One of my dreams was to grow up and become a magician. Well, that's what happened. I'm not a science fiction writer. I'm a magician. I can use words to make you believe anything." -Ray Bradbury
Ray Bradbury is one of the classic authors of our day- one of the fathers of science fiction. At nearly 82 years old, and over 500 works later, he is still going strong. He is still writing, creating and producing.
Ray Douglas Bradbury was born in Waukegan, Illinois on August 22, 1920. He was the third son of Leonard Spaulding Bradbury, a telephone line worker, and Esther Marie Bradbury, a Swedish immigrant. Bradbury credits his mother, with jump-starting his love of fantasy and the supernatural. His mother was fascinated with the new motion pictures. She would sneak Bradbury in with her when he was only two or three years old where he was enthralled. When he was five he was introduced to the world of dinosaurs, which would later play a part in his works. When he was six, his family moved to Tuscan, Arizona. However, a year later they moved back to Waukegan (Biography). As a child, Bradbury wanted to be a magician. At eight years old, he was brought onstage at a magic show to assist a magician make an elephant disappear (Sipos). For the next several years he tried to be a magician. However, at the age of 11, his creativity immerged and he began writing stories on butcher paper. His parents saw his interest and encouraged it by giving him a typewriter for Christmas the following year. His fascination with the Moon and mars quickly found their way into typewritten pages. However, things would not stay happy. That same year his father lost his job with the telephone company and the family once again moved to Tuscan, however the pattern repeated itself and several months later they moved back to Illinois (Biography). However, the family were not to stay in Illinois. In 1934, the family permanently moved to Los Angeles, California.
As a teenager in LA, Bradbury often roller-skated through town trying to spot celebrities. He developed a friendship with George Burns, who ended up giving Bradbury his first paying job, contributing a joke to Burn's radio show (Jepson). In High School Bradbury was active in the drama club and planned to become an actor. However, two of his teachers recognized Bradbury's talent for writing. The taught him about poetry and short story writing and encouraged him. He brought up his grades and joined the schools poetry club (Jepson). Outside of school he contributed to several publications and joined the Los Angeles Science Fiction League. In 1938, He graduated from Los Angeles High School and had his first story "Hollerbochen's Dilemma," was published in Imaagination!.
This was the end of Bradbury's formal education, however he would spend hours at the local library attending workshops and presentations and reading. From 1938to 1942, he sold newspapers on LA street corners to support himself. In 1939, Bradbury delved into the world of publishing by creating and producing his own fan magazine called "Futuria Fantasia." He contributed much of the content himself. However, it only lasted four issues. In 1941, Bradbury finally received payment for publication of his work. His story "Pendulum" was published in Super Science Stories. The following year he wrote "The Lake," a story that is considered to be the moment of full emergence of his style. In 1943, Bradbury stopped working to focus on writing full time. That move paid off for him in 1945, when his story "The Black and White Game" was selected for inclusion in the Best American Short Stories. In 1946, he met his future wife working as a clerk in a bookshop that he frequented. Marguerite McClure was a graduate of UCLA and an avid reader as well. 1947 was a big year for Bradbury, on September 27th he married Marguerite, and later that year he gathered many of his best stories and published them as Dark Carnival (later republished as The October Country), his first short story anthology. The first of his four daughters, Susan, was born in 1949.
His reputation as leading writer of science fiction was established in 1950 with the publication of several of his major works. The decade began with the 1950 publication of The Martian Chronicles, a series of short stories which describe the first attempts of Earth people "to conquer and colonize Mars, the constant thwarting of their efforts by the gentle, telepathic Martians, the eventual colonization, and finally the effect on the Martian settlers of a massive nuclear war on Earth"(Hartlaub). "As much a fable and cautionary tale as science fiction, The Martian Chronicles reflects some of the prevailing anxieties of America in the early atomic age of the 1950s: the fear of nuclear war, the longing for a simpler life, reactions against racism and censorship, and fear of foreign political powers" (Hartlaub).
Even with its futuristic setting and 50's sentiments, parents in the 1980's and 90's had things to say about it. It was banned in several school districts at both the junior high and high school level for profanity and use of Gods name in vain (Fat). However, reviewing the book in 2001, reviewer Emily Stewart felt that the book was simply realistic to real life: "racism has not gone by the wayside, nor has ethnocentrism, censorship, exploitation or the threat of atomic war. None of these problems is solved with charming futuristic babble, but is simply presented from a different perspective. Occasionally, a solution is offered, but only with a tongue in cheek. (Stewart)"
Another of Bradbury's best-known works, Fahrenheit 451, published in 1953, developed out of a series of five short stories, which Bradbury wrote in the late 1940's. The stories had been inspired by Bradbury's horror of watching Hitler on television burning books in Nazi Germany. (Eyman) Bradbury once explained that "When I saw what Hitler was doing in the streets, burning books, that to me was the most criminal thing I'd ever seen. Over the years I read about the burning of the library at Alexandria, again the most criminal thing I'd ever heard. The library is the center of our life." Fahrenheit 451, the temperature at which a book burns, creates Bradbury's title for a moving story "set in a future society where the written word is forbidden, and firemen are utilized for burning books and putting out the fires."(Hartlaub). Ironically, this book about censorship has been censored or completely banned several times in several different school systems. The most common complaint is the use of soft swears. This became so common that Bradbury issued an addendum to the book for later printings (Fat). Science Fiction Weekly reviewer, Mark Wilson, finds the tale to be cautionary: " What's even more unsettling is how little would have to change for our society to resemble Montag's. The people in Fahrenheit 451 are not evil or debased -- they're just shortsighted. They like their TV, and TV has obliged them by becoming more exciting, easier to watch and more content-free. (Wilson) Very few critics can be found that do not agree with his thoughts on the moral values of the book.
Bradbury's work in the late 1960s began to turn more introspective, and, if not more mainstream, to quieter, more down to earth topics, with more whimsy and perhaps less darkness and fantasy. (Hartlaub) In 1963, Bradbury acted as a consultant for the United States Pavilion at the 1964 Worlds Fair. In 1967, his article in American Magazine won the Aviation-Space Writers Association award for best space article (Eyman). The most unusual homage was paid to Bradbury in July of 1969 when Apollo 11 landed on the moon. One of the astronauts names a lunar crater "Dandelion Crater" after Bradbury's 1957 book, Dandelion Wine (Ochse).
After his amazing decade in the 50's and 60's, Ray Bradbury certainly wasn't silent in the 70's. He was extremely active in writing short stories and scripts, for both plays and cinema. The Science Fiction Writers of America selected his short story "Mars Is Heaven" for the Science Fiction Hall of Fame in 1970. In 1977 he was given a World Fantasy Lifetime achievement Award.
In 1980, Bradbury's passion for space and the future coxed him to become one of the founding members of the Planetary Society, an independent space organization. In 1982 Bradbury helped design the Spaceship Earth Exhibition at Disney World1s EPCOT Center (Writer). From 1985 to 1992 the Ray Bradbury Theater aired on cable television for which he adapted over sixty-five of his stories. His work earned him over a dozen cable awards (Rayl).
On November 7, 1999 Bradbury suffered a stroke, which left him partially paralyzed on the left side of his body. (Ray Bradbury Sharp) However, with some time to heal and physical therapy he has made great strides towards full recovery. Recently,…