Sci-fi author Ray Bradbury dies at 91

Ray Bradbury, the American writer famous for science fiction novels such as Fahrenheit 451, has died at age 91.

Ray Bradbury, the American writer famous for science fiction novels such as Fahrenheit 451, has died at age 91.

His daughter, Alexandra Bradbury, says her father died Tuesday night in Southern California, but did not give additional details.   

Bradbury created a dystopian future in which books were burned in Fahrenheit 451, his best-known novel. He wrote a wide  range of fantasy, horror and sci-fi novels and short stories including Cold War morality tale, The Martian Chronicles.

Science fiction writer Ray Bradbury is shown Dec. 8, 1966, looking at a picture that was part of a school project to illustrate characters in one of his dramas in Los Angeles. (Associated Press)

He also wrote the screenplay for the 1956 film version of Moby Dick and created TV scripts for The Twilight Zone. 

"What I have always been is a hybrid author," Bradbury said in 2009. "I am completely in love with movies, and I am completely in love with theatre, and I am completely in love with libraries."

Bradbury rejected the term science fiction, prefering fantasy to describe his work. "My stories are strongly moral in a way and exemplary; I'm not interested in predicting futures," he said in a 1969 interview with CBC.

On Wednesday, artists influenced by his work came forward to pay tribute to his genius. Among them was Pan's Labyrinth director Guillermo del Toro, who wrote "I feel lonelier. The world is vast and barren: Bradbury was one of the titans of fantastic fiction and a unique voice in American literature. The lyricism of his prose influenced many generations across the globe. A humanist before anything else, Bradbury nurtured my youthful hopes, my flights of fancy. His soul was gentle but his imagination was fierce."

Canadian DJ Deadmau5 acknowledged Bradbury's influence on his song The Veldt in his Twitter feed. "RIP Ray Bradbury: you've touched many lives with your work, and even a few more recently you might not have expected! Sleep well dude!" he tweeted.

In recent years a stroke had put him in wheelchair, but Bradbury continued to write new novels, screenplays and poetry and appeared at literary events in the Los Angeles area.

Author Ray Bradbury is shown April 25, 2009, attending The Los Angeles Times Festival of Books in Los Angeles. He remained a staunch advocate for libraries throughout his life. (Katy Wynn/Associated Pess)

Born Aug. 22, 1920, in Waukegan, Ill., and raised in Arizona and Los Angeles, he was influenced as a young reader by Edgar Allan Poe, Edgar Rice Burroughs and H.G. Wells.

Loved the library

His family was too poor to send him to college, but Bradbury spent his time in libraries and fed his fertile imagination with movies.

He was rejected from military service during the Second World War because of his poor eyesight and began to write science fiction stories for pulp fiction magazines  in 1938. His first collection of short stories, Dark Carnival, was published in 1947.

The book that made him a household name was The Martian Chronicles, a series of stories about an idyllic Martian civilization that is brutalized by colonizers from Earth.  Like many of his books, it was a critique of politics on Earth, in this case the Cold War.

The influential British writer Christopher Isherwood gave the book a glowing review and brought Bradbury to wide attention.

In 1953, he wrote Fahrenheit 451, giving an apocalyptic picture of a world where nuclear war has led to a crackdown on dissenting ideas. Firefighters are assigned to burn books and most people are contented with electronic devices that provide unchallenging entertainment.

Bradbury’s book was inspired by his love for libraries and was meant as a critique of television, but also foreshadowed the world of iPods, interactive websites and electronic surveillance that is here today.

Hatred for book-burning

"It was a book based on real facts and also on my hatred for people who burn books," he told The Associated Press in 2002.

It became a futuristic classic and was part of many college and high school reading lists.  François Truffaut directed a 1966 movie version and the book's title was appropriated — without Bradbury's permission — for Michael Moore's documentary Fahrenheit 9/11. 

Bradbury published more than 500 novels, short stories, screenplays and TV scripts, including The Illustrated Man and Something Wicked This Way Comes. He is known for his inventive plotting — a boy defeating a vampire by stuffing him with silver coins; a dinosaur mistaking a fog horn for a mating call; Ernest Hemingway comes back to life on a time machine.

Short stories such as A Sound of Thunder (The Butterfly Effect), The Small Assassin and The Halloween Tree are among his many works to have been adapted to the screen.  Dozens of stories were adapted for 1980s series The Ray Bradbury Theater.

Fahrenheit 451, by Ray Bradbury, became an American classic. (Simon & Schuster/Associated Press)

Bradbury's critics found his description unconvincing, his depiction of women old-fashioned and his rendering of worlds with problems too close to those here on Earth repetitive. But he was rare as a genre writer who was treated seriously in the literary world.

Special Pulitzer

In 2007, he received a special Pulitzer Prize citation "for his distinguished, prolific and deeply influential career as an unmatched author of science fiction and fantasy."  In 2000 he was awarded an honorary National Book Award medal for lifetime achievement.

"Everything I've done is a surprise, a wonderful surprise," Bradbury said during his acceptance speech in 2000. "I sometimes get up at night when I can't sleep and walk down into my library and open one of my books and read a paragraph and say, 'My God, did I write that? Did I write that?', because it's still a surprise."

Despite keeping his eyes on the future, Bradbury was not an early adopter of technology. He didn’t drive or fly and he refused to have a computer.     

"I'm not afraid of machines," he told Writer's Digest in 1976. "I don't think the robots are taking over. I think the men who play with toys have taken over. And if we don't take the toys out of their hands, we're fools."

Bradbury is survived by his four daughters. Marguerite Bradbury, his wife of 56 years, died in 2003.

With files from The Associated Press