Questions for Ray Bradbury

Martian Tourist

The writer who gave us the future talks about the technology of the present.

Q: Next week you'll be receiving a lifetime achievement award at the National Book Awards. Are you still writing science fiction these days?

I never wrote science fiction ever in my life, except for "Fahrenheit 451." "The Martian Chronicles" is fantasy. Most of my short stories are fantasy. Science fiction is the art of the possible. Fantasy is the art of the impossible.

Q: What are you reading now?

I read George Bernard Shaw, Shakespeare, Alexander Pope, Emily Dickinson, Robert Frost, Eudora Welty. Is that a good list?

Q: No science fiction?

That would be incest. You don't read in your own field. You read in that field when you're young, so that you can learn. I read Jules Verne, H.G. Wells. When you're older you want to learn from other people.

Q: With science unfolding at such a heady pace, do you think that maybe science writing or even science itself has taken the place of science fiction?

Not for a minute. We've always been ahead of them. We're leading the way. We went to Mars long before they headed there. They haven't made it there yet.

Q: Your story, "The Veldt," about children playing in a special room that becomes the African veldt, is essentially a virtual reality blueprint.

Yes, when I meet with these people, these technologists, they call me Papa.

Q: Are there other examples of events or technologies in your writings that have come to pass?

That's not my business. My business is to prevent the future. "Fahrenheit 451" postulates a lot of things I didn't want to have happen.

Q: How do you feel about some of our present-day science fiction realities or prospects? Like human cloning?

Well, why would you do that? You marry someone and - I've got four daughters. I've already cloned!

Q: What about the possibility that some country might use cloning to create dispensable soldiers or -

You've been reading James Bond too much. It's not going to happen. The Russians had the answer to this. They killed everyone, and the people that were left were the clones.

Q: A few years ago you said: "I don't understand this whole thing about computers and the superhighway. Who wants to be in touch with all those people?" Still feel that way?

Sure, why should I be in touch with all these people?

Q: You don't use e-mail at all?

I don't have a computer. A computer's a typewriter. I already have a typewriter.

Q: How about A.T.M.'s?

Why go to a machine when you could go to a human being? Everything we're doing is inefficient. I called the other day to change an appointment with my hearing-aid people, and it took two minutes, because they have everything on the computer. If they'd had a pad and pencil, you could change it in five seconds.

Q: If you could eliminate one invention from the last 100 years, what would it be?

The automobile. We've killed two million people now. It's been a major war, and we're not paying any attention to it.

Q: There's been a lot of talk about possibly extending human life by 50 or 100 years. Do you ever feel like maybe you were born just a little bit too early?

I was born at the right time. It's a great age. When I was born, in 1920, the auto was only 20 years old. Radio didn't exist. TV didn't exist. I was born at just the right time to write about all these things.

Q: What about the possibility of going into space, setting foot on Mars? Don't you wish you could do that?

Sure, of course. But since it's not going to happen, I don't worry about it.

Q: There's always Mir. If you hurry, you could get on Mir before they pull it down.

It's a bore. I want to go to Mars. Who wants to be up there, just traveling around the earth, doing nothing?

-Mary Roach

Reprinted with permission from New York Times Magazine
November 2000