An Interview With Sci-Fi Legend Ray Bradbury

Famed science fiction and fantasy writer Ray Bradbury spun tales of earthlings landing on Mars more than half a century ago, before people had even rocketed to the moon. And now he's lived to see the day when roaming the Red Planet has begun. Science fiction — his science fiction — is becoming reality.

NASA's Spirit rover, the six-wheeled robot the federal space agency recently sent to Mars, snapped and transmitted back to Earth the most defined, crisp photos that have ever been seen of the Red Planet. Since then, Spirit has been exploring the rock-strewn surface of Mars; another rover, Opportunity, has landed and President Bush announced plans to send astronauts to Mars by the year 2030.

Now 83, Bradbury has been one of the most influential contemporary writers of science fiction and fantasy, turning them into respected genres of literature and painting vivid pictures of life on Mars and the moon using only the written word. "The Martian Chronicles" (1950), a set of vignettes about human beings visiting Mars, is one of his most famous works.

In addition to "The Martian Chronicles," Bradbury has written more than 500 creative works, including the novels "Fahrenheit 451" (1953), "Something Wicked This Way Comes" (1962) and "Death Is a Lonely Business" (1985), as well as the short stories "Zero Hour" (1947), "Rocket Summer" (1950) and hundreds of others. Many of his stories have been made into movies.

In a recent interview with, Bradbury reflected on Mars, space exploration, the far-reaching impact of his own writing and his predictions about what lies ahead.

• Audio: Ray Bradbury, In His Own Words How did you feel when you saw the NASA Spirit rover’s photographs of Mars?

Ray Bradbury: Well, the 12-year-old boy in me jumped up and down and yelled. That’s how I felt. Did you yourself dream of exploring space?

Bradbury: Of course, when I was 8 years old. The first stories I wrote when I was 12 were about Mars and landing on Mars. We’re all dreamers. To what extent do you think science fiction writers like you and other greats have encouraged space exploration?

Bradbury: Oh, yes, indeed, of course we have. We didn’t intend to, but that’s the way it worked out. In small groups of science fiction fans and writers back in 1937, we used to have meetings in Clifton's Cafeteria in downtown L.A. And the students from Cal Tech used to come. They were planning to form rocket societies and dream about going to the moon. So the very first experiments with building rockets and firing them off were carried out by students at Cal Tech in 1937, '38 and '39. And later these people put together these jet propulsion labs in Pasadena and wound up sending aircraft and spacecraft to the moon. So it all began very primitively with love. The important thing is to be in love with something. Do you think science fiction today still has the same kind of impact that it did back when you were writing "The Martian Chronicles"?

Bradbury: Even more so. It’s in all the schools. When I started writing that book 53 years ago, science fiction was not being taught in the schools. Now every school in the country has a course in science fiction. So we have more power, more influence, more imagination than ever before. Millions of students now, in all the schools of America, are reading science fiction and especially, thank God, "The Martian Chronicles." Do you think that life once existed on Mars?

Bradbury: We just don’t know. It doesn’t matter, because we’re going to become the martians when we land there. When we explore and build communities, we become the martians. That’s a wonderful destiny for all of us. Will we see that happen one day?

Bradbury: Oh, yes, some time in the next 50 years we’ll do it. And within 100 years, we’ll have communities on Mars, and within 1,000 years, even more. It’ll keep growing, just as life on the American continent. There was nobody here except a few Indian tribes. That same sort of thing is going to happen with Mars. Mars is empty now. Five hundred years from now, it’ll be full of people. Did you ever think you’d see the day when we would be exploring Mars, even if just with a machine?

Bradbury: Of course. But now it’s time to send real people up there, not just machines. You do think that humans will be sent to Mars.

Bradbury: They’ve got to. They’ve got to. Where else are we going to go, huh? Do you think or hope it will happen in your lifetime?

RB: Well, I’m getting on, aren’t I? I’m 83 going on 14. What do you think of the American space program?

Bradbury: It’s too late, isn’t it? We’ve let 30 years go by. It’s stupid. It’s stupid. We should have stayed on the moon. We should have made moon the base, instead of building space stations, which are fragile and which fly apart. The moon is a good, solid base to build a space travel organization in the community. Then we take off from the moon and we go to Mars. But it’s terribly late. We’ve let too much time go by. We’ve been busy with war instead of being busy with peace. And that’s what space travel is all about. It’s all about peace and exploration and wonder and beauty. Where did you think we’d be by today, by the turn of the millennium, in terms of space exploration?

Bradbury: Well, when I was younger, I thought it would be the end of the century before we landed on the moon. Well, we did it much sooner. I was only 49 years old when we did it. But now I’m 83, and they’re lagging behind, so I’ve got to kick their butts, don’t I? So you think for a while we were ahead of what you predicted, but since then we've fallen behind?

Bradbury: Today we’ve lost interest. It’s a shame. Most members of Congress are politicians. They’re bores. They’re damn boring. They have no imagination, and they don’t know how to imagine the future. So my word to them is, get out of the way and let me happen. Let me predict it for you. So when Bush announced his plan to send people to Mars, what was your reaction?

Bradbury: I sent him a copy of an article I wrote called "Destination Mars." And I’m sending him a copy today of "The Martian Chronicles." Did you hear back from him?

Bradbury: Well that’s too soon, too soon. Do you think his proposal was a good one?

Bradbury: Oh, yes, of course. Do you think the government is going to follow through on it?

Bradbury: Well, most of the politicians are bores, aren’t they? We just don’t know. But I’ll keep yelling at them. How did you come up with the images of Mars and martians that are so vivid in "The Martian Chronicles" and your other works?

Bradbury: Well, you either have an imaginative mind or you don’t. All of my writing is God-given. I don’t write my stories — they write themselves. So out of my imagination, I create these wonderful things, and I look at them and say, My God, did I write that? So they all just came to you? You can’t explain it?

Bradbury: Everything comes to me. Everything is my demon muse. I have a muse which whispers in my ear and says, "Do this, do that," but it’s my demon who provokes me. "The Martian Chronicles" originated as a set of short stories, is that right? And then they were woven together and the common theme was earthlings settling Mars.

Bradbury: Yes, that’s right. Were they published one at a time?

Bradbury: That’s right, they were, in various magazines. When were they put together as a whole collection?

Bradbury: In 1949. [Note: "The Martian Chronicles" was published in 1950.] I went to New York. I had dinner with an editor at Doubleday, and he came up with the idea. He said, "Ray, what about all those martian stories? Wouldn’t they make a tapestry if you sewed them all together and called it something like 'The Martian Chronicles'?" I said, "Oh my God, that’s wonderful." So I went back to the YMCA, where I was staying at 50 cents a night, and I wrote the outline and gave it to the editor the next day at Doubleday, and they gave me a $700 advance on "The Martian Chronicles." Knowing what you know now, how would you write "The Martian Chronicles" differently, if at all?

Bradbury: It’s perfect the way it is.

Bradbury's newest book, "Bradbury Stories," is a collection of 100 short stories written over 60 years and is currently available in bookstores.

Editor's Note: The Q&A has been edited for continuity.