Ray Bradbury 1920-2012
(Also wrote under the pseudonyms of Douglas Spaulding and Leonard Spaulding) American short story writer, novelist, scriptwriter, poet, dramatist, nonfiction writer, editor, and author of children's books.
Regarded as an important figure in the development of science fiction, even though he does not write primarily in that genre, Bradbury was among the first authors to combine the concepts of science fiction with a sophisticated prose style. Often described as economical yet poetic, Bradbury's fiction conveys a vivid sense of place in which everyday events are transformed into unusual, sometimes sinister situations. In a career which has spanned more than fifty years, Bradbury has written fantasies, crime and mystery stories, supernatural tales, and mainstream literature, as well as science fiction. In all of his work, Bradbury emphasizes basic human values and cautions against unthinking acceptance of technological progress. His persistent optimism, evident even in his darkest work, has led some critics to label him as sentimental or naive. Bradbury, however, perceives life, even at its most mundane, with a childlike wonder and awe, which charges his work with a fervent affirmation of humanity.
Bradbury was born on August 22, 1920, in Waukegan, Illinois, a small town that frequently emerges as the setting in his stories. In the mid-1930s Bradbury's family moved to southern California, where he graduated from Los Angeles High School in 1938. Determined to become a writer, Bradbury created his own science fiction magazine called Futuria Fantasia, although he produced only four volumes. Bradbury worked as a newsboy in Los Angeles from 1940 to 1943, to support his writing. His first published story, "Pendulum" (with Henry Hasse), surfaced in Super Science Stories in 1941. Shortly thereafter, Bradbury's macabre tales regularly appeared in such pulp magazines as Black Mask, Amazing Stories, and Weird Tales. The latter magazine served to showcase the works of such fantasy writers as H. P. Lovecraft, Clark Ashton Smith, and August Derleth. Derleth, who founded Arkham House, a publishing company specializing in fantasy literature, accepted one of Bradbury's stories for Who Knocks?, an anthology published by his firm. Derleth subsequently suggested that Bradbury compile a volume of his own stories; the resulting book, Dark Carnival (1947), collects Bradbury's early fantasy tales. Due to the success of this first collection, in addition to publication of his stories in The Best American Short Stories of 1946 and the O. Henry Prize Stories of 1947, Bradbury's stories were soon published in such mainstream periodicals as Collier's, The Saturday Evening Post, and The New Yorker, where they reached a wider audience. A prolific author, Bradbury has published numerous short story collections since, earning a reputation as an authority of fantasy literature in the process.
Major Works of Short Fiction
Although he has produced volumes of work in many genres, Bradbury is essentially a short story writer. Sometimes his works cross genres. For example, the novels The Martian Chronicles (1950), Fahrenheit 451 (1953), and Dandelion Wine (1957) are frequently treated by critics as short story collections, in which chapters are connected by a simple framing device. The stories in The Martian Chronicles, for example are linked by the theme of human settlement on Mars. Another significant collection of short stories, The Illustrated Man (1951), also uses a framing device, basing the stories on the tattoos of the title character. Bradbury's earlier stories—particularly those collected in Dark Carnival, The Martian Chronicles, and The October Country (1970)—have been compared to those of Edgar Allan Poe because of their grotesque and sometimes horrific story lines. "Skeleton," in Dark Carnival, for example, is about a man who grows so repulsed by his own skeleton that he has it removed, consequently becoming "a human jellyfish." "The Third Expedition" (first published in 1948 as "Mars Is Heaven" in Planet Stories and later collected in The Martian Chronicles) is about Americans who travel to Mars where they become reunited with their deceased relatives, who, in actuality, are hostile beings whose human faces melt away in the night as they murder the Americans in their sleep. The futuristic and sometimes morbid themes of Bradbury's early collections rarely surface in his more recent works. Driving Blind (1997), for example, only contains four traditional science fiction stories. The majority, though bizarre, are more nostalgic, optimistic, and romantic. They tend to deal with the everyday. All of Bradbury's fiction, from Dark Carnival to Driving Blind, is issue-oriented, as he frequently addresses such themes as racism, censorship, religion, and technology, often infusing the text with authorial commentary.
While Bradbury's popularity is acknowledged even by his detractors, many critics find the reasons for his success difficult to pinpoint. Some critics were aggravated that Bradbury's futuristic stories, which are often labeled as a science fiction, most often reflect poor scientific knowledge and, at times, an aversion toward technology. Among his defenders was Russel Kirk, who called Bradbury "a moralist," adding that he "is interested not in the precise mechanism of rockets, but in the mentality and the morals of fallible human beings who make and use rockets." Willis E. McNelly concurred, stating that Bradbury "is a visionary who writes not of the impediments of science, but of its effects upon men." Some of Bradbury's detractors have likewise pointed to inconsistencies within Bradbury's text. Thomas M. Disch argued that Bradbury's "dry-ice machine covers the bare stage of his story with a fog of breathy approximations." More forgiving critics have excused any oddities in Bradbury's short stories as imaginative and inventive. Christopher Isherwood wrote that Bradbury's "brilliant, shameless fantasy makes, and needs, no excuses for its wild jumps from the possible to the impossible." Yet by far the greatest complaint of Bradbury is that his fiction is overly sentimental and didactic. Commenting on The Martian Chronicles, Kent Forrester observed that "Bradbury's ideas are so violently drawn . . . that the stories are weakened unless we are as enthusiastic about his ideas as he is." One enthusiastic reviewer, Damon Knight, wrote, "Bradbury's strength lies in the fact that he writes about the things that are really important to us . . . the fundamental prerational fears and longings and desires." Content aside, most critics have expressed appreciation for Bradbury's poetic prose. Forrester concluded that although Bradbury's "prose is occasionally overcooked it is still, in small chunks, superior to any other prose in science fiction. It is prose, like good poetry, that sticks in the mind."