The Bradbury Chronicles: The Life of Ray Bradbury

The Bradbury Chronicles: The Life of Ray Bradbury

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by Sam Weller

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Accomplished journalist Sam Weller met the Ray Bradbury while writing a cover story for the Chicago Tribune Magazine and spent hundreds of hours interviewing Bradbury, his editors, family members, and longtime friends. With unprecedented access to private archives, he uncovered never–before–published letters, documents, and photographs that help tell

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Accomplished journalist Sam Weller met the Ray Bradbury while writing a cover story for the Chicago Tribune Magazine and spent hundreds of hours interviewing Bradbury, his editors, family members, and longtime friends. With unprecedented access to private archives, he uncovered never–before–published letters, documents, and photographs that help tell the story of this literary genius and his remarkable creative journey. The result is a richly textured, detailed biography that illuminates the origins and accomplishments of Bradbury's fascinating mind.

Editorial Reviews

New York Times Book Review
“For Bradbury fans, THE BRADBURY CHRONICLES is essential. . . . [A]n engaging, often fascinating tale.”
Chicago Tribune
“A fascinating look at a man’s work -- and the incredible evolution of an alien subgenre.”
On the cover of this new biography appears the following statement by Ray Bradbury: "This is my life! It's as if somehow Sam Weller slipped into my skin and my head and my heart-it's all here." Encapsulated in this quote lies both the book's greatest strength and its greatest weakness. Weller had unprecedented access to his subject. He admits to idolizing Bradbury, and his book reflects this attitude. It is full of enthusiasm and is highly appreciative of Bradbury's many and varied accomplishments. On the other hand, it portrays a virtual saint's life. Weller's subject can do little wrong and is a prodigy without parallel. This attitude, although perfectly capturing Bradbury's own bubbling, still youthful personality, leads the biographer to underrepresent the author's dark side. He is, after all, one of the great masters of dark fantasy. It also causes Weller to make the basically silly claim that "arguably, no other twentieth-century literary figure can claim such sweeping cultural impact" as Bradbury. Nevertheless there is much to like here. The book is chock-full of fascinating anecdotes. One of the best concerns Bradbury's disappointment after Adlai Stevenson lost the 1952 presidential election. The writer was so incensed that, at the risk of damaging his own budding career as a Hollywood screenwriter, he published a Letter to the Republican Party in Variety that castigated McCarthy and Nixon for impugning the loyalty of Democrats. Such feistiness has long been a Bradbury trademark. Adult readers might wish for a more nuanced portrait of the author, but this biography will please younger fans. VOYA CODES: 3Q 3P S A/YA (Readable without serious defects; Will appeal with pushing;Senior High, defined as grades 10 to 12; Adult-marketed book recommended for Young Adults). 2005, William Morrow, 384p.; Index. Photos. Biblio. Source Notes., Ages 15 to Adult.
—Michael Levy
School Library Journal
Adult/High School-Weller focuses on Bradbury's professional successes and difficulties. After writing a few stories for pulp magazines, some of which were self-published, Bradbury suddenly found his pieces anthologized in The Best American Short Stories (Houghton) and his work in demand from national magazines and publishers. A strong work ethic, along with a little luck and a lot of charm, carried him through a long, successful career. Aside from the masterworks like Something Wicked This Way Comes (Bantam, 1983) and Fahrenheit 451 (Ballantine, 1987) that he's most known for, Bradbury also wrote for television, worked as a script writer for director John Huston's version of Moby Dick, and even served as a consultant to Walt Disney for what would become the EPCOT Center. Weller's research-based on interviews with Bradbury as well as family members and colleagues-is almost exhaustive in its detail, and he does a fine job of presenting the facts of his subject's unique life. The lively, conversational prose brings out the writer's winning personality and turns his struggles and successes into a highly readable story. The presentation comes off as a little one-sided at times, but this is a quibble about a book that, overall, is informative, enjoyable, and inspiring.-Matthew L. Moffett, Northern Virginia Community College, Annandale Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Rosy and authorized biography of SF visionary Bradbury by Midwestern journalist Weller. The author does a snappy job of portraying the halcyon early days of Bradbury's success, though he rarely delves beneath the veil of hazy memory that suits a cranky elder writer intent on fashioning perceptions of his life. Though born in Waukegan, Ill., in 1920, young Ray moved at age 13 with his family to L.A., where his father could finally find work during the Depression, and where Bradbury would live the rest of his life. Weller claims his subject as a "prairie writer-the prairie is in his voice and it is his moral compass," and calls him a mama's boy. Passionate about the movies, magic and the First World Science Fiction Convention in New York City, which he reached via Greyhound bus in 1939, Bradbury set about writing a story a week. He became a regular contributor to such pulps as Weird Tales and Script, credits that would haunt him later when editors resisted considering him a serious writer. His marriage to retiring Marguerite McClure in 1947 (lasting until her recent death) dovetailed with professional success after success, from the publication of his first story collection, Dark Carnival, to securing influential Simon & Schuster editor cum agent Don Congdon, to the swift appearance of The Martian Chronicles, The Illustrated Man, Dandelion Wine, and Fahrenheit 451 (written in a heat against the McCarthy hearings during the early '50s). The chapter covering his ill-fated year in Ireland writing the screenplay for John Huston's Moby-Dick hints at events Bradbury wishes were left unearthed, as do mentions (without names) of his extramarital affairs in later years. His work for both NASA andWalt Disney (designing the EPCOT Center) warrants an entire book in itself. A proficient study of a prodigious talent still going strong, but Weller surely had to tie his hands in order to stay in Bradbury's good graces.

