NEW YORK (Reuters) - Ray Bradbury, a giant of American literature who helped popularize science fiction with poetic, cerebral works such as “The Martian Chronicles,” died on Tuesday in Los Angeles. He was 91.
Bradbury brought not only futuristic vision but literary sensibilities to his more than 500 works published including “Fahrenheit 451,” a classic dystopian novel about book censorship in a future society, and other favorites such as “The Illustrated Man” and “Something Wicked This Way Comes.”
“Mr. Bradbury died peacefully, last night, in Los Angeles, after a long illness,” said a spokesman for his publisher, HarperCollins, on Wednesday.
As a science fiction writer, Bradbury said he did not want to predict the future — but sometimes wanted to prevent it. Such was the case with “Fahrenheit 451,” a book published in 1953 about a totalitarian, anti-intellectual society where banned books are burned by “firemen.” The title refers to the temperature at which paper ignites.
The novel, which Bradbury wrote on a rented typewriter at the UCLA library, featured a world that might sound familiar to 21st century readers — wall-sized interactive televisions, earpiece communication systems, omnipresent advertising and political correctness.
“In science fiction, we dream,” he told The New York Times. “In order to colonize in space, to rebuild our cities ... to tackle any number of problems, we must imagine the future, including the new technologies that are required ...
“Science fiction is also a great way to pretend you are writing about the future when in reality you are attacking the recent past and the present.”
But for a futurist, Bradbury did not always embrace technology. He called the Internet a scam perpetrated by computer companies, was disdainful of automatic teller machines and denounced video games as “a waste of time for men with nothing else to do.”
He said he never learned to drive a car after witnessing an accident that killed several people and did not travel by airplane until much later in life.
Bradbury was born in Waukegan, Illinois, and moved to Los Angeles as a teenager as his father sought work during the Depression. He roller-skated around Hollywood, chasing celebrities for autographs, and was strongly influenced by the science fiction works of “Tarzan” creator Edgar Rice Burroughs.
He did not go to college, instead educating himself by spending hours reading in libraries, and began writing for pulp magazines. In 1950 Bradbury published “The Martian Chronicles” — a tale of Earthlings fleeing a troubled planet and their conflicts with residents on Mars. It was given a glowing review by influential critic Christopher Isherwood, which Bradbury credited with launching his career.
Isherwood was among the first to note the quality writing in Bradbury’s work, which brought him literary credibility and new respect to the science fiction and fantasy genres.
Like “The Illustrated Man,” another of his best-known works, “The Martian Chronicles” was a collection of related stories.
In a career spanning more than seventy years, other well-known titles include “Dandelion Wine,” “I Sing the Body Electric” and “From the Dust Returned” and he wrote hundreds of short stories as well as numerous poems, essays, operas, plays, teleplays and screenplays.
“Fahrenheit 451” was made into a movie by French director Francois Truffaut while Bradbury wrote the movie version of “Something Wicked This Way Comes” and “The Martian Chronicles” became a television mini-series. He also wrote the screenplay for John Huston’s 1956 film adaptation of “Moby Dick.”
Because of his visionary thinking, NASA brought Bradbury in to lecture astronauts, Disney consulted with him while designing its futuristic Epcot Center in Florida and shopping mall developers sought his input.
He was awarded the 2000 National Book Foundation Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters, the 2004 National Medal of Arts and the 2007 Pulitzer Prize Special Citation. He won an Emmy Award for his teleplay adaptation of his 1972 novel, “The Halloween Tree.”
President Barack Obama said in a statement that Bradbury’s “gift for storytelling reshaped our culture and expanded our world” and his influence would inspire generations to come, while film director Steven Spielberg called the writer “my muse for the better part of my sci-fi career.”
Bradbury, who suffered a stroke in 1999 and ended up using a wheelchair, and his wife, Maggie, who died in 2003, had four children.
“His legacy lives on in his monumental body of books, film, television and theater, but more importantly, in the minds and hearts of anyone who read him, because to read him was to know him. He was the biggest kid I know,” his grandson, Danny Karapetian, told sci-fi website io9.com.
Other tributes began pouring in from fellow authors and fans on Twitter such as sci-fi author Paul McAuley, who said Bradbury “scared and astonished my childhood self, and alchemized pulp SF into literature but never forgot its roots.”
Bradbury had a piece published in The New Yorker this week in which he said he began to read sci-fi magazine when he was 7 or 8 years old.
“When I look back now, I realize what a trial I must have been to my friends and relatives,” he said. “It was one frenzy after one elation after one enthusiasm after one hysteria after another. I was always yelling and running somewhere, because I was afraid life was going to be over that very afternoon.”
Even in his later years he liked to write daily — whether it was a novel, a short story, a screenplay or a poem.
“The great fun in my life has been getting up every morning and rushing to the typewriter because some new idea has hit me,” he said on his 80th birthday.
Additional reporting by Daniel Trotta; Writing by Bill Trott and Christine Kearney; Editing by Anthony Boadle and M.D. Golan