Prolific science fiction writer who was first published in his teens


RAY BRADBURY: RAY BRADBURY, who has died aged 91, was the 20th-century American short-story writer par excellence.

Although he was also known for a few novels – principally the science fiction book-burning dystopia Fahrenheit 451 (1953) and the dark fantasy Something Wicked This Way Comes (1962) – as well as for children’s books, plays, screenplays and poetry, it was for his short stories that he gained his widest fame, with his best-known collection being The Martian Chronicles (1950).

His tales were collected in dozens of volumes and reprinted in countless magazines and anthologies, including many school textbooks, making his name familiar to younger generations.

Among his more influential admirers were the Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev and JG Ballard.

Born in Waukegan, Illinois, Bradbury arrived in Los Angeles with his parents, Leonard and Esther, in 1934, and lived there for the rest of his life. At the time he left school in 1938, he was already publishing stories in amateur fanzines, and was an active member of the LA Science Fiction Society, where he rubbed shoulders with more senior writers such as Henry Kuttner, Leigh Brackett and Robert A Heinlein.

He had a reputation as an amusing but pushy kid, always under the feet of visiting magazine editors, always asking his seniors for tips, coaxing them into reading his manuscripts and sometimes collaborating with him.

Sustaining himself as a part-time newspaper seller, he continued to write furiously (at one point, it is said, he burned more than a million words of unpublished fiction), making his first professional sales in 1941 and becoming a full-time writer in 1943.

In 1947 he married Marguerite McClure and they had four daughters.

The best of his early stories appeared in the pulp magazine Weird Tales. The Crowd, about a conspiracy of ghoulish spectators at traffic accidents, and The Scythe, about a farmer who involuntarily takes on the role of Death, were typical of Bradbury’s prolific output in 1943-1944.

These were collected, along with similarly grotesque pieces, in his first book, Dark Carnival (1947), with some rewritten for his definitive collection of horror stories, The October Country (1955).

He also contributed numerous stories to the crime and science-fiction pulps of the mid-1940s, some of them unreprinted to this day.

But Bradbury set his sights on more prestigious magazines. In 1945 he made his breakthrough when he sold a non-fantasy story, The Big Black and White Game (on racial and sporting themes), to the American Mercury.

This came to the attention of Martha Foley, editor of the annual Best American Short Stories anthology, who reprinted it in her 1946 volume – the first of many appearances by Bradbury in that and similar anthologies.

Within a few years, he was selling stories to the biggest and “slickest” magazines of the day: Mademoiselle, Charm, Collier’s, the New Yorker (once), Maclean’s, Seventeen, Esquire, the Saturday Evening Post, Cosmopolitan, Good Housekeeping, Harper’s and more.

His fantastical, whimsical stories, blending horror, humour and sentiment, appealed to editors and readers across the board. Ironically, however, it was in the lowly science-fiction pulps that his second – and best – book had its origins. With The Million-Year Picnic in 1946, he began a loose series about pioneer settlers on Mars and, over the next four years, these appeared primarily in the gaudiest of pulp magazines, Planet Stories and Thrilling Wonder Stories. They were gathered together as The Martian Chronicles (known in Britain as The Silver Locusts).

This was followed by The Illustrated Man (1951), The Golden Apples of the Sun (1953) and A Medicine for Melancholy (1959; known in Britain as The Day It Rained Forever). These, along with his short novel Fahrenheit 451 (filmed by François Truffaut in 1966), remain the core Bradbury books. The best of their tales have a magical quality that endures.

Another of his finest books, Dandelion Wine (1957) is a gathering of short stories furbished with linking passages and presented anew as a “novel”. Like most of his work, it is about childhood, or the child’s-eye view of things.

Although he continued to write to the end, most of Bradbury’s work after 1960 was less successful. Green Shadows, White Whale (1992) was based on “Irish” short stories written in the 1950s and 1960s, inspired by working with John Huston on the 1956 film of Moby Dick, while From the Dust Returned (2001) was based on very early fantasy stories of the 1940s.

But Bradbury remained a much-loved writer, his work often adapted for film and television. Never a great traveller (he preferred a bicycle to a car, and usually avoided aircraft), he lived quietly and received many awards.

Marguerite died in 2003. Bradbury is survived by their daughters, Susan, Ramona, Bettina and Alexandra. – (The Guardian)

Ray Douglas Bradbury, born August 22nd, 1920; died June 5th, 2012