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Onyx reviews: Ray Bradbury: The Last Interview: And other Conversations

Reviewed by Bev Vincent, 12/10/2014

Unlike other entries in "The Last Interview" series, this book collects more than one interview. First comes Bradbury's final public appearance at San Diego Comic-Con in July 2010. Bradbury had been attending this massive event since 1970, when it was a much smaller affair, but on this occasion he was clearly exhausted by the drive from his Los Angeles home. On stage in front of hundreds of adoring fans, he seems overwhelmed. Sam Weller, who had been working with him for a decade as his official biographer, drove him to the event and acted as his interviewer, though often his role is expanded. When Bradbury's answers are brief or incomplete, Weller jumps in to expand upon them or to prompt Bradbury's memories. Bradbury, seemingly aware of what is expected of him, utters sound bites and platitudes, mostly, distilling his philosophy of life into greeting card statements.

One has to take into account the fact that the man was nearly ninety, had lost his wife of fifty-six years and suffered a stroke. By Weller's account, he spent much of his time housebound, so being dragged down the freeway and placed in front of such a large crowd probably did not show him in the best light. Also, it's hard to judge what he was like based simply on words on the page. Weller says he came to life in front of the audience.

The second part of the book consists of some incomplete essays seeing print for the first time. He writes—or, rather, talks since by this point he was dictating his work—about the loss of his cat, a constant companion since his wife's death, about his grandfather's influence on his life, and about his work as an architect. He seemed driven to write about the latter, an essay he intended for Architectural Digest. The most interesting part of this essay, apart from learning about the various places where Bradbury had an influence on design, is his concept of what it means to be an architect. Though he is often described as the architect of the US Pavilion at the 1964 World Fair and Spaceship Earth at Epcot, he did not design and oversee the construction of these buildings, and others for which he takes some credit. He was more of a consultant, writing scripts and creating via broad brush strokes.

Bradbury's final public appearance was in late 2010 in Pomono. Weller notes how frail the author was on that day, but he manages to tease some interesting new details from Bradbury, including the origins of some of the character names in Fahrenheit 451. Montag, for example, was named for the brand of typing paper Bradbury used to buy and Professor Faber after a brand of pencil. There's also a character named Hudson who was named after Sherlock Holmes' landlady. Weller draws a number of fascinating, detailed anecdotes from Bradbury, who seems more energetic and nimble than at the Comic-Con appearance.

The "last interview" itself is actually a series of five interviews conducted at Bradbury's home between April 2011 and April 2012. These are more intimate, and there's much less of a sense that Bradbury is performing for an audience. At times he seems melancholy, suggesting that Weller complete things that aren't finished when he dies. Bradbury says he's not afraid of dying, but he's afraid of not living. He still has many things he wants to accomplish and hopes to live to a hundred. He's in a reflective mood, discussing his legacy and possible memorials or museums that will be built in tribute to him after he's gone.

Though Weller says that no topic is off limits, there's very little in this book about Bradbury's personal life. His wife is mentioned fleetingly on a number of occasions, and his four daughters are barely referred to at all. Perhaps Weller had already covered this topic in his biography. 

There's something a little sad about seeing or hearing from one's literary heroes in their final days. Not only is there poignancy at the thought that the great man will write no more, there's also the realization that his amazing mind has lost some of its acuity—but none of his enthusiasm. He still marvels at being alive and creating. Inside that ninety year old body, the heart of a nine year old boy still beats.

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