Ray Bradbury a ‘sci-fi writer’? He called the label a fantasy

June 06, 2012 | 1:54 p.m.
brabdury Ray Bradbury a sci fi writer? He called the label a fantasy

Ray Bradbury in his home in Los Angeles in 1985. (Los Angeles Times)

News outlets around the world are announcing the death of “science fiction author” Ray Bradbury at age 91. But it’s a description the writer of “Fahrenheit 451,” “The Martian Chronicles” and “Something Wicked This Way Comes” found nettlesome.

“I’m not a science fiction writer,” Bradbury was frequently quoted as saying. “I’ve written only one book of science fiction. All the others are fantasy.”

fahrenheir 451 Ray Bradbury a sci fi writer? He called the label a fantasyThat lone exception was “Fahrenheit,” the dystopian 1953 novel about a future in which books are outlawed. To Bradbury’s discerning eye, the narratives he wrote were too implausible to be contained within the more logic-driven realm of sci-fi.

“Fantasies are things that can’t happen,” Bradbury said, “and science fiction is about things that can happen.”

Science fiction and fantasy fans live for discussion and debate and the border between their lands is forever in dispute.

Take the films “Star Wars” and “John Carter,” for instance. Applying a strict view, purists would say those are fantasy films due to their good vs. evil core story, a disregard for physics and sprinkled moments of mysticism; more casual fans would point to all the aliens and file the movie under sci-fi.

“Ender’s Game” author Orson Scott Card said that to his mind a science fiction book “works based on a set of rules that are explicit throughout the book, while a fantasy story works by rules that are rather vague and shadowy.”

So while science fiction is concerned with details like rocket-ship design and the atmosphere on a distant planet, for instance, Bradbury focused on the broad themes of why humans had traveled there — and took plenty of artistic license with what they might find. In “The Martian Chronicles,” Bradbury’s 1950 short-story collection about humans colonizing Mars, he describes characters with, “the fair brownish skin of the true Martian, the yellow coin eyes, the soft musical voices.”

bradbury Ray Bradbury a sci fi writer? He called the label a fantasy

Ray Bradbury in 1951. (Associated Press)

Much of Bradbury’s work twinned a nostalgic look at childhood with a magical sensibility, including  “Dandelion Wine,” a collection of short stories set in a fictional Midwestern town in the 1920s, and “Something Wicked This Way Comes,” his 1962 novel about a pair of 13-year-old boys and a mysterious traveling carnival with a menacing, tattoo-covered Mr. Dark.

Sci-fi purists were just as reluctant to claim Bradbury, both because of his mainstream audience and his vocal skepticism of new technologies. Bradbury’s opinion was that, in festishizing  rockets and robots, humans were letting go of something deeper — their hearts.

“We’ve got to dumb America up again,” he once said.

– Rebecca Keegan

twitter.com/@thatrebecca

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Comments


5 Responses to Ray Bradbury a ‘sci-fi writer’? He called the label a fantasy

  1. saumyatravelexperience says:

    He loved cats,books and comic strips…. Ray also did read fairytales!! Take a look at this legendary Author’s life and his beautiful journey with the books. http://liveoncampus.com/wire/show/3385907
    A short film for the National Endowment for the arts feature Ray Bradbury as he discusses his life, literary loves and Fahrenheit 451.
    RIP Ray!

  2. ed the sf nerd says:

    I've never thought that Bradbury was a "Science Fiction" writer back when I was a pre-teen just getting into the genre. Picking up R IS FOR ROCKET/S IS FOR SPACE, he certainly wasn't as 'straighforward' and 'direct' as I've found Asimov's and Clarke's stories to be. Excepting maybe 2 or 3 stories from each, they were too 'poetic' and often 'pointless'; so after checking out MARTIAN CHRONICLES and FAHRENHEIT 451, I thought I was done with him and read the other two's works almost exclusively.

    It was only after continuing my reading explorations in the field— into Heinlein, and moving up to PKD, Ellison, Farmer among others (thanks, DANGEROUS VISIONS from the Library!), so getting my sense of literary "SF" expanded— that I begun rereading him. Certain lines and 'mood' from Bradbury's stories had lingered in my memories, and the finale of CHILDHOOD'S END suddenly felt "Bradburyian" to me. So I returned to his works with a new appreciation…

    I think I've since reread Bradbury more in the past years than either ot the two .RIP to a great WRITER.

  3. Clay Bonnyman Evans says:

    Re "Sci-fi purists were just as reluctant to claim Bradbury, both because of his mainstream audience and his vocal skepticism of new technologies."

    Hardly. The science-fiction world was the crucible in which Ray Bradbury was formed, and SF fans were always proud to claim him. He was, as he suggests, more of a "fantasist" – I would add magic realist/nostalgist – than "pure" SF writer. But make no mistake: They may not have awarded him a Hugo, but SF fans loved him.

    Clay Bonnyman Evans

  4. Lynne says:

    I grew up during the time of the the Manhattan project in Los Alamos, NM. I have the Book that Ray Baradbury Fahreheit 451 wrote. It is 90 % fiction. The people who write these books did not experience the trueness of the situation at that time unless they lived there and experienced it. My Mother worked in Noris Bradburys division of the project. My father also was an engineer and worke there. I went to school there also. Please I wish people would not wrte things that they do not have full knowlege of.

  5. John O. says:

    About 10 or 12 years ago, I read a Chicigo Magazine interview with Mr. Bradbury where he talked about his visit to the 1933 Chicago World's Fair as a boy. He specifically talked about the outdoor dinosaur exhibit that featured life -sized replicas of the creatures, and how that one exhibit played such a pivotal role in sparking his imagination and his desire to write.
    My dad was 17 at the time of the 1933 World's Fair, and an avid photographer. Money was scarce, but my dad's uncle purchased him a pass that allowed unlimited visits. He shot and developed hundreds of photos of the fair, including the dinosaur exhibit.
    I had my dad's original negatives, and had prints of the Sinclair Dinosaur Exhibit enlarged and mounted; my dad signed them and I mailed them to Mr. Bradbury via his publisher, along with a short note.
    A few weeks later, my receptionist buzzed me one afternoon and said, "There's a Mr. Ray Bradbury on the phone for you …".
    Sure enough, THE Ray Bradbury called to thank me for sending the prints. We talked for maybe 15-20 minutes, and he shared stories about the Fair that was such an important part of his life, and my dad's." He asked me lots of questions about my "Pa," as he called him. He talked about the moving sidewalk that ran through the exhibit, and how he would keep walking backwards on it in order to stay in one place longer. We had a great chat. And a few days later, two personally inscribed copies of "Dinosaur Tales" arrived for me and my dad.

    Rest in peace, Mr. Bradbury. You were an amazingly gifted fiction writer. And a very kind, gentle and thoughtful man.

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