The Missouri Review 27.3 (2004) 119-163
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Ray Bradbury's Letters to Rupert Hart-Davis
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| Figure 1 |
Ray Bradbury (shown above in a 1980 portrait for the Evening Standard) authored Fahrenheit 451, The Martian Chronicles and Something Wicked This Way Comes, as well as scores of short stories, novels, essays, poetry and screenplays, becoming the most anthologized writer in American literary history.
If he was someone who worried about being "taken seriously" as a writer, Ray Bradbury went about it the wrong way. During his most productive years, he wrote science fiction and fantasy, a genre that at best struggles for respectability. His work was seen primarily in pulp magazines such as Weird Tales, Astounding Science Fiction and Thrilling Wonder Stories. Titles of his earliest stories include "R Is for Rocket," "How to Run a Successful Ghost Agency," "Don't Get Technatal" and "Bang! You're Dead." Prolific almost to a fault, Bradbury published between three hudred and five hundred stories, five novels, movie scripts, essays, plays and even lyric poetry. He made it a regular practice to send stories to magazines that didn't publish his kind of fiction, and occasionally even to magazines that didn't print fiction at all. Viewed at a casual glance, Bradbury's career seemed to be that of an amateur running cheerfully in all directions at once, almost trying to be a literary featherweight.
In fact, his indifference toward what he should and shouldn't be doing as a writer, and toward the literary class system, allowed him to learn his craft by publishing in a market that still regarded fiction as entertainment, not just an exercise in aesthetics. The pulp market was a good place for a young author to fly under the radar of bruising literary scrutiny while gaining in technique. Many writers in the nineteenth century did the same, publishing a wide variety of work in the growing periodical market.
Bradbury eventually became the most widely anthologized writer in American literary history. At least five of his stories were winners of Best American and O. Henry awards. His screenplay for Icarus Montgolfier Wright (adapted from his short story about the history of flight) was nominated for an Academy Award. His screenplay for John Huston's Moby Dick was greatly praised. One of his novels, Something Wicked This Way Comes, is of lasting literary interest. Another, The Martian Chronicles, is a genre classic of its time, and a third, Fahrenheit 451, is an authentic literary classic.
From the start, this Midwestern-born author both worked hard and made the most of what he had. The Martian Chronicles (1950) was a [End Page 120] group of stories that he managed to sell after going to New York and finding an editor who would take it if it could successfully be packaged as a novel. He assembled a group with a common subject—episodes describing the destructive outcome of the settling of Mars, set between 1999 and 2026, with the adroit title "chronicles," sidestepping the problem that it wasn't really a single story. The book's timing was fortunate, with the American and Soviet space programs about to break into a wide-open competition. Perhaps also important to the book's success was the fact that Mars was still a mysterious enough place in 1950 to leave a writer's imagination unfettered.
Like most of the best-known science fiction writers of the last two centuries, Bradbury has always been less interested in the details of technology than in speculative drama about history and human nature in an age of science. Despite his casualness about the mechanical fine points of such things as space ships and time machines, his fiction is thick with sensuous detail, particularly having to do with setting. The Mars of The Martian Chronicles is an awesome landscape that makes the failings and destructiveness of its human colonizers even more starkly apparent.
This predilection for image and setting is important in his other writing as well. His...