If Ray Bradbury had had his way, this biography would still be unwritten. Not that "The Bradbury Chronicles" is some unauthorized, Kitty-Kelley-esque...

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“The Bradbury Chronicles: The Life
of Ray Bradbury, Predicting the Past, Remembering the Future”

by Sam Weller

Morrow, 400 pp., $26.95

If Ray Bradbury had had his way, this biography would still be unwritten.

Not that “The Bradbury Chronicles” is some unauthorized, Kitty-Kelley-esque scandal-fest. Author Sam Weller was given full access to Bradbury, his family, his documents and his collections of “stuff.” And Weller uses the most diplomatic language possible when touching on sensitive subjects such as Bradbury’s marital infidelity.

But when Weller approached him with the proposal for this first “full-fledged” biography (as opposed to previous books that focused primarily on his work) Bradbury turned him down. This iconic figure, for decades one of the giants of speculative fiction, a man as well-known outside the genre as within it, who has produced more than 500 stories, novels, plays, essays and poems, thought Weller’s project premature. “I have too much life left to live,” the octogenarian said.

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Fortunately for us, Weller prevailed. Even more fortunately, he does the rich material of Bradbury’s life thus far meticulous justice. Delving into the roots of the Waukegan, Ill., boyhood that inspired such mundane-yet-eerie tales as “Something Wicked This Way Comes,” Weller gives us the family’s history going back for three generations. He also details the early poverty and rootlessness that paradoxically led to Bradbury’s idealization of the Midwest, a region he left for good at the age of 13.

Personal lore abounds as well: Bradbury’s favorite food? Ice cream. His earliest memory? Being born — a mental feat Weller acknowledges is impossible as far as medical science is concerned, then reports exactly as his subject told it.

Not content with merely gathering and reciting facts, Weller creates a vivid portrait of a basically shy man who has shamelessly promoted himself — or rather, who has shamelessly promoted his art. What drove him to do this? Perhaps the key lies in a childhood encounter with carnival star Mr. Electrico, who knighted Bradbury with an electrically charged sword and ordered him to “Live forever!”

Seeking literary immortality through his work, Bradbury’s has certainly been helped along in his quest by Weller’s accurate, interesting and very timely biography.