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HarperCollins Publishers
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P.S. Series
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5.31(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.98(d)
Age Range:
14 - 18 Years

Read an Excerpt

The Bradbury Chronicles
The Life of Ray Bradbury

Chapter One

Remembrance of the Past

Ray Bradbury's most significant contribution to our culture is showing us that the imagination has no foreseeable boundaries. His skills as a storyteller have inspired and empowered generations to tell their stories no matter how bizarre or improbable. Today we need Ray Bradbury's gifts more than ever, and his stories have made him immortal.

-- Steven Spielberg, Academy Award–winning director

"I remember the day I was born."

With this Dickensian flourish, so begins the life story of Ray Bradbury. The birth recollection was one of Ray's favorite stories to tell. Not surprisingly, it often provoked audible incredulity from his audiences --whether one person or a room full of Bradbury devotees.

"I have what might be called almost total recall back to my birth," he continued. "This is a thing I have debated with psychologists and with friends over the years. They say, 'It's impossible.' Yet I remember."

This much is certain: Ray Douglas Bradbury arrived in the world, in Waukegan, Illinois, at 4:50 p.m. on August 22, 1920, with Dr. Charles Pierce presiding at Maternity Hospital, a few blocks west of the small Bradbury family home. Ray had overstayed his time in the womb by a month, and it was his theory that the additional incubation time may have heightened his senses. "When you stay in the womb for ten months, you develop your eyesight and your hearing. So when I was born, I remember it," he insisted. And who is to argue?

"Born to Mr. and Mrs. Leo Bradbury, 11 South St. James Street, a son," proclaimed the birth announcement in the Waukegan Daily Sun. Although the name on his birth certificate was spelled "R-a-y," Ray said he was originally given the name "Rae" after Rae Williams, a cousin on his father's side, and that it was not until the first grade that, at a teacher's recommendation, his parents changed the spelling of his first name. The name was too feminine, the teacher said, and the boy would be teased.

The origin of his middle name, however, is not in dispute. Ray's mother, a great cinema fan who would soon pass this love on to her son, chose his middle name, Douglas, for the swashbuckling screen star Douglas Fairbanks.

Of his birth, Ray claimed to remember "the camera angle" as he emerged into the world. He recalled the terrific pain of being born, the sensation of going from darkness to light, and the desperate desire to remain enshrouded in the shadowy realm of the womb. Lending further Freudian fodder to skeptical developmental psychologists everywhere, Ray added, "I remember suckling, the taste of my mother's breast milk, and nightmares about being born experienced in my crib in the first weeks of my life."

Two days after the birth, Ray recalled his first encounter with real fear. His father wrapped him in a blanket and carried him into downtown Waukegan. They climbed a dark stairwell and entered a second-floor doctor's office. Ray remembered the bright, otherworldly light and the cold tiled room and what he would later realize was the scent of Lysol. He distinctly recalled the milk-white ghost face of a doctor holding a stainless steel scalpel. And then he felt the sharp pain of circumcision.

Many years later, a friend of Ray's, the author, critic, and editor of the Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, Anthony Boucher, remarked that Ray Bradbury had a "back to the womb complex." Ray responded, with typical Bradburian aplomb, "Yes ... but whose womb?"

The birthplace of Ray Bradbury, Waukegan, Illinois, is perched on the edge of a gently rising bluff that overlooks the slate-green waters of Lake Michigan. The city stands some forty miles north of downtown Chicago, as the raven flies. Centuries ago, this land was densely forested. Carved at the end of the ice age by melting glaciers that scored the soft heartland soil, it is marked by deep ravines that scar the landscape, eventually opening out into Lake Michigan. While the land to the west of the city is level farmland, Waukegan, with these dramatic, densely forested ravines, coldwater creeks, and the bluff the city stands on, offers a gentle contrast to the popular image of table-flat American heartland.

Today, Waukegan is a city at a crossroads. The turn-of-the-century grandeur of this lakefront community has given way to a long economic decline. In Ray's childhood, the Waukegan lakefront, with its sandy beaches, was a popular destination, vibrant and crowded with people. On warm summer days, it bloomed with colorful parasols, and men, women, and children swam in the cool lake. But decades passed and the crown jewel of Waukegan, its beachfront, shriveled under industry and pollution. Though the factories are mostly abandoned today, they still stand, like rust-laden skeletons on cold winter days as the winds gust in off Lake Michigan. Downtown Waukegan has also changed. Storefronts stand vacant; For Lease signs are propped up in many window displays. While some of the wealthiest suburbs in the nation are nestled on the lakefront between Waukegan and Chicago, Waukegan remains peculiar in its decaying isolation, an aging town with a rich history and the high hopes of future revitalization.

Ray Bradbury's connections to fantasy, space, cinema, to the macabre and the melancholy, were all born of his years spent running, jumping, galloping through the woods, across the fields, and down the brick-paved streets of Waukegan. His lifelong love of comics was born here, along with his connection to magic and his symbiotic relationship to Halloween. Although he moved away from the Midwest for good at the age of thirteen, Ray Bradbury is a prairie writer. The prairie is in his voice and it is his moral compass. It is his years spent in Waukegan, Illinois -- later rechristened by Ray as "Green Town" in many books and stories -- that forever shaped him.

The Bradbury Chronicles
The Life of Ray Bradbury
. Copyright © by Sam Weller. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

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Bradbury Chronicles: The Life of Ray Bradbury 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Nostalgia drives this rocket of a biography straight to Mars, Alpha Centauri and beyond to immortality. It¿s this same type of sentimentality, this relishing and love of life¿so often the key to Ray Bradbury¿s stories¿which Weller employs to put a human face upon this literary icon¿s work. It's as if Weller fanned the flames of a bon-fire and turned the blaze into a fully raging sun. Yet, instead of burning the skin off the man to look objectively at his bones, as so many biographies do, Weller puts the skin back on Bradbury and treats him like a human being. I savored every moment within the pages of The Bradbury Chronicles and would recommend it to anyone. Perhaps, I¿m at heart a sentimentalist but, in the end, I hope we all are. I can tell that both Bradbury and Weller share this trait, and who better to write about the life of Ray Bradbury than someone who appreciates the small nuances of an epic life. Sam Weller appreciates nuance and his book tells epically.