Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1483
Isaac Asimov (1920–1992)
Isaac Asimov was born January 2, 1920, in Petrovichi, U.S.S.R. (the former Soviet Union), and moved to the United States with his parents in 1923, becoming a U.S. citizen in 1928. Asimov was a voracious reader. His love of science led to a doctorate in chemistry from Columbia University and a subsequent post as a professor of biochemistry at Boston University’s School of Medicine—a position he held for much of his writing career. Although he published more than 450 fiction and nonfiction books, making him one of the most prolific writers in history, Asimov is most remembered for his Science Fiction works, which influenced many writers in America during Science Fiction’s golden age. Asimov has been credited with coining the term robotics, and with creating “The Three Laws of Robotics,” which make their first appearance in his early robot short stories, collected in I, Robot. Asimov died of heart and kidney failure on April 6, 1992, in New York City.
Ray Bradbury (1920–)
Ray Douglas Bradbury was born August 22, 1920, in Waukegan, Illinois. During the depression, Bradbury’s family moved to Los Angeles to find work. Bradbury began, like many other Science Fiction authors of the golden age, publishing his fiction in the fanzine he edited. In 1941, Bradbury published his first short story, and six years later, published his first story collection. It was not until the publication of The Martian Chronicles, a series of interconnected short stories about the human colonization of Mars, that Bradbury achieved enough critical success to break out of Science Fiction genre magazines into the more reputed mainstream magazines—which were off-limits to most Science Fiction writers. Bradbury lives and works in Los Angeles, California.
Robert Heinlein (1907–1988)
Robert Anson Heinlein was born July 7, 1907, in Butler, Missouri. Unlike many of his contemporaries, who started writing Science Fiction in their youth, Heinlein did not enter the field until he had already worked as a naval officer and studied physics and mathematics at the University of California, Los Angeles. As one of the Science Fiction writers for genre magazines during Science Fiction’s golden age, Heinlein’s sophisticated writing style raised the bar on Science Fiction literature and influenced many other writers. After working as an engineer in World War II alongside fellow Science Fiction writer Isaac Asimov, Heinlein published several Science Fiction “juveniles,” or young adult novels, then began a series of controversial novels, including Stranger in a Strange Land, his best-known work. Heinlein, considered by many to be the most influential figure in American Science Fiction, died of heart failure on May 8, 1988, in Carmel, California.
Aldous Huxley (1894–1963)
The grandson of T. H. Huxley, a noted biologist and proponent of Charles Darwin’s evolutionary theory, Aldous Leonard Huxley was born July 26, 1894, in Godalming, Surrey, England. Huxley originally intended to pursue a career in medicine, but an eye disease that led to temporary blindness prevented him from doing so. Although Huxley wrote in several different fiction and nonfiction genres, his most famous work is Brave New World, a Science Fiction novel that draws on evolutionary theory to create a nightmarish vision of the future. Five years after the novel’s publication, Huxley moved to Los Angeles, California, where he wrote more mystical works until his death on November 22, 1963, in Hollywood, California. Huxley died on the same day as his British contemporary C. S. Lewis and on the same day that United States President John F. Kennedy was assassinated.
C. S. Lewis (1898–1963)
Clive Staples Lewis, known to readers as C. S. Lewis, was born November 29, 1898, in Belfast, Ireland. An atheist as a teenager, Lewis slowly came to renew his faith in Christianity, then incorporated his beliefs into his writing. After attending Oxford University, Lewis taught English literature at Oxford for almost thirty years. During his time as a professor, Lewis, along with fellow Christian Fantasy writer J. R. R. Tolkien and others, founded the Inklings, a casual club that met to discuss the writers’ works in progress. Although Lewis wrote nonfiction, Science Fiction, and Fantasy, it is his fantastical writings that made him most popular. His seven-volume children’s series “The Chronicles of Narnia,” a Christian allegorical Fantasy, has delighted generations of popular audiences, particularly children. Lewis died of heart failure November 22, 1963—the same day as Huxley and U.S. President Kennedy—in Oxford, England.
