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Ray Bradbury

"I'm not afraid of flying—I'm just afraid of falling." So said Ray Bradbury in an interview once; he is probably the only American writer of science fiction who not only refuses to get on an airplane but also will not drive a car. All his life Bradbury has been interested in ideas and books and conversation-the things he feels make humanity human. His quibble is not with all modern technologies-he loves movies, audiocassettes, and the space program, for example-but only with those that he thinks dehumanize and depersonalize modern life.

The son of a power-company lineman, Bradbury grew up in Waukegan, Illinois-a small town setting that he revisited in much of his early fiction. After the Depression claimed his father's job, the Bradburys headed west and resettled in Los Angeles, where the young Ray Bradbury fell in love with Hollywood. He roller-skated to movie premiers, sent jokes in to the Burns and Allen radio show, and performed with his high-school drama club.

In 1936 Bradbury "saw the future" at the World's Fair and became determined to write about it. Unable to attend college, he sold newspapers on a street corner to support himself while he submitted stories to "pulp" (cheaply produced) science fiction magazines. He also joined the Los Angeles Chapter of the Science Fantasy Society, meeting established science fiction writers such as Robert Heinlein, who became something of a mentor. Finally, in 1941, Bradbury sold his first story-for $13.75.

Kept out of World War II by poor eyesight, Bradbury contributed to the war effort by writing for the Red Cross and for the Department of Civil Defense. He also continued selling stories, graduating from the "pulps" to "quality" magazines such as American Mercury and Collier's. By 1946 his tales were appearing in noted anthologies; a year later he published his own first anthology, Dark Carnival; won an O. Henry prize for his story "Homecoming"; and married Marguerite McClure. Characteristically, the two met in a bookstore.

Not long afterward, another bookstore encounter would change Bradbury's professional life. In 1950, soon after his collection of interconnected stories about Mars, The Martian Chronicles, appeared, Bradbury saw the British author Christopher Isherwood in a Santa Monica bookstore and gave him a copy of the book. Isherwood's rave review in Tomorrow helped make Bradbury a "mainstream" author-and incidentally helped stamp the seal of literary approval on science fiction. Since then, Bradbury has been among the genre's most highly regarded authors-even though many of his fantasies and other writings do not really qualify as science fiction.