I picked up a collection of short stories Ray Bradbury wrote in the 1940s and 1950s, R is for Rocket, created before the dawn of the space age. An ancient paperback, its pages as brown as parchment . . . a book I’d read in high school, dreaming of the day humans would fill the vast emptiness among the stars. I haven’t read science fiction in years because the older I grow the more trite it seems, its stories filled with brave commanders of vast armies of hollow ships and mindless machines.
And then I read the title story, about a 15-year-old boy and his best friend who watch the rockets blast off on their way to the moon and long for a life neither thinks he’ll ever see. And I knew at once why I’d enjoyed Bradbury as a kid: he writes with heart. He captures what people feel but can’t seem to describe, even to themselves. He writes about a boy who wants the rocket to knock the stars out of orbit and wants to be there when it does, who feels the kick of liftoff in his chest and abandonment in his soul.
“It gripped me in such a way I knew the special sickness of longing and envy and grief for lack of accomplishment,” he thinks as other men trace his dreams like the imaginary lines that form our constellations. Bradbury writes about an old man who understands the heart of a prehistoric creature called out of the depths by a fog horn on a lighthouse. About a father who can only send one family member on a trip to Mars and instead gives all of his children the gift of imagination.
As Bradbury did.