Ray Bradbury, a giant of US 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,” a spokesman for his publisher, HarperCollins, said 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 TV, 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.”
However, 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.”
Bradbury was born in Waukegan, Illinois, and moved to Los Angeles as a teenager as his father sought work during the Great Depression.
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.
In a career spanning more than 70 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 TV mini-series.
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.
US 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.”