The world of science fiction lost an icon of the genre this week with the passing of writer Ray Bradbury. Bradbury was a key founder of science fiction, and one of its strongest and most influential voices.
A lifelong fan of other writers, Bradbury posed sitting in the movie prop from H.G. Wells’ “The Time Machine.” (Decades later the same prop turned up in an episode of “The Big Bang Theory.”)
Not all sci-fi books make the grade as quality literature, but Bradbury’s work was often exceptional and he personally elevated the entire genre. And at least one of his masterpieces is still regularly taught in American schools.
Three Reasons Why He Matters
Writers come and go and most are lucky to have a single work become a classic. Bradbury wrote several and in the process helped turn science fiction into a major literary form. His legacy is based on the following:
1. He Saw the Future. Bradbury is best known for his 1953 triumph “Fahrenheit 451,” which paints a stunning portrait of a dysfunctional future in which intelligence is viewed negatively and books are actually outlawed and burned in piles whenever discovered. (The title refers to the temperature at which paper ignites.)
In its depiction of a world in which television entertainment rules popular culture, he predicted our modern world, warts and all. (The book, written during nine days in a study room in UCLA’s Powell Library, also envisioned the use of ATMs and BlueTooth headsets.) Surprisingly for a master of science fiction—a term he didn’t like—Bradbury was suspicious of technology and man’s increasing dependence on it.
A lifelong believer in public education and libraries (where he educated himself because he couldn’t afford to go to college), he was no fan of e-books. In fact, when renegotiating his publishing rights to his most famous work in 2011, Bradbury gave publisher Simon & Schuster the permission to offer it via digital download only if the book could be downloaded by any library patron free of charge. Among Simon & Schuster’s huge catalog, “Fahrenheit 451” is the only book with this distinction.
2. His Work is Everywhere. Bradbury had a powerhouse work ethic that makes even the always-busy Stephen King look like a slacker. Bradbury literally wrote every dayfor approximately 70 years. (Imagine working 25,000 straight days without a single day off. His last story (for “The New Yorker” magazine) was published just a week before his death at age 91.
Insanely prolific, he authored at least 27 novels and more than 600 short stories, many of which found their way onto movie and TV screens. His huge body of work was plenty successful, too: Bradbury’s writing has been translated into more than 36 languages, with more than eight million copies of his works in circulation.
3. He’s Incredibly Influential. While Bradbury’s body of work is here to stay, so is his lasting influence on many other titans of film and literature. Stephen King offered this tribute: “Ray Bradbury wrote three great novels and three hundred great stories.
One of the latter was called ‘A Sound of Thunder.’ The sound I hear today is the thunder of a giant’s footsteps fading away. But the novels and stories remain, in all their resonance and strange beauty.” Another dedicated fan, Steven Spielberg, called Bradbury “his muse for the better part of his sci-fi career.
In the world of science fiction and fantasy and imagination he is immortal.” And it’s the rare sci-fi writer indeed whose death prompts comment from a U.S. president. President Barack Obama issued the following statement: “For many Americans, the news of Ray Bradbury’s death immediately brought to mind images from his work, imprinted in our minds, often from a young age. His gift for storytelling reshaped our culture and expanded our world.”
Bradbury’s other major novels include “The Martian Chronicles,” “The Illustrated Man” and “Something Wicked This Way Comes,” each of which was eventually adapted for film. His influence is so far-reaching that NASA named a lunar crater after him. His legacy as a writer, thinker and social critic will endure permanently. “I don’t need an alarm clock,” he once said. “My ideas wake me.”
Visionaries like Ray Bradbury don’t come along every day, but the exciting world of science that he treasured is open to everyone with an interest and an imagination. He was a firm believer in the power of the human intellect and its ability to positively reshape our world. And wherever he is now, you can bet that the sound of typing can be heard clearly.
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