The Temperature at Which Paper Burns
August 22, 1920: Ray Douglas Bradbury is born in Waukegan, Illinois. His father worked as a power and telephone lineman, but both his grandfather and great-grandfather were newspaper publishers. Ray’s family moved around, but kept returning to Waukegan, a setting he used for some of his own writing. The young child spent many hours amidst the books at Carnegie Library there. The family moved to Los Angeles when Ray was 13. He graduated from high school there but chose to continue his education in libraries rather than college.
He began selling newspapers and started to publish a few science fiction stories in fanzines in 1938. He was invited to attend the Clifton’s Cafeteria Science Fiction Club where he met many famous sci-fi writers of the time. He tried publishing his own fanzine in 1939 but it lasted only four issues before folding. He finally sold a story to a pulp magazine in 1941 – for $15. He made his first book sale in 1947, five years after becoming a full-time writer. He published The Martian Chronicles in 1950 and Fahrenheit 451 in 1953.
Bradbury has insisted few of his works are science fiction, but rather they are works of fantasy or speculative fiction. He also wrote poetry, was a playwright, and a creator of children’s literature. He wrote for television, both adaptations of his short stories and some original works. He wrote for Alfred Hitchcock Presents and The Twilight Zone. He produced audio versions of his written work and authored several non-fiction pieces, especially on the art of writing.
The Martian Chronicles was made into a 3-part miniseries in 1980 and starred Rock Hudson. Fahrenheit 451 was made into a full-length film in 1966. Julie Christie was nominated for a BAFTA award for her dual portrayal of Linda Montag and Clarisse. Bradbury himself has received various honors for his work, including having an asteroid named after him. He was upset with Michael Moore’s title, Fahrenheit 9/11 which alluded to his previous work. Although he requested that Moore change the title to his “documentary,” the request was ignored.
“First of all, I don’t write science fiction. I’ve only done one science fiction book and that’s Fahrenheit 451, based on reality. Science fiction is a depiction of the real. Fantasy is a depiction of the unreal. So Martian Chronicles is not science fiction, it’s fantasy. It couldn’t happen, you see? That’s the reason it’s going to be around a long time—because it’s a Greek myth, and myths have staying power.”
“There are worse crimes than burning books. One of them is not reading them.”
“Jump, and you will find out how to unfold your wings as you fall.”
“I don’t try to describe the future. I try to prevent it.”
“The television, that insidious beast, that Medusa which freezes a billion people to stone every night, staring fixedly, that Siren which called and sang and promised so much and gave, after all, so little.” – all from Ray Bradbury
This article first appeared at examiner.com in 2009. Editor’s update: Some writers choose to portray a utopian world where all is pleasant and everyone is perfectly happy. The opposing position is writing about a world gone wrong in some important way. The resulting frightening or upsetting world is dystopian. These worlds can come about by totalitarianism or natural disasters. They may be the result of war or pestilence. There is some cataclysm that brings society as whole into ruin. Some of the more famous dystopian worlds are those portrayed in R.U.R. which created the term “robot” and was the first time machines took over the Earth. Nineteen Eighty-Four and Brave New World show us horrific visions of government control gone overboard as does The Hunger Games. Fahrenheit 451 is another of the more noted books for this genre and probably the most horrific when one’s avocation includes the written word.