LOS ANGELES - Ray Bradbury, the writer whose expansive flights of fantasy and vividly rendered space-scapes have provided the world with one of the most enduring speculative blueprints for the future, has died. He was 91.
Bradbury died Tuesday night in Los Angeles, his agent Michael Congdon confirmed. His family said he had suffered from a long illness.
Author of more than 27 novels and story collections -- most famously "The Martian Chronicles," "Fahrenheit 451," "Dandelion Wine" and "Something Wicked This Way Comes" -- and more than 600 short stories, Bradbury has frequently been credited with elevating the reputation of science fiction. Some say he singlehandedly helped to move the genre into the realm of literature.
Much of his accessibility and ultimate popularity had to do with his gift as a stylist -- his ability to write lyrically and evocatively of lands an imagination away, worlds he anchored in the here and now with a sense of visual clarity and small-town familiarity. The late Sam Moskowitz, the pre-eminent historian of science fiction, said: "In style, few match him. And the uniqueness of a story of Mars or Venus told in the contrasting literary rhythms of Hemingway and Thomas Wolfe is enough to fascinate any critic."
As influenced by George Bernard Shaw and William Shakespeare as he was by Jules Verne and Edgar Rice Burroughs, Bradbury was an expert of the taut tale, the last-sentence twist. "The most important thing about writers is how they exist in our memories," said Gregory Benford, a University of California, Irvine, physics professor who is also an award-winning science fiction writer. "Having read Bradbury is like having seen a striking glimpse out of a car window and then being whisked away."
Bradbury's poetically drawn and atmospheric fictions -- horror, fantasy, shadowy American gothics -- explored life's secret corners: what was hidden in the margins, or the white noise whirring just below the placid surface. He offered a set of metaphors and life puzzles to ponder for the rocket age and beyond, and has influenced a wide swath of popular culture -- from children's writer R.L. Stine and singer Elton John (who with songwriter Bernie Taupin penned the hit "Rocket Man" as an homage), to architect Jon Jerde, who enlisted Bradbury to offer ideas about reimagining public spaces.
'Really major issues'
Bradbury shrugged off the "sci-fi" designation. "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."
It wasn't merely semantics.
His stories were multilayered and ambitious. He was far less concerned with mechanics -- how many tanks of fuel it took to get to Mars -- than what happened once the crew landed there, or what they would impose on their environment.
"He had this flair for getting to really major issues," said Paul Alkon, emeritus professor at the University of Southern California. "He wasn't interested in current doctrines of political correctness or particular forms of society. Not what was wrong in '58 or 2001 but the kinds of issues that are with us every year."
Whether describing a fledgling Earth colony bullying its way on Mars ("And the Moon Be Still as Bright" in 1948) or a virtual-reality baby-sitting tool turned macabre monster ("The Veldt" in 1950), Bradbury wanted his readers to consider the consequences of their actions: "I'm not a futurist. People ask me to predict the future, when all I want to do is prevent it."
He long maligned computers -- holding on to his typewriter -- and hated the Internet. He said e-books "smell like burned fuel" and refused to allow his publishers to release electronic versions of his works until last year with "Fahrenheit 451."
'Born at just the right time'
The cusp of what was and what would be -- that was Bradbury's perfect perch. "When I was born in 1920," he told the New York Times Magazine in 2000, "the auto was only 20 years old. Radio didn't exist. TV didn't exist. I was born at just the right time to write about all of these things."
As a child, he was romanced by Grimms Fairy Tales and L. Frank Baum (the author of "The Wonderful Wizard of Oz") and the world's fairs. But with the magic came nightmares -- and writing became a release valve of sorts. His first collection of short stories that he published -- "Dark Carnival" in 1947 -- were vignettes that revisited his childhood hauntings.
Later, books like "Fahrenheit 451," in which interactive TV spans three walls, and "The Illustrated Man" not only became bestsellers and films but cautionary tales that became part of the vernacular. "The whole problem in 'Fahrenheit' centers around the debate whether technology will destroy us," said George Slusser, curator emeritus of the J. Lloyd Eaton Collection of Science Fiction, Fantasy, Horror and Utopia at UC Riverside. "But there will always be a spirit that keeps things alive. ... He has deep faith in human culture."