to find comic-book adaptations of many of his best stories in the “EC horror comics” (many of which were straight s-f, not horror) of the early 1950s. Throughout my teens, Bradbury was there with a new book, most of them weirdly/wonderfully illustrated by Joe Mugnaini. The October Country. Dandelion Wine. A Medicine for Melancholy. Something Wicked This Way Comes.
In 1960, while I was in college (UCLA), I discovered s-f fandom and the Los Angeles Science Fantasy Society. What a pity that I hadn’t joined a few years earlier, I was told, when Ray Bradbury was still a regular attendee! A lot of the older members told, and agreed upon, their favorite Bradbury stories: How he and Ray Harryhausen used to go to horror moves in their teens, put on Harryhausen’s amateur monster masks in the darkened theaters, and try to scare those seated near them. How one time some woman wandered into a club meeting, asked, “Who ARE you people?’, and Bradbury rushed up to her, raised his arms, and exclaimed, “We are SCIENCE-FICTION people – and I am MOBY DICK!” How during the 1930s club members used to run when they saw Bradbury coming with one of his manuscripts, afraid that he would insist on reading it to them. Bradbury published four issues of his own spirit-duplicated fanzine in the 1930’s, “Futuria Fantasia”, and later tried to destroy all copies because he was embarrassed at how bad his earliest s-f was. (I got a couple of the issues, now part of the Eaton Collection of Science Fiction and Fantasy at the UCRiverside research library. Yeah, ‘pretty bad” doesn’t begin to describe it.) How he hitchhiked cross-country to attend the First World Science-Fiction Convention in New York in 1939, and was not going to go to the $1.00 “banquet” because he couldn’t afford the buck. (Fellow LASFS member Forrest J Ackerman loaned it to him. There is a photograph of the L.A. fans cavorting together at Coney Island before returning home after the convention; Bradbury is grinning in the front row.) How proud he was of one of his first professional sales, about how the Earth is invaded by invulnerable aliens who are going to kill all humans, and how the humans trick them by surgically transplanting all their brains into their pet dogs & cats. (“Subterfuge”, Astonishing Stories, April 1943.) Bradbury boasted about it until another fan replied, “Yeah, and then we get to drink out of toilets for the rest of our lives.” Bradbury stopped talking about it. (I was going to say that that’s one story that you won’t find in Bradbury’s collections of his short fiction, but I see that he finally put it into, or agreed to its inclusion in, Collected Stories of Ray Bradbury: A Critical Edition; Volume 1: 1938-1943; Kent State Univ. Press, April 2011.)
Eventually I met Bradbury at s-f conventions around Southern California, and he returned to the LASFS on a few occasions. When he started having stage adaptations of some of his short stories performed at local playhouses, the LASFS organized theater parties to go see them. We were all proud when Fahrenheit 451 became a major movie in 1966. Eventually the LASFS members who had known Bradbury personally dropped out (or died), and Bradbury drifted away from s-f events into more general literary and academic functions, so for the last couple of decades he became just another literary celebrity to us. But I will always treasure Bradbury’s early s-f & horror fantasies, and the long arguments that I had with other s-f fans as to whether the stories in The Martian Chronicles were “really s-f” or not, for leading me into imaginative – and good – literature.