So Ray Bradbury is dead.
Looking at it macro becomes too much, the scope of his career and the breadth of his genius, the great shit he wrote, the impact he had on me, on science fiction, on so many great writers… the loss becomes too devastating, the eulogy becomes too long, there’s so much to say…
So I’ll keep it micro, focus on one thing, one short story, in fact only one sentence: the last sentence of the story originally published in 1951 as “The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms,” but subsequently anthologized throughout the world as “The Fog Horn.” Two guys in a lighthouse, looking out at the night sea, talking about life and loneliness. Also there’s a dinosaur. And some bad shit happens.
I’m not trying to tell you the story. You should read it; there’s a link a little further on, if you haven’t, and then come back. But for the billions of sci-fi buffs and Bradburians who already known the story, I wanna talk about the ending. And the last sentence.
We cut to one year later; the narrator returns to where the old lighthouse used to stand, talks to the elderly lighthousekeeper with whom he used to work, reflects on his life and what he wants out of it, and the dinosaur, and the brevity and futility of all human endeavor. In his car, looking out at the sea, he says:
“I just sat there wishing there was something I could say.”
It’s magic: the story ends in the moment where words fail. Where his young narrator, confronted with the cruelty and loneliness and brevity of human life, can find no appropriate response but silence. As a writer, I can only dream of getting my characters to that place.
Of course, part of Ray Bradbury’s importance is his role as trailblazer, as Prometheus, giving us something new and lifegiving and worldchanging. His stories have the feel of myth, like fairy tales, so primal they cannot be tampered with. They take familiar subjects (say, circuses) and make them disturbing and unfamiliar (say, Something Wicked This Way Comes), and then make the disturbing unfamiliar version feel perfectly normal and in fact the only way to tell the story; I just finished The Night Circus, which I enjoyed, although it felt derivative-in-a-reverent-way of Something Wicked... His words work their way into our creative DNA; it’s no wonder that echoes of this sentence are forever resounding through my own work.
So: Ray Bradbury is dead. What can I say? What can I add? Tributes and eulogies are everywhere; smarter better folks have said it all smarter and better than I could; I’ll just say that among all the amazing earthshaking brilliant things he did, all his great writing that changed me and made me what I am today, all the great things you can say about him, you can add “Best Last Sentence of Any Short Story Ever. EVER!!!”