Thank you, Mr Bradbury

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I’m not sure how old I was when I read my first Ray Bradbury story, but I definitely remember which one it was.  “The Veldt” made an impression on me that’s never faded, over more than thirty years of reading.  It was truly frightening.  Not because of the holographic lions killing and eating actual humans (I mean come on, really?)  The driving force behind Bradbury’s stories were the people in them.  The cold cruelty of the children when they are denied what they want, the desperation of the parents when they realize too late what they’ve created…it’s all so real. 

On June 5th of this year, Mr Bradbury passed away.  I was talking to a coworker who admitted he’d never read anything by Bradbury at all.  I was utterly stunned.  Knowing how many amazing tales he wrote, I just couldn’t fathom how anyone might have somehow missed reading any of them.  I started telling my coworker about the rains on Venus and the dinosaur hunts through time and electric grandmothers.  He immediately went upstairs and checked out the two Bradbury collections our library has.  He showed them to me, and I pointed out story after story that I believed he had to read.  So I thought today I might share my favorite Bradbury stories with you as well.

7. “The Man”  Two astronauts land on a planet on which lives a peaceful and loving society.  The people tell the astronauts they were taught how to love one another by a man who brought them this understanding.  One of the astronauts decides to abandon his mission and stay forever, while the other insists on chasing after the man.  But there’s one question he didn’t ask before he left.

6. “All Summer In A Day”  Margot, who has recently arrived from Earth, tries to tell her classmates about the sun, which only makes an appearance through the thick clouds on Venus once every seven years.  They refuse to believe her, and when the rain begins easing up and they have a chance to see the sun for themselves, they do something horrible to the poor young girl. 

5.  “The Long Rain”   On Venus, it  rains continually and heavily, and humans have built sun domes as shelters from the constant downpours. A group of astronauts are stranded in the wet jungle, searching for a sun dome.   One by one the astronauts are driven to madness and suicide by the unrelenting rhythm of the rain.  Will any of them make it to safety, or will the rain consume them all?

4. “The Fruit At The Bottom Of The Bowl”  One man kills another over the love of a woman, but when his anger cools and he realizes what he has done, he frantically begins rubbing every surface in the house, hoping to remove his fingerprints, but resulting only in a perfectly polished house.

3. “Fever Dream”  Charles falls ill, but the doctor doesn’t listen when Charles insists that the germs making him sick are taking over his body.

2. “Zero Hour”  Kids all over have started playing a new game, called Invasion.  Parents don’t pay too much attention…until it’s too late.

1. “The Illustrated Man”  A carnival worker allows a tattoo artist to cover him in brilliantly-colored paintings, only to discover that two spots on his body display the future, and it’s not necessarily a future he’ll like much.

And of course, Bradbury’s novel “Something Wicked This Way Comes” was a wonderful, dark and terrifying story of the summer Will Holloway and Jim Nightshade faced the fearsome Mr Dark and his travelling Pandemonium Shadow Show, and learned the power of laughter in driving away the demons that afflict everyone as we age and take on the responsibilities of adulthood. 

What are your favorite stories by fantasy’s master? 

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15 comments to Thank you, Mr Bradbury

  • sagablessed

    Farenheit 451 was the scariest for me because I could see that actually happening, followed by Something Wicked.

  • Something Wicked and Illustrated Man. By far. I still have some of those old hardbacks upstairs in the extra room.

  • Megan B.

    I have to admit I’ve read less Bradbury than I should. But I remember reading The Sound of Thunder in middle school, and it made a lasting impression on me. I really need to go read some more of his work.

  • I think I mentioned this on Facebook. I didn’t read a whole lot of his works, but I remember Mom letting me stay up on school nights to watch the Martian Chronicles mini-series, and I loved the Ray Bradbury Theater on HBO. Though a story of his I did read that sticks with me to this day was There Will Come Soft Rains. We read it in school and I think I ended up reading it a half a dozen more times on my own.

  • Ooh, the Veldt was my first exposure, too. We followed along in a reader as my 9th grade English teacher read it to us aloud. Man, was that chilling. I read the Martian Chronicles from front to back not long after that.

  • I love me some Bradbury (in a literary sense).

    As far as short stories, in which I consider him to be a master, my favorites are Sound of Thunder which tells of a dinosaur hunt and the potentially horrible consequences that could ensue. It is a study in tension in sotries.

    Next I would say Frost & Fire. That is the one about the survivors and their decendants of two spaceships that crashed on a planet whose sun caused people to age an entire lifespan in 3 days. A boy and girl journey to the spaceship wreckage and learn of their past.

    The short story collection, The Illustrated Man simply spooked me to death. The lion children were great.

    The Long Rain is awesome in its use of gradual physcosis.

    The Exiles was a great toast to the greats of literature and the need to keep reading them.

    The rocket inspires you to follow your dreams even if you fail.

  • “‘The Long Rain’ On Venus, it rains continually and heavily, and humans have built sun domes as shelters from the constant downpours. A group of astronauts are stranded in the wet jungle, searching for a sun dome. One by one the astronauts are driven to madness and suicide by the unrelenting rhythm of the rain. Will any of them make it to safety, or will the rain consume them all?”

    I cannot attest to the rumor that Ray Bradbury wrote this after a prolonged visit to Seattle, but it would not surprise me.

  • Definitely “The Sound of Thunder.” I read it as a kid in school, and it literally changed the way I look at fiction. It was the first serious piece of speculative fiction I had ever read, and it started me down the path to where I am today.

  • I, too, haven’t read as much Bradbury as I should. Farenheit 451 really struck me as a kid. And now, every time I teach an Intro to Lit class I teach his flash piece (before there was flash, really, as a genre): “The Maiden.” Some students have to read it a couple of times before they get it, and then we talk about how Bradbury Sets us up so the ending isn’t a cheat. My students find they normalize stuff that sets of “that’s odd” triggers. They sort of blow those moments off, their desire to see everything as “normal” holding back their ability to catch on, or pay attention to that little voice that says, “something is wrong here!” Plus, this is an awesome very very wrong love story!!

    Here it is (I just cut n’ pasted it ’cause it isn’t too long):

    She was wonderous fair. She filled his eyes and he looked at her continually and was in love with her. Tall she was, and beautiful, with the morning sun on her. Tall she was, and stately of limb, and she worked for him. He knew her every whim, he did. And he stroked and made love to her, but stayed out of her reach. He knew what she could do to men she loved too well.

    Not today, he thought, you’ll not have me today, maiden fair, maiden strong, maiden quick and maiden fatale.

    Sometimes he would let the children play with her, but only when he was near to be certain they didn’t fall into the bad habit of teasing her too far.

    How many lovers had she had? No, that was wording it a bit strongly. She had few lovers, ever, but she loved them. Sadist that she was, she loved anyone she could get hold of.

    And now this night he went up the steps to her and sat down beside her and rolled over against her and placed his weary head upon her shoulder and looked up at the sky, loving her, and seeing the long line of her face.

    Then–he tripped the trigger.

    Her long blue razor-sharp blade, weