Ray Bradbury, Martian Chronicles, Fahrenheit 451 author, dead at 91

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Dec 17, 2012, 3:27 PM EST

Ray Bradbury, the legendary author of The Martian Chronicles, Fahrenheit 451, The Illustrated Man and numerous other major works of science fiction, has passed away at the age of 91.

With the passing of author Ray Bradbury at the age of 91, there comes an inevitable but nonetheless mournful end to a majestic, unparalleled career in the field of fantastical literature—an outpouring of poetic, caustic, celebratory, scary and visionary prose and poetry that brought pleasure to millions—and also the finish of an inspirational, ever-youthful personal life lived with zest, joy and generous creative bemusement. With Bradbury's passing, the old triumvirate often referred to as "the ABC of science fiction, Asimov, Bradbury and Clarke" lost its last surviving member.

Ray Douglas Bradbury (the legend that his full birthname was "Raymond" has been dispelled by such close personal friends as author William Nolan) was born on August 22, 1920, in Waukegan, Illinois, to parents in average, modest circumstances. His wide-eyed, dreaming smalltown youth—immortalized in his novel Dandelion Wine (1957)—was preoccupied not only with a growing love of literature, but also with a fascination with Gothic elements of life and culture (movies and comics, for instance), and the pleasures of town and country, centering around the intersection of civilization and the darkness of nature beyond the last streetlights.

Moving with his family at the age of thirteen to Los Angeles, in 1934, proved to be a seminal transfiguration for the teenager. It allowed him to meet and interact with the nascent, burgeoning ranks of SF fans and professionals coalescing around the pulp magazines of the time, such talented, slightly older figures as Forrest J. Ackerman, Ray Harryhausen, Leigh Brackett and Henry Kuttner. Soon, Bradbury was a full fledged-fan, publishing his own zine, Futuria Fantasia, and burning to become a professional writer. He began to publish fiction in the fanzines around 1938. Finally, in 1941 came his first sale: "Pendulum," co-authored with Henry Hasse, which saw publication in Super Science Stories in November, 1941.

After this, there was no stopping the whirlwind of creative activity, although it took some time for Bradbury's mature style to manifest. (A large handful of his earliest stories remain unreprinted at his embarrassed request.) But when it did, readers knew they had never seen anything quite like it, except perhaps in some of the work of Theodore Sturgeon, a figure allied with Bradbury in seeking to imbue SF with a deeper emotional and philosophical sensibility and more elaborate and considered and evocative language.

His first book, Dark Carnival, in 1947, featured such classics as "The Small Assassin" and "Uncle Einar." And already he had begun assembling the stories that would form his landmark work, The Martian Chronicles, having published "The Million Year Picnic" in 1946. When the completed volume was eventually issued in 1950, Bradbury's career made a quantum leap. Suddenly the larger world outside of SF began to recognize his talents, and his fiction began to appear in "the slicks," glossy big-circulation magazines such as The Saturday Evening Post. With The Illustrated Man in 1951, he could even lay claim to the role of prophet: his story "The Veldt" depicts an immersive flatscreen audiovideo environment akin to today's augmented or virtual reality. Of course, given Bradbury's penchant for the macabre and his distrust of the most egregious, dehumanizing gadgets, such a technological innovation turned deadly.

The year 1953 saw his other milestone novel, Fahrenheit 451, hit the stores. This novel became not only a high-school course standard on a par with Orwell's 1984, but also inspiration for Michael Moore's titling of his film Fahrenheit 9/11, an homage which caused one of Bradbury few censorious outbursts. By 1956, he was already taking a turn in Hollywood, scripting John Huston's version of Moby Dick. And the stories continued to flow, many of them, such as 1969's "I Sing the Body Electric," fully equal to his vintage masterpieces.

Bradbury also wrote memoirs, plays, poems and essays galore. His small chapbook, Zen and the Art of Writing, remains a beautiful statement of his belief in the power of literature and art, a display of his joie de vivre, and a handy guide to his methods of composition, adaptable by any fledgling writer of the same temperament. Long before Malcolm Gladwell, Bradbury had discovered the necessity of ten thousand hours of apprenticeship that would lead to mastery.

Bradbury continued to write almost up to his death, with new books appearing at regular intervals. They were always welcome, although the consensus was that he had passed the peak of his powers. The long-anticipated sequel to Dandelion Wine, Farewell Summer (2006) was a indisputable disappointment. Yet his late-period mystery novels beginning with Death Is a Lonely Business (1985) display verve and allure. He had achieved a revered status even in mainstream culture, reflected by such incidents as a viral YouTube video gleefully celebrating his sexiness.

Ray Bradbury gifted the world with myriad tangible tokens of his exuberant, questing spirit, cast in the form of unforgettable, glorious, shivery, exultant stories. He opened up new territory in the field of fantastika, inspiring hundreds of other writers. In the real world, he might famously never have driven a car or flown in a plane, but on the page he went places few other writers have ever ventured, and kindly took all of us along.

(via io9)