SFFing in the Rain

And one more memory of Ray Bradbury


From this let me reprint the money quote:

I once was professionally fortunate enough to interview Ray and Harlan Ellison, separately, for an article on the question “What makes a science-fiction film?” Many films were dismissed because they were stories that could never happen. To them, science-fiction stories occur without violating the laws of science. At the time Ellison was conceptual consultant on Babylon 5 and spoke about how that series fell well within the genre of science fiction, rather than fantasy, like Star Wars.

Ray explained to me that he really didn’t consider himself a science-fiction writer, but he did have a very interesting example of a science-fiction film — Singing in the Rain. He explained that the plot exists solely because of a technological advancement, in this case sound coming to movies, and how that technology affects every character’s life.

I had to ask Ellison a follow-up question, and in the process wondered what he thought of Ray’s example. Ellison said, “Well, I respect Ray greatly, but you have to remember . . . ”

And there was a long pause. Then he said, “You know, Ray has a point.”





  1. Comment by ShireNomad:

    So that means The Artist is the first sci-fi film to win Best Picture!

  2. Comment by Scholar-at-Arms:

    Wow. Ray Bradbury may be the only man to ever shut up Harlan Ellison.

    By the way, Mr. Wright, the link is broken. The URL is duplicated and it goes nowhere.

    • Comment by Suburbanbanshee:

      But Ray Bradbury was the kind of guy who was so great in a way so generous and non-threatening, that even Harlan Ellison wouldn’t mind shutting up to listen to him. And I’m pretty sure that he often did, because Ellison really did respect Bradbury. (And Bradbury was a generation or two ahead of him in fandom, of course.)

  3. Comment by Stephen J.:

    At a Star Trek convention I once went to I had the privilege of participating in an interactive murder mystery, as one of the “host” characters (in my case, Lt. Reg Barclay — not for appearance but because I was the only one who could improvise technobabble); the concept was that a bunch of fans in the 24th century had gotten their hands on a time machine and were kidnapping famous SF/F/H artists from the past. The people they kidnapped were Robert E. Howard, Howard Phillips Lovecraft, Ray Bradbury, Harlan Ellison, and the victim of the “murder”, William Shatner. Ellison, Howard and Lovecraft were all written as being extremely annoyed and/or offput by the nicey-nicey Federation future in which they found themselves, and the experience of being even more adulated than they were in the 20th century, but Bradbury was written as absolutely loving it. “There’s a Ray Bradbury Day!” Bradbury exulted. “I’m an ice cream flavour! I’m a forty-foot-tall helium balloon!

    Now that I think about it, we should start campaigning for a Ray Bradbury Day.

    (Spoiler: Ellison turned out to be the murderer, and Captain James T. Kirk was rescued from the Nexus planet and sent back in time to take the dead Shatner’s place.)

    And that linked article is brilliant. I love it when people point out connections I hadn’t made about a new way to see things.

  4. Comment by Fabio P.Barbieri:

    Write this on his grave in letters of gold: “He got Harlan Ellison to agree with him.”

  5. Comment by PatrickM:

    I am all for anything that silences Harlan Ellison. All the same, the fact remains that “Singing In the Rain” dealt with the implications of *past* technology. SF deals (among other things) with the implications of posited *future* technology. If memory serves, Heinlein had earlier made that point in explaining why Sinclair Lewis’s _Arrowsmith_ is not sf. So Bradbury would appear to be immediately and trivially wrong, thereby justifying his own statement that he was not really an sf writer. For the sake of artistic effect, in much of Bradbury’s supposed sf, he contradicted what was widely known science in his own time. For reasons unclear to me, readers accepted this for a while. Somewhere Asimov wrote something like “This generalization /about sf/ has an exception. The exception has a name. That name is Ray Bradbury.” But I think it has become clearer over time that whatever Bradbury usually wrote, and without prejudice to its quality, it was not sf. (A few of his works do qualify, such as _Fahrenheit 451_.)

    • Comment by Stephen J.:

      That just means Singing in the Rain isn’t speculative fiction. It’s still science fiction, in that it’s a story about the social effects of scientific advancement, with a specific new technology being the plot’s driving McGuffin.

      Pretty much every technological development in 1984 or Fahrenheit 451 is now past technology. Are those works no longer SF?

    • Comment by John C Wright:

      I think Bradbury was speaking tongue in cheek. No one thinks SINGING IN THE RAIN is science fiction. What Bradbury did was use a popular definition of science fiction and apply to a musical set in the 20’s, and provoked thoughtful amusement because the definition fit so well.

      Reading between the lines, notice that Bradbury, one of the preeminent science fiction writers of all time, the “B” in the ABC’s of SF, names himself a not a science fiction writer. His comment was perhaps meant wryly to puncture the self-regard of Hard SF writers of the Campbell school, who do indeed define their science fiction in terms of technological change and its changes on characters.

  6. Comment by Rade Hagedorn:

    You might enjoy this upcoming book that celebrates Bradbury: http://www.indiebound.org/book/9780062122681

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