LOS ANGELES – Ray Bradbury, the writer whose expansive flights of fantasy and vividly rendered space-scapes have provided the world with one of the most enduring speculative blueprints for the future, has died. He was 91.
Bradbury died Tuesday night in Los Angeles, his agent Michael Congdon confirmed. His family said in a statement that he had suffered from a long illness.
Author of more than 27 novels and story collections – most famously “The Martian Chronicles,” “Fahrenheit 451,” “Dandelion Wine” and “Something Wicked This Way Comes” – and more than 600 short stories, Bradbury has frequently been credited with elevating the often-maligned reputation of science fiction. Some say he singlehandedly helped to move the genre into the realm of literature.
“The only figure comparable to mention would be (Robert A) Heinlein and then later (Arthur C.) Clarke,” said Gregory Benford, a University of California, Irvine, physics professor who is also a Nebula Award-winning science fiction writer. “But Bradbury, in the ’40s and ’50s, became the name brand.”
Much of Bradbury’s accessibility and ultimate popularity had to do with his gift as a stylist – his ability to write lyrically and evocatively of lands an imagination away, worlds he anchored in the here and now with a sense of visual clarity and small-town familiarity.
The late Sam Moskowitz, the pre-eminent historian of science fiction, once offered this assessment: “In style, few match him. And the uniqueness of a story of Mars or Venus told in the contrasting literary rhythms of Hemingway and Thomas Wolfe is enough to fascinate any critic.”
As influenced by George Bernard Shaw and William Shakespeare as he was by Jules Verne and Edgar Rice Burroughs, Bradbury was an expert of the taut tale, the last-sentence twist. And he was more celebrated for short fiction than his longer works.
“It’s telling that we read Bradbury for his short stories,” said Benford. “They are glimpses. The most important thing about writers is how they exist in our memories. Having read Bradbury is like having seen a striking glimpse out of a car window and then being whisked away.”
Bradbury’s poetically drawn and atmospheric fictions – horror, fantasy, shadowy American gothics – explored life’s secret corners: what was hidden in the margins of the official family narrative, or the white noise whirring uncomfortably just below the placid surface. He offered a set of metaphors and life puzzles to ponder for the rocket age and beyond, and has influenced a wide swath of popular culture – from children’s writer R.L. Stine and singer Elton John (who with songwriter Bernie Taupin penned the hit “Rocket Man” as an homage), to architect Jon Jerde who enlisted Bradbury to consider and offer suggestions about reimagining public spaces.
Bradbury frequently attempted to shrug out of the narrow “sci-fi” designation, not because he was put off by it, but rather because he believed it was imprecise.
“I’m not a science fiction writer,” he was frequently quoted as saying. “I’ve written only one book of science fiction (“Fahrenheit 451”). All the others are fantasy. Fantasies are things that can’t happen, and science fiction is about things that can happen.”
Besides books and short stories, Bradbury wrote poetry, plays, teleplays, even songs. In 1956, he was tapped by John Huston to write the screenplay for “Moby Dick.” In 1966, the French auteur director Francois Truffaut brought “Fahrenheit 451” to the screen. And in 1969 “The Illustrated Man” became a film starring Rod Steiger.
A stroke in late 1999 slowed him but didn’t stop him. He began dictating his work over the phone to one of his daughters, who helped to transcribe and edit.