(Author's note: This article was originally published in September 2010, but it serves as a fitting review of the career of Ray Bradbury, who died on June 5, 2012.)
"But of course he was going away, there was nothing else to do, the time was up, the clock had run out, and he was going very far away indeed."
Unless one believes that Mr. Electrico's command to Ray Bradbury should be taken literally, the famed author will likely not be on this planet to celebrate his 100th birthday.
For those unfamiliar with the Bradbury mythology, Mr. Electrico was a carnival magician Bradbury saw in 1932, when he was 12. Sam Weller describes the event in his 2005 biography The Bradbury Chronicles: "Mr. Electrico then approached the bespectacled, wide-eyed boy in the front row. Taking the [electrified] sword, he tapped Ray on each shoulder, then on the brow, and finally on the tip of his nose and cried, 'Live forever!'"
"Why did he say that?" Bradbury said to Weller. "I decided that was the greatest idea I had ever heard. Just weeks after Mr. Electrico said this to me, I started writing every day. I never stopped."
Immortality, of course, already belongs to Bradbury. His 1953 novel Fahrenheit 451 stands alongside Aldous Huxley's Brave New World (published in 1932) and George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four (published in 1949) as a mid-20th Century cautionary-tale classic imagining a future full of numbing technology and invasive government. (See the sidebar "Pleasure to Burn -- Reading Fahrenheit 451.")
The book is the subject of the Moline Public Library's Quad Cities-wide "Big Read" campaign, which begins September 27 with a keynote lecture by Weller and closes on October 31 -- Bradbury's favorite holiday. (For a list of Big Read events, see the sidebar "Fahrenheit 451 -- Area Book Discussions, Panel Discussions, and Film Screenings.") But while Fahrenheit 451 is undoubtedly Bradbury's lasting long-form work, Weller noted in an interview last week that the book isn't typical of the author.