This morning, Ray Bradbury passed away, at the ripe old age of 91. I grew up reading Bradbury: he was the first real speculative fiction author I got into. After reading The Martian Chronicles—I think in middle school—I found my parents’ copy of The Stories of Ray Bradbury, and absconded with that 800-page tome. After reading about half of that, I burned through a half-dozen of his ’70s short-story collections, Fahrenheit 451, Something Wicked This Way Comes… I kept buying his books, up through the penultimate 900-page Ray Bradbury Stories anthology. It’s safe to say that without Bradbury, I wouldn’t have gotten into SF as early or in the degree that I did; I can see much of his influence in my style and tastes. A true visionary, whose impact on the field has truly enriched the genre, and will never be forgotten.
Bradbury’s career was a slow but certain upward climb. He spent most of the ’40s writing for Planet Stories and Weird Tales in the pulp gutter; his rapid ascent to the heights of Collier’s, The Saturday Evening Post, Life magazine, Playboy, and the New Yorker created friction between Bradbury and the established SF status-quo. Many ’60s and ’70s anthologies no longer reprinted Bradbury stories, or did so begrudgingly, noting the feelings of betrayal in the SF camp. But Bradbury was one of those authors who wasn’t as interested in the science as he was in the fiction: the power and truth in fiction, its ability to examine and discuss contemporary society, the human condition, the future where society and humanity was heading. Science fiction was his vehicle to study those issues. And he used it well.
While it’s sad when an esteemed icon passes on, I think it’s worth remembering the long and productive life they had, providing us with innumerable stories and novels that have enriched the literary world.
I’ve only reviewed one of his works on here, Something Wicked This Way Comes. I plan to get to The Martian Chronicles and The October Country this year; we’ll see. Anyways, my favorite Bradbury short stories—the ones I best remember out of the dozens upon dozens I’ve read—are as follows.
- “The Fog Horn” was the first Bradbury tale I read, in a Bruce Coville horror tale anthology I got from the school’s Scholastic “free book day.” It’s the basis for The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms, though the story is atmospheric, short, and haunting. From The Golden Apples of the Sun, 1951.
- “Zero Hour,” the second Bradbury story I read, also in one of those Bruce Coville anthologies I got from school. A cute little alien invasion tale where nobody takes the kids’ new playmate seriously. Planet Stories, 1947.
- “The Veldt,” one of his most-anthologized works back in the ’50s-’60s, a slick little work with a grim twist; it hints back to his Weird Tales days of suspense, but shows him at the height of his 1950s writing prowess. Woe to technology and suburbia. Saturday Evening Post, 1950.
- “A Sound of Thunder,” in part because dinosaurs are cool, and in part because of the fantastic use of the butterfly effect and time travel. Collier’s, 1952.
- “There Will Come Soft Rains,” a forgotten gem packed with powerful emotion, a bitter condemnation of nuclear Armageddon. Collier’s, 1950, later in The Martian Chronicles.
- “Colonel Stonesteel’s Genuine Home-Made Truly Egyptian Mummy” shows Bradbury’s favorite themes: the power of imagination and creativity, the nostalgia and innocence of youth. Omni, 1981.
- Also, for a more dinosaur-themed but similar “youth and imagination” tale, “Besides a Dinosaur, Whatta Ya Wanna Be When You Grow Up?” Dinosaur Tales, 1983.
- “The Kilimanjaro Device,” another bittersweet thought-experiment that provides a more fitting end for Ernest Hemingway. (In “Forever and the Earth,” he did the same thing for his other literary hero, Thomas Wolfe.) Life, 1965.
- “All Summer in a Day,” Combine the bittersweet theme with the theme of lost nostalgia, and you have this gem: the cruelties of children ruin the one day of rain- and wind-free sunshine on Venus. Fantasy and Science Fiction, 1954.
A few great memorial posts:
- 20 of Ray Bradbury’s Thoughts on Life, Death, and Writing | Buzzfeed
- Ray Bradbury in the New Yorker
- A Tribute to Ray Bradbury | Flavorwire
- Science fiction author Ray Bradbury dead at 91 | Ars Technica
- RIP Ray Bradbury, Author of Fahrenheit 451 & The Martian Chronicles | i09