Celebrated science fiction author Ray Bradbury died last night at the age of 91.
Born and raised in the northern Illinois town of Waukegan to a family that could trace its ancestry back to the colonial period, Bradbury moved to Los Angeles when still a teenager; he was already in the habit of writing poetry and fiction every day. Poor eyesight kept him out of the war, but gave him time to launch his career as a professional writer specializing in short sci-fi stories for the pulp market.
Bradbury truly hit his stride in the 1950s, when he published his most famous novels, the dystopian fantasy Fahrenheit 451 and The Martian Chronicles, a bittersweet series of vignettes about human colonization of Mars, as well as the short story collections The Illustrated Man and The Golden Apples of the Sun. He set himself apart from his peers by a determined humanism, an elegant and sometimes dream-like prose style, and a distrust of the potential of technology to overcome human nature. His skills as a writer, unique perspective, and prolific nature made him the most prominent of the post-Golden Age authors, and helped to gain acceptance for science fiction from readers and critics outside of the genre.
He continued to be productive for decades, even as his health began to fade; his last novel appeared in 2006, and he continued writing short fiction – his greatest love – until three years ago. Never satisfied with working in only one style, the restless Bradbury wrote books for children and young adults, mainstream literary fiction, plays, and Zen in the Art of Writing, a non-fiction work dealing with his approach to the craft. He also spent a lengthy period in Hollywood writing screenplay adaptations. His own work has been adapted many times; notable film versions of Fahrenheit 451 (directed by François Truffaut), Something Wicked This Way Comes, and The Wonderful Ice Cream Suit have been made, and he has been frequently anthologized on television.
Beyond his television work, Bradbury was a tireless advocate of literacy and a fierce defender of public libraries, which had been a huge influence on his own development as a writer.
“There's no use going to school unless your final destination is the library,” once said Bradbury, who never went to college.
He grew up haunting the library in Waukegan, devouring the classics as well as Golden Age science fiction, and when he moved to Los Angeles, he wrote many of his famed early works on coin-operated typewriters in remote corners of public libraries.
Bradbury leaves behind a vast legacy of written work, the product of a mind that remained lively and curious until the end. — Leonard Pierce