Ray Bradbury 1920-2012
(Also wrote under the pseudonyms of Douglas Spaulding and Leonard Spaulding) American short story writer, novelist, scriptwriter, poet, playwright, essayist, and author of children's books.
See also Ray Bradbury Criticism (Volume 1), and Volumes 3, 10, 15, 53.
Regarded as an important figure in the development of science fiction, Bradbury is noted as one of the first authors to employ a cerebral, elevated writing style—rather than the more common sensational style—in works dealing with science fiction concepts. 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 that 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. It has been noted, however, that Bradbury, perceives life, even at its most mundane, with a childlike wonder and awe that 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, he 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, his macabre tales regularly appeared in such pulp magazines as Black Mask Amazing Stories, and Weird Tales. Weird Tales 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 house 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 stories; the resulting book, Dark Carnival (1947), collects Bradbury's early fantasy tales. Due to the success of this first collection, his stories were soon published in such mainstream periodicals as Collier's, The Saturday Evening Post, and The New Yorker; in these publications, his work reached a wider audience. A prolific author, Bradbury has published numerous short story collections, 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 fiction writer. Sometimes his works cross literary forms. 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 (1955)—have been compared to those of Edgar Allan Poe because of their grotesque and sometimes horrific story lines. “Skeleton,” 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 are 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. Most of Bradbury's fiction is issue-oriented as he frequently addresses such thematic concerns 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 science fiction, often reflect poor scientific knowledge and, at times, an aversion toward technology. Other commentators defended Bradbury's perspective, asserting that he was more interested in the consequences of technology on human beings than the technology itself. Some of his detractors have pointed to inconsistencies within Bradbury's text. More forgiving reviewers have excused any oddities in Bradbury's short stories as imaginative and inventive. Yet by far the greatest complaint of Bradbury is that his fiction is overly sentimental and didactic. Despite this charge, most critics have expressed appreciation for Bradbury's poetic prose that underscores basic human values and questions the wisdom of purely technological progress.