Ray Bradbury, who has died aged 91, was the 20th-century American short-story writer par excellence. Although he was also known for a few novels – principally the science-fiction book-burning dystopia Fahrenheit 451 (1953) and the dark fantasy Something Wicked This Way Comes (1962) – as well as for children’s books, plays, screenplays and poetry, it was for his short stories that he gained his widest fame, with his best-known collection being The Martian Chronicles (1950). His tales were collected in dozens of volumes and reprinted in countless magazines and anthologies, including many school textbooks, making his name familiar to younger generations.

Among his more influential admirers were the Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, who read his stories in Russian translations of the 1950s, and JG Ballard, whose introduction to his own volume of Complete Short Stories (2001) stated: “At its best, in Borges, Ray Bradbury and Edgar Allan Poe, the short story is coined from precious metal, a glint of gold that will glow for ever in the deep purse of your imagination.”

Born in the small town of Waukegan, Illinois, Bradbury arrived in Los Angeles with his parents, Leonard and Esther, in 1934, and lived there for the rest of his life. At the time of his graduation from Los Angeles high school in 1938, he was already publishing stories in amateur fanzines, and was an active member of the LA Science Fiction Society, where he rubbed shoulders with more senior writers such as Henry Kuttner, Leigh Brackett and Robert A Heinlein.

He had a reputation at that time as an amusing but pushy kid, always under the feet of visiting magazine editors, always asking his seniors for tips, coaxing them into reading his manuscripts and sometimes collaborating with him. Sustaining himself as a part-time newspaper seller, he continued to write furiously (at one point, it is said, he burned more than a million words of unpublished fiction), making his first professional sales in 1941 and styling himself a full-time writer from 1943. By 1947 he was sufficiently established in his career to marry Marguerite McClure, with whom he was to have four daughters.

Continue reading in The New York Times


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