BY DAVID CORBO Ray Bradbury, one of America’s most prolific and talented literary figures, died Tuesday at the age of 91. In a writing career that spanned more than 70 years and birthed nearly 50 novels and 600 short stories as well as countless poems and essays, television and theatrical productions, Bradbury entertained the world with tales that plumbed the depths of human experience. He was the master of a writing style that was both literary and speculative but never short on popular appeal. Bradbury haunted us with the shades of lost civilizations in The Martian Chronicles. He warned us to jealously guard our creative and intellectual freedom lest our story telling succumb to the mindless babble of reality TV in Fahrenheit 451. In The Illustrated Man he spun cautionary yarn out of the tattoos bedecking the limbs and torso carnival freak. “Something Wicked This Way Comes” blended fantasy with horror to examine the eternal struggle between good and evil within all of us. In everything he wrote, Bradbury used his unmatched metaphorical power to reveal to us not just who we are but who we could become.
The recipient of the 2000 National Book Foundation Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters, the 2004 National Medal of Arts, and the 2007 Pulitzer Prize Special Citation, Bradbury influenced several generations of writers — Steven King, J.K. Rowling and myself among them. Bradbury’s fiction ignited my desire to be a writer. I can still remember the sun pouring in the room on a summer day in 1965 as images of a Martian landscape more real than anything I had ever seen on TV rose off the pages of The Martian Chronicles to ensnare me in a new found realm. I recall the trappings of the dorm room in 1972 where I experienced the dystopian future world of Fahrenheit 451, my heart racing as I ran with Montag to escape the firefighters. The sight of Bradbury’s name in the opening credits of a Twilight Zone promised something brilliant this way coming, and the hours spent watching the The Ray Bradbury Theater when I was writing my first novel, my daughter on my knee, was always deeply inspirational. They don’t make TV like that anymore.
Ray Bradbury’s name will always stand tall with the giants of the Science Fiction genre alongside names like Asimov, Clarke and Heinlein, but Bradbury himself resisted the categorization. “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.” Either way Ray, you will be fondly remembered not just by science fiction and fantasy readers but everyone who appreciates a damn good story well told. As he wrote in a letter to fans on his website, “Last week I turned 82. 82! When I look in the mirror, the person staring back at me is a young boy, with a head and heart filled with dreams and excitement and unquenchable enthusiasm for life.” Goodnight Mr. Bradbury, wherever you are.