Ray Bradbury dies: Science fiction author of ‘Fahrenheit 451’ and ‘Martian Chronicles’ was 91

From The Washington Post

By Wednesday, June 6, 11:07 AM

 

Sci-fi master Ray Bradbury, author of ‘Fahrenheit 451’ ‘Martian Chronicles,’ dead at 91: The imaginative and prolific author wrote some of the most popular science-fiction books of all time, including "The Martian Chronicles" and "Fahrenheit 451."


Ray Bradbury, a boundlessly imaginative novelist who wrote some of the most popular science fiction books of all time, including “Fahrenheit 451” and “The Martian Chronicles,” and who transformed the genre of flying saucers and little green men into a medium exploring childhood terrors, colonialism and the erosion of individual thought, died June 5. He was 91.


The death was announced by the Associated Press.

 

Mr. Bradbury, who began his career in the 1930s contributing stories to pulp-fiction magazines, received a special Pulitzer Prize citation in 2007 “for his distinguished, prolific and deeply influential career as an unmatched author of science fiction and fantasy.”

 

His body of work, which continued to appear through recent years to terrific reviews, encompassed more than 500 titles, including novels, plays (“Dandelion Wine,” adapted from his 1957 semi-autobiographical novel), children’s books and short stories. His tales were often adapted for film, including the futuristic story of a book-burning society (director François Truffaut’s “Fahrenheit 451,” in 1966), a suspense story about childhood fears (“Something Wicked This Way Comes” in 1983) and the more straightforward alien attack story (“It Came From Outer Space” in 1953).

 

He helped write filmmaker John Huston’s 1956 movie adaptation of Herman Melville’s novel “Moby-Dick” and contributed scripts to the television anthology programs “The Twilight Zone” and “Alfred Hitchcock Presents.” Mr. Bradbury hosted his own science fiction anthology program, “The Ray Bradbury Theater,” from 1985 to 1992 on the HBO and USA cable networks.

Mr. Bradbury said “Fahrenheit 451,” based on an earlier novella he called “The Fireman,” was his only work of science fiction.

 

The 1953 book centers around Guy Montag, a fireman of the future charged with burning books. Montag eventually becomes a member of a rogue group seeking to save the great writings of civilization through memorization. Mr. Bradbury said the story was inspired by the Nazi book bonfires of the 1930s that he saw in movie newsreels as a young man.

 

Many observers linked the anti-book-burning message and the fact that “Fahrenheit 451” was published at a peak moment of Sen. Joseph McCarthy’s (R-Wis.) highly destructive anti-communist crusade. Mr. Bradbury said “Fahrenheit 451” was not necessarily about top-down censorship.

 

“The real threat is not from Big Brother, but from little sister [and] all those groups, men and women, who want to impose their views from below,” he told the Times of London in 1993. “If you allow every minority to grab one book off the shelf you’ll have nothing in the library.”

 

“Fahrenheit 451” continued to raise controversy. It was on the American Library Association’s list of the 100 most-challenged, though not necessarily banned, books of 2000-07. The book’s critics accused it of inappropriate language and promoting an anti-establishment message. It remains, however, a popular selection for schools’ required reading lists and community-wide literary programs.

 

Ray Douglas Bradbury, who was born Aug. 22, 1920, in Waukegan, Ill., was shaped in many ways by a horrific car wreck he saw as a teenager.

He never learned to drive and grew compulsively wary of the potential dangers of modern, mechanized life; he took his first plane trip in 1982, and only then having drunk three double martinis.

 

He also traced his origins as a writer to having seen as a toddler the 1923 silent film “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” starring Lon Chaney as a grotesque societal outcast.

 

His love of books began at an early age with favorites such as Edgar Allan Poe, Jules Verne and H.G. Wells. He would spend many nights at the local library, recalling for the Los Angles Times in 1985 that he was “fairly poor” (his father was a lineman who had trouble finding work) and so took advantage of the scraps of paper provided by the library for reference notes as a way to write down bits of short stories.

 

He was inspired to write his first story at the age of 12 by Mr. Electrico, a performer at a traveling carnival who sent an electric current through the teen’s body, proclaiming, “Live forever!,” and later said they’d known each other in one of Mr. Bradbury’s previous lives. The experience evolved into the novel “Something Wicked This Way Comes” (1962), the basis for a film of the same name starring Jonathan Pryce as a diabolical circus owner.

Rejected by the Army during World War II because of poor eyesight, Mr. Bradbury lived with his parents and made money by selling stories to pulp magazines. In 1946, he walked into a bookstore carrying a briefcase and trench coat, and a sales clerk suspected him of being a book thief. The employee was named Marguerite McClure, and Mr. Bradbury asked her out for coffee.

“I'm going to the moon some day,” Mr. Bradbury told her. “Wanna come?”

 

They married in 1947 and had four daughters. Mrs. Bradbury died in 2003.

 

Mr. Bradbury’s first book, a short-story collection called “Dark Carnival,” was published in 1947. Many of the stories in the collection, which also introduced the Elliott family of some of his later works, were based on his childhood experiences and fears. He would further mine his personal life in a variety of other works, among them “Dandelion Wine” (1957), a snapshot of a small town based on Waukegan.

 

Accolades began to pile up. Mr. Bradbury earned the prestigious O. Henry Award for short stories in 1947 and 1948. His popular breakthrough was “The Martian Chronicles,” which sold a few thousand copies before the paperback edition swept him to the bestseller lists. His next collection of stories, “The Illustrated Man” (1951), hit on the Mars theme as well.

 

Afraid of being distracted at home by his children, Mr. Bradbury wrote “Fahrenheit 451” on a typewriter he rented for 10 cents per half-hour in a basement room at UCLA. The author renamed it based on the temperature paper burned — at least according to a fire chief he finally got on the phone.

 

At the time, a critic writing in the New York Times credited Mr. Bradbury with “remarkable virtuosity” and said “Fahrenheit 451” was “moving and convincing at times” but noted that “the characters remain spare symbols whose imagined lives are curiously inconsistent with established fact.”

 

He gave mixed reviews of the later film adaptation with Oskar Werner and Julie Christie in the lead roles. His own early experience writing for Hollywood gave himfinancial independence for the first time, but he had a difficult time working with the mercurial Huston. A later story, “The Banshee,” was based on their collaboration and centered on a director who torments a young writer with practical jokes and mind games.

 

Mr. Bradbury continued to publish in the next several decades while also working in theater and children’s books. The story collection “I Sing the Body Electric” appeared in 1969. In something of a departure from his tradition, Mr. Bradbury in 1985 published the novel “Death Is a Lonely Business,” a noir mystery with a protagonist modeled after himself in the late 1940s. He ventured into detective fiction with “Let’s All Kill Constance” in 2003.

 

He scripted the 1962 animated history of flight, “Icarus Montgolfier Wright,” which earned an Academy Award nomination for best short film, and he won a Daytime Emmy in 1993 for writing the animated children’s program “The Halloween Tree.” President George W. Bush presented Mr. Bradbury with the National Medal of Arts in 2004, the nation’s highest award given to artists.

 

“I can’t name a writer who’s had a more perfect life,” Mr. Bradbury told the New York Times in 1983. “My books are all in print, I’m in all the school libraries, and when I go places I get the applause at the start of my speech.”

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