Science Fiction Icon Ray Bradbury Dead at 91

Posted June 6th, 2012 at 7:05 pm (UTC-5)
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Ray Bradbury, one of America's best-known science fiction writers, has died at the age of 91.

Bradbury is perhaps most remembered for his 1953 novel Fahrenheit 451, about a futuristic society where book burning is an official policy. Often described as a story about the evils of censorship, Bradbury said the book was really about television destroying people's interest in literature.

Bradbury first catapulted to international fame years earlier, in 1950, when he published The Martian Chronicles, a collection of stories about human attempts to colonize Mars. It book was eventually published in more than 30 languages.

Bradbury was a rarity in the literary world — a science fiction writer who managed to win acclaim from critics for the quality of his writing and story-telling. But Bradbury's works were often about much more than fantastic visions of the future. He used the The Martian Chronicles' stories to express stinging criticism of current events, addressing controversial topics like racism, pollution, nuclear war and technology gone out of control.

In all, Bradbury wrote more than 30 books and nearly 600 short stories across his decades-long career, as well as poems, plays and screenplays.

President Barack Obama said Bradbury's gift for storytelling reshaped the culture and will inspire generations to come.

Bradbury's love for writing, and for writing about the future, came from his childhood.

Born on August 22, 1920 in in Waukegan, Illinois, his father moved the family to Los Angeles when Bradbury was young. He told CBS television in 1988 his family never had much money, but that at a young age he fell in love with the science fiction comic strip, Buck Rogers.

“All the kids at school made fun of me, I tore them up. A month later, I broke into tears and I said to myself, 'Who died?' The answer was 'Me.' I listened to those fools, they made fun of my love. I went back and collected the Buck Rogers comic strips and discovered [that] that was the way to live.”

Bradbury said that philosophy stuck with him the rest of his life.

“I've learned long ago that everyone else was wrong and I was right. If you learn that when you're 9, 10 or 11, and keep that with you for a lifetime, you'll have a good life.”

He also sought inspiration from his toys and mementos he had collected over the years and refused to throw away. They found a home in the basement of his Los Angeles home, which also served as his writing studio.

“You never know where you're going to get an idea, and really these are metaphors as I look around at them, and one by one, I pick up on them. I say that would make a short story. So I begin to type, I put nouns on the paper. I describe some of these toys. Next thing you know I have a short story. So I've learned not to throw things away because that's what a writer is, a collector of objects, symbols, metaphors. Call them what you will, but you never know when something here is going to turn into another story.”

Bradbury devoted himself to his craft, striving to spend at least four hours a day writing. Too poor to afford a college education, he spent hours in the library, eventually writing Fahrenheit 451 on a rented typewriter at the library of the University of California-Los Angeles.

That love of libraries stayed with him throughout his life and in a 2010 interview with the U.S. State Department he said, “what I think I can teach people is that a library is more important than a college or university.”

Despite his love for the written word, Bradbury did not limit his vision to stories and books. He consulted with the builders of the U.S. pavilion for the 1964 World Fair in New York and collaborated with the Walt Disney World resort in Florida for its Spaceship Earth exhibit at the futuristic Epcot Center.

Yet for all of his tales about science, technology and the future, Bradbury often shunned the conveniences of modern-day life.

He refused to drive a car, saying he witnessed an automobile accident as a young man that forever terrified him of driving. And for much of his life he refused to fly in airplanes.

He also had a lingering distrust of computers. In his 2010 State Department interview he said the information available to people on computers “is not quite the same as the information you get in a library.” He said if he had his way, “I would burn the computers and not the libraries.”