As one of the best-known authors of science fiction, Ray Bradbury played a significant role in not only making the genre more widely popular, but also to legitimize the form critically among mainstream critics. His unique blend of poetic nostalgia, imaginative flights of fancy, and allegorical social commentary.
Ray Douglas Bradbury was born on August 22, 1920, in Waukegan, Illinois. His family moved several times, returning to Waukegan each time, before settling down in Los Angeles in 1934. In his teen years he befriended another future legend of science fiction, Forest Ackerman, who published some of Bradbury's earliest stories in fanzines. Even in high school, Bradbury saw how writing the kind of fiction he enjoyed - speculative stories of fantasy and science - earned him less recognition than "legitimate" fiction. However, he stuck with his passion and through stories published in homemade fanzines and magazines such as Weird Tales, Bradbury earned a reputation among the still-nascent circles of science fiction and fantasy fandom.
His first book, 1950's The Martian Chronicles, won him critical acclaim both within science fiction circles and in the broader mainstream readership. The stories in Bradbury's first collection reflected concerns that would develop in later works: the idea of a thematically-tied short story collection would be revisited in his next book, 1951's The Illustrated Man. In 1953 he published a full-length novel, Fahrenheit 451, which has become a classic of modern literature. Bradbury's imaginative takes on human nature appeared not only in print, but also television, movies, comic books, and radio programs. Bradbury enjoyed working in different forms as well as in different genres: science fiction is what he's always been best known for, with stories such as "A Sound of Thunder" becoming instant classics of the genre, but he also wrote memorable horror stories such as the 1962 novel Something Wicked This Way Comes.
Bradbury not only watched as adaptations of his fiction took place, he often took part in writing those adaptations. Among the awards he's earned in his long and distinguished career are the Grand Master Award from the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America in 1988, and the National Medal of Arts in 2004. He also has an asteroid named after him, the moon has a Dandelion Crater named after Dandelion Wine, and he has earned a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame - all testaments to the range and breadth of his career.
Science fiction - and genre fiction in general - was not considered legitimate literature at the time Ray Bradbury first started publishing his books. Wary of the label of science fiction, Bradbury tried to have it removed from the trade dress on his first book, The Martian Chronicles. He failed to do so but successfully lobbied to have the science fiction label removed from the cover of his next collection, The Illustrated Man. As with that first collection, The Illustrated Man featured a vast majority of stories that first were published in magazines, with Bradbury adding a framing sequence - as opposed to the bridge chapters of The Martian Chronicles and later Dandelion Wine - to give the stories an overall coherence.
The framing sequence isn't the only aspect of the book to give it a sense of unity. Bradbury wanted to move outside of the perceived limitations of genre fiction, as he believed his work had universal appeal. Combined with his persistent thematic concern with the inevitability of human nature, Bradbury designed The Illustrated Man to be tales of the fantastic which also spoke directly to contemporary concerns. This included the nascent struggle for civil rights by African Americans, the Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union, the potential abuse of rapidly developing technology, perhaps best exemplified by atomic weapons. Censorship and the threat of totalitarianism was another major concern and one of the novellas initially planned for The Illustrated Man (but cut due to a decision to have only short stories) was "The Fire Man", which would be expanded into Bradbury's best known work, Fahrenheit 451.
The actual science in Bradbury's science fiction is often hotly contested, as he was concerned with futuristic technology as metaphors and not true extrapolations of a scientific nature. Critics partial to science fiction would sometimes fault Bradbury for not being as scientific in his stories - to be more of a science fantasist, concerned with the beauty of metaphor more than the logic of technology - than purists would like. As a result, he is revered in science fiction circles for his imagination, but not for the plausibility of his ideas. That said, it's worth noting that some of the far-fetched ideas in the stories of The Illustrated Man have come much closer to reality in the present day, including the virtual reality of "The Veldt" and the lifelike robots of "Marionettes, Inc.".