Bradbury's helped raise credibility of sci-fi


Ray Bradbury was the poet laureate of science fiction. Author of more than 500 works, he was one of the first to rise to prominence from pulp magazines, using a sophisticated but economical prose style that raised the reputation of the genre and gained him much admiration in the literary establishment.

He was one of the best-known science fiction writers, though he knew little about science. Science was, to him, if anything, the mark of man's decline. And in a genre in which writers made their reputations with clever plotting and the exposition of scientific and technological ideas, Bradbury made his on style.

Born in Waukegan, Illinois, in 1920, Bradbury moved frequently with his family as his father, a power and telephone lineman, looked for work during the Great Depression. They settled in Los Angeles, but it was the images of the Midwest, and the simple life he led there as a child, that permeated Bradbury's stories.

At 11 he wanted to be a magician, but a year later his ambition changed when the gift of a toy typewriter began a lifetime of conjuring words. He graduated from high school in 1938 but did not go to college because of a lack of funds.

His writing began in earnest with contributions to pulp magazines. His first paid piece, Pendulum, written with Henry Hasse, was published in Super Science Stories in 1941; he earned $15. By 1943 he began writing fulltime, graduating to periodicals including Harper's and The New Yorker.

Bradbury was not accepted for war service because of his poor eyesight, and instead he wrote numerous radio scripts for the Red Cross and the Los Angeles Department of Defence.

His first collection of short stories, Dark Carnival (1947), contained what Bradbury himself described as "night-sweats and terrors".

The Martian Chronicles, a series of short stories about the conquering and colonisation of Mars despite the efforts of the gentle, telepathic Martians, followed three years later. Bradbury, unlike most sci-fi writers, was not concerned with how the astronauts got to Mars and how they breathed, but with their human reactions to a new world.

More than 300 short stories were to follow, published first in magazines and then collected throughout the 1950s and 1960s in books.

Bradbury was always a sunny, affable man but, curiously for someone whose fiction often involved robots and rockets, was fearful of modern technology, refusing to travel in lifts, never learning to drive a car (preferring to pedal his way around Los Angeles on a bicycle) and refusing to fly in an aircraft until he was 62. "I don't try to describe the future," he said of his writing, "I try to prevent it."

His work often contained fearful predictions for the future – such as the book-burning society depicted in his first novel Fahrenheit 451 – and a passionate nostalgia for the safer world of the past. Fahrenheit 451, his favourite work, portrayed a totalitarian society beset by censorship and anti-intellectualism in which firemen, rather than put out fires, set fire to books – the title refers to the temperature at which paper catches fire. It also anticipated a society dominated by large plasma TV screens and trite interactive programmes.

He wrote the book in the University of California, Los Angeles library stacks on rented typewriters in which he inserted a dime for half an hour's typing time.

Many writers and film-makers have cited Bradbury as a major influence – among them Stephen King, Steven Spielberg and Lionel Shriver.

In his old age he was vehemently anti-internet and very much pro-books, appearing in the news for his quest to save American public libraries.

The Southland Times