NEW YORK (Reuters) - Ray Bradbury, a giant of American literature who helped popularize science fiction with works such as "The Martian Chronicles," died on Tuesday at age 91, his publisher said on Wednesday.
Bradbury published more than 500 works including "Fahrenheit 451," a classic novel about book censorship in a future society, and other favorites such as "The Illustrated Man" and "Something Wicked This Way Comes."
"Mr. Bradbury died peacefully, last night, in Los Angeles, after a long illness," said a spokesman for his publisher, HarperCollins.
As a science fiction writer, Bradbury said he did not want to predict the future -- but sometimes wanted to prevent it. Such was the case with "Fahrenheit 451," a book published in 1953 about a totalitarian, anti-intellectual society where banned books are burned by "firemen." The title refers to the temperature at which paper ignites.
The novel, which Bradbury wrote on a rented typewriter at the UCLA library, featured a world that might sound familiar to 21st century readers -- wall-sized interactive televisions, earpiece communication systems, omnipresent advertising and political correctness.
"In science fiction, we dream," he told The New York Times. "In order to colonize in space, to rebuild our cities ... to tackle any number of problems, we must imagine the future, including the new technologies that are required ...
"Science fiction is also a great way to pretend you are writing about the future when in reality you are attacking the recent past and the present."
INTERNET A SCAM
But for a futurist, Bradbury did not always embrace technology. He called the Internet a scam perpetrated by computer companies, was disdainful of automatic teller machines and denounced video games as "a waste of time for men with nothing else to do."
He said he never learned to drive a car after witnessing an accident that killed several people and did not travel by airplane until much later in life.
Bradbury was born in Waukegan, Illinois, and moved to Los Angeles as a teenager as his father sought work during the Depression. He roller-skated around Hollywood, chasing celebrities for autographs, and was strongly influenced by the science fiction works of "Tarzan" creator Edgar Rice Burroughs.
He did not go to college, instead educating himself by spending hours reading in libraries, and began writing for pulp magazines. In 1950 Bradbury published "The Martian Chronicles" -- a tale of Earthlings fleeing a troubled planet and their conflicts with residents on Mars. It was given a glowing review by influential critic Christopher Isherwood, which Bradbury credited with launching his career.
Isherwood was among the first to note the quality writing in Bradbury's work, which brought him literary credibility and new respect to the science fiction and fantasy genres.
Like "The Illustrated Man," another of his best-known works, "The Martian Chronicles" was a collection of related stories.
Other well-known titles include "Dandelion Wine," "I Sing the Body Electric" and "From the Dust Returned."
LECTURED AT NASA
"Fahrenheit 451" was made into an movie by French director Francois Truffaut while Bradbury wrote the movie version of "Something Wicked This Way Comes" and "The Martian Chronicles" became a television mini-series.
Because of his visionary thinking, NASA brought Bradbury in to lecture astronauts, Disney consulted with him while designing its futuristic Epcot Center in Florida and shopping mall developers sought his input.
In 2004 U.S. President George W. Bush presented Bradbury with the National Medal of Arts.
Bradbury, who suffered a stroke in 1999, and his wife, Maggie, who died in 2003, had four children.
Bradbury's interest in writing began as a boy and even in his later years he liked to write daily -- whether it was a novel, a short story, a screenplay or a poem.
"The great fun in my life has been getting up every morning and rushing to the typewriter because some new idea has hit me," he said on his 80th birthday.
(Reporting by Christine Kearney and Daniel Trotta; Writing by Bill Trott; Editing by Anthony Boadle)