Mary Shelley (1797–1851)
Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley was born as Mary Wollstonecraft August 30, 1797, in London, England. The daughter of two well-known authors, William Godwin and Mary Wollstonecraft, Mary’s early years were unstable. Her mother died shortly after her birth, her father remarried, and she grew up in a chaotic environment with siblings from her father’s two marriages, her stepmother’s previous marriage, and her mother’s previous affair. When she was fifteen, Mary met and fell in love with a friend of her father’s, the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley. Mary had an affair with Percy, who was already married, and the two of them fled to Europe when she was seventeen, where Mary wrote Frankenstein, or The Modern Prometheus, which many critics consider the first true Science Fiction work. Following the suicide of Percy’s wife, Mary and Percy were married. Four years after Frankenstein was published, Percy Bysshe Shelley drowned. Mary Shelley lived for almost thirty years as a widow, then died of a brain tumor February 1, 1851, at the age of fifty-three, in London.
J. R. R. Tolkien (1892–1973)
John Ronald Reuel Tolkien, known to readers as J. R. R. Tolkien, was born January 3, 1892, in Bloemfontein, South Africa. When he was four years old, Tolkien’s family moved to England. After attending Oxford University, Tolkien taught English language and literature first at Leeds, then at Oxford. During this time, Tolkien, along with fellow Christian Fantasy writer C. S. Lewis and others, founded the Inklings, a casual club that met to discuss the writers’ works in progress. Tolkien’s passion for language and literary history culminated in his creation of Middle-Earth, a mythical world, modeled on northern and ancient literatures. Middle-Earth made its debut in Tolkien’s The Hobbit, the prelude to his trilogy “The Lord of the Rings.” Because of these works, Tolkien is considered by many to be the father of modern Fantasy stories. Tolkien died of complications from an ulcer and chest infection on September 2, 1973, in Bournemouth, England.
Jules Verne (1828–1905)
Jules Verne was born February 8, 1828, in Nantes, France. At age twenty, he left for Paris, where he studied law, intending to join his father’s law firm. After passing his law exam, he struggled in Paris for several years, attempting to make a living off his writing. Although one of his plays was produced in 1850, it was not until 1863, after working as both a secretary for a theater and a stockbroker, that Verne’s writing attracted the attention of Jules Hetzel, the magazine publisher who printed the majority of Verne’s novels in serial form. The most famous novels are those that Verne called “Extraordinary Journeys,” including Twenty Thousand Leagues under the Sea, which helped to establish Verne’s reputation as one of the two founding fathers of modern Science Fiction (along with H. G. Wells). Verne wrote up until his death on March 24, 1905, in Amiens, France.
Kurt Vonnegut Jr. (1922–)
Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. was born November 11, 1922, in Indianapolis, Indiana. While serving in the United States Army in Germany during World War II, Vonnegut was captured by the Germans and kept as a prisoner of war in Dresden, Germany. There he witnessed the Allied firebombing the city on February 13, 1945, and was one of few survivors of the firestorm that killed an estimated 120,000 people. This experience earned Vonnegut a Purple Heart and, more importantly, gave him the basis for much of his fiction. Vonnegut deals with war themes in many of his early novels, but it was not until the publication of Slaughterhouse Five: or, the Children’s Crusade that Vonnegut told the full story of his Dresden experience through his characters. Vonnegut lives and works in New York City.
H. G. Wells (1866–1946)
Herbert George Wells, known to readers as H. G. Wells, was born September 21, 1866, in Bromley, England. He won a scholarship to the Normal School of Science in London, where he studied under T. H. Huxley—the famous proponent of Darwin’s theory of evolution and grandfather of noted Science Fiction writer Aldous Huxley. Although infatuated with his first-year studies with Huxley, Wells spent most of his remaining school years performing extracurricular activities like founding and editing a college magazine. It was in this magazine that he first published “The Chronic Argonauts,” which was later published as The Time Machine: An Invention, and which details a possible outcome of human evolution. This short novel, along with many of Wells’s other early novels, helped to define what he called “the scientific romance,” and established Wells as one of the two founding fathers of modern Science Fiction (along with Verne). Wells died August 13, 1946, in London.
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