Ray Bradbury, the prolific science-fiction author who not only dreamed of going to Mars but wrote about living there in a manner that evoked the best of Jules Verne, L. Frank Baum and H.G. Wells, died Tuesday night in Southern California, his daughter confirmed to the Associated Press. He was 91.
No further details were available.
The author of The Martian Chronicles, a collection of short stories about expatriates from a post-apocolyptic earth, (1950) and Fahrenheit 451 (1953), about a complacent society’s abolition of individual thought, was born to a lineman for a utility company and his wife in Waukegan, Ill.
Myopic since childhood, which prevented him from ever driving a car, Bradbury moved with his family to Los Angeles when he was 12 – by which time he was already an avid reader, a trait that stood him in good stead when he graduated high school.
“Libraries raised me,” The New York Times quoted the outspoken Bradbury as saying. “I believe in libraries because most students don’t have any money. When I graduated from high school, it was during the Depression and we had no money. I couldn’t go to college, so I went to the library three days a week for 10 years.”
His first paycheck as a writer came when he was still a youngster, after he sold a joke to the George Burns and Gracie Allen radio show. At 18, he started his own magazine, Futuria Fantasia, writing under various pseudonyms to make it seem the small publication had a large staff. At 21, he sold his first professional story, “Pendulum.”
Because of his weak vision, Bradbury was unable to serve in World War II and began to write full-time instead. His first collection of short stories, Dark Carnival, appeared in 1947, the same year he married a book clerk named Marguerite “Maggie” McClure. (Maggie Bradbury pre-deceased her husband, dying in 2003. They are survived by four daughters and eight grandchildren.)
Then came The Martian Chronicles, and his reputation was established. Fahrenheit 451 only three years later further solidified his literary celebrity. Among those who sought out his futurist expertise was Walt Disney, who asked Bradbury to consult on plans for pavilions at the 1964 New York World’s Fair and for Epcot at Walt Disney World in Florida. Bradbury also had strong positive opinions about America’s space program, and, contrary to critics’ arguments, insisted that the money wasn’t being spent on outer space, but that “every penny was being spent right here, on Earth.”
A true iconoclast, Bradbury refused to be pigeonholed. “First of all, I don’t write science fiction,” he said. “I’ve only done one science-fiction book and that’s Fahrenheit 451, based on reality. It was named so to represent the temperature at which paper ignites. Science fiction is a depiction of the real. Fantasy is a depiction of the unreal. So Martian Chronicles is not science fiction, it’s fantasy. It couldn’t happen, you see? That’s the reason it’s going to be around a long time – because it’s a Greek myth, and myths have staying power.”
So did Bradbury. Although his two most famous books, along with 1962’s Something Wicked This Way Comes, had disappointing screen adaptations, his work remains standard teaching in American schools. By one calculation, Bradbury’s name appears on more than 30 books, nearly 600 short stories and innumerable essays and plays, in addition to screenplays, teleplays, speeches and personal letters.
In June 2012, for a special science-fiction issue of The New Yorker, Bradbury wrote of being totally consumed as a child by space hero Buck Rogers and adventure author Edgar Rice Burroughs. “When I look back now, I realize what a trial I must have been to my friends and relatives,” he said. “I would go out to [my grandparents’ front] lawn on summer nights and reach up to the red light of Mars and say, ‘Take me home!’ ”
If there’s any justice, he’s there now.