The death of Rad Bradbury

With the release of an excerpt from my forthcoming novel Empire State up on Tor.com – and, actually, with my reading at Alt Fiction back in June – one change to the book has been revealed. It’s nothing major, it doesn’t affect much at all, but Rad Bradbury is no longer Rad Bradbury.

Back in March, when my signing to Angry Robot was announced, the press release published this summary of Empire State:

Empire State is a story of superheroes, and a city divided in two. Detective Rad Bradbury picks up the trail of a murderer, only to discover that the world he has always known is a pocket universe, recently brought into existence by an explosion of phenomenal power. With a superhero on his tail he crosses into a city that bears a remarkable resemblance to his own – a city called New York. There he uncovers a deadly threat to the Empire State, and finds that the future of both realities are at stake.

The press release was reposted at several sites, including The Bookseller, Publisher’s Weekly, and even io9. As news spread around, I started getting comments on the name of the protagonist. Why, I was asked, is his name a strange homage to Ray Bradbury? What has Ray got to do with Empire State? And so on, and so forth. Some comments were curious. Some comments were malicious. Hey, that’s the internet for you.

The fact is, I’d really forgotten that Rad Bradbury was Rad Bradbury at all. His surname was mentioned a few times in the book, but I knew him best as Rad. His full name, Rad Bradbury, had a certain ring to it, a strange punchiness, the way the consonants crashed together, that I liked.

But I’d forgotten his origins. Way back in the mists of time – we’re talking the second half of 2009, or thereabouts, when the idea for Empire State started forming – I was searching for Ray Bradbury on Amazon.com. I have a vague memory of being distracted by something, and after I typed in my search terms and hit return, I looked away from my computer. Looking back, I had zero results and a series of weird suggestions. Huh. Checking the search field, I’d mistyped, and ‘Ray Bradbury’ had come out ‘Rad Bradbury’. That name got me thinking. Rad Bradbury, whoever he was, was clearly a hardboiled detective, a fedora-wearing pulp PI who wasn’t afraid to use his fists to get out of a jam. He was from the 1930s, and he’d sit in speakeasies drinking bootleg liquor out of teacups while listening to jazz.

Rad Bradbury was my kinda guy, and he was just crying out for his story to be told.

In fact, I even field-tested the name on a few friends. Rad Bradbury? Cool. Great name. Sounds like a detective. And that was that. I wrote Empire State and then wrote other things and the story of how Rad Bradbury came to be kinda faded away.

Turns out, his name is a roadblock, a speed bump, something that a reader catches on, jerking them out of the story, even for a second. And when you’re writing a book that you hope other people will enjoy, there’s no sense in something like that. The object of the game is to remove all obstacles. Rad Bradbury was an obstacle. Rad Bradbury had to go.

Rad Bradley was born.

Easy, right? Well, sort of… I wanted to preserve that rhyme and rhthym, but I also wanted a name that meant something to me. Bradley was just the ticket. Not only did it suggest where the problem with his name is (if you read the excerpt on Tor.com, you’ll get a hint of that – I assume his full name is the rather unfortunate Bradley Bradley, hence his use of an abbreviated nickname), but it’s also a homage to Slam Bradley, the Golden Age comic book detective who debuted in Detective Comics #1 a full year before Superman and two years before Batman would make their respective appearances. Slam Bradley is still around in the DC universe (or at least I hope he is come September!), and he’s the kinda guy that I think Rad would get on with. I can see the two of them, sitting in a dark corner of a bar, downing sour mash, reminiscing memorable fist fights and lamenting broken marriages.

And given that Empire State has a hint of the grimy Golden Age pulp about it, Rad Bradley fits right in.

  • Interesting post Adam. I admit that he Bradbury was something that turned me off – but the change, although slight has made all the difference. Even phonetically I think it flows better as there is ‘b’ in the second syllable. So Rad Brad (ley) flows off the tongue better. 

  • Colin F. Barnes

    I meant …’ there is NO ‘b’ in the second…’ sorry, typing too quick to catch the mistake.

  • Anne Lyle

    I agree with Colin – Rad Bradley is much easier to say. And at least you got an opportunity to make the change before it’s too late!

    I stole the name of my hero from a real (but obscure) Elizabethan guy – anyone complains it’s weird, I’ll just direct them to the history books…

  • AJ Sikes

    Hi Adam,

    I love those little moments of inspiration, be it a mistyped name, a random image on a wall, anything that suddenly opens our minds to a story or character. Thanks for the inside view of Rad Bradley’s evolution.

    I’ll be looking for Empire State. Sounds like a great read and right in with my favorite period in history.

    Cheers,
    Aaron