Ray Bradbury, one of the seminal writers of American science fiction, died Tuesday night in Los Angeles.  In "Take Me Home," a poignant one-page memoir published in the June 4th issue of The New Yorker, Bradbury recalls how he was first drawn to science fiction at the age of seven or eight after seeing copies of Hugo Gernsback’s Amazing Stories that were left by tenants in his grandparents rooming house in Waukegan, Illinois, and how his youthful imagination took flight with the advent of the Buck Rogers newspaper comic in 1928.  Then at the age of 11 in 1931 he discovered Harold Foster’s Tarzan comic and the John Carter novels of Edgar Rice Burroughs.  The latter had such a profound effect on the young Bradbury that he used to walk out into the summer night "reach up into the red light of Mars and say, 'Take me home.'"
Bradbury’s prolific output, which includes at least 500 published books, produced plays and filmed screenplays, was informed by the insights of science fiction, but not limited to the genre to which he brought both political and satirical relevance. He employed keenly observed political themes to his works like Fahrenheit 451, which is as important an indictment of a totalitarian society in its own way as George Orwell’s Animal Farm.  Other key Bradbury works include Something Wicked This Way Comes, The Illustrated Man, Dandelion Wine, and I Sing the Body Electric.
But perhaps Bradbury’s most famous work, The Martian Chronicles, hearkens back to those days in Waukegan reading his Uncle Bion’s copies of John Carter of Mars books.  As Bradbury himself put it in the New Yorker piece, "I know that The Martian Chronicles would never have happened if Burroughs hadn’t had an impact on my life at that time."
Bradbury synthesized and combined all those influences, the novels of H.G. Wells, Jules Verne, and ERB, the juicy adventurism of the science fiction pulps, the wonderfully rendered planetary worlds of the Buck Rogers and Flash Gordon comic strips, and the political events of the 20th Century, into something that is recognized today as a valid literary genre, not just escapist ephemera.
Like Mark Twain and Jack London (who dropped out of the University of California) Bradbury was (after high school) largely self-educated.  He had spent much of his youth reading in the Carnegie Library in Waukegan, and when the family moved to Los Angeles in 1934, he continued to educate himself using the resources of a succession of public libraries.
Bradbury remained a tireless champion of libraries throughout his life.  Campaigning to save a local library in 2009, Bradbury told the New York Times: "Libraries raised me. I don’t believe in colleges and universities.  I believe in libraries because most students don’t have any money.  When I graduated from high school, it was during the Depression and we had no money.  I couldn’t go to college, so I went to the library three days a week for ten years."  Could someone who didn’t love libraries and books as much as Bradbury, and didn’t value their liberating qualities so much have written Fahrenheit 451?  This writer doesn’t think so.
--Tom Flinn