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Ray Bradbury portrait shoot
Dan Tuffs  /  Getty Images
Science fiction author Ray Bradbury in his home in Los Angeles, California in 2008.
TODAY books
updated 6/6/2012 11:38:37 AM ET 2012-06-06T15:38:37

Ray Bradbury was the last of the giants of mid-20th century American science fiction, a select fraternity that also comprised Robert Heinlein, Arthur C. Clarke, and Isaac Asimov. The most literary of that pantheon, his work spanned many media, including science fiction pulp magazines, episodic television, and motion pictures — but passion for the written word and fear for its survival may be his most enduring legacy.

Story: Iconic science fiction writer Ray Bradbury dies at 91

Several of his classic stories have become embedded into the culture, including “A Sound of Thunder,” in which a time traveler’s inadvertent killing of a butterfly has ominous repercussions, a concept now known as the “butterfly effect,” and “There Will Come Soft Rains,” which foresaw the modern “smart house” controlled by automation.

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Like Clarke, who predicted the communications satellite before it existed; Heinlein, who got the idea for remote-control hands called “waldos” that are in common use today; and Asimov, many of whose ideas about robotics have come to pass, Bradbury was not just a writer: He was a prophet.

Bradbury honed his craft in an era when the short story thrived: “The Martian Chronicles,” one of his most famous works, spans the genres of short story and novel, linking magazine stories he wrote about the colonization of Mars into a narrative. “Chronicles” also crossed over into many other media, including radio drama, a 1979 TV miniseries, comic books, and several episodes of the TV series “The Ray Bradbury Theater,” which ran from 1985 to ’92, first on HBO and then on USA.

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Among the many other adaptations of Bradbury’s work are “The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms” (1953), partially inspired by his story “The Fog Horn” and featuring stop-motion special effects by Bradbury’s close friend Ray Harryhausen; “The Illustrated Man” (1969), an adaptation of three stories starring Rod Steiger; and “Something Wicked This Way Comes” (1983), a Disney production. But when I interviewed him about “The Ray Bradbury Theater” in ’85, he was less than pleased with most of the film versions of his work, with one major exception: director Francois Truffaut’s 1966 “Fahrenheit 451,” an artistic rendering of Bradbury’s vision of a dystopian future where television rules supreme and all books are burned.

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In fact, even though Bradbury often correctly predicted technology, he maintained a lifelong distrust of it, fearing even to fly or drive. His heart was in his native Midwest – he used thinly disguised versions of his hometown of Waukegan, Ill., as the setting for many stories – and works like “Dandelion Wine” and “Something Wicked” are rife with nostalgia for childhood.

He loved the printed word, and warned of a time when it might become extinct. And our current age of Facebook, Twitter and instant messaging may be his most accurate – and ominous – prophecy of all.

© 2012 MSNBC Interactive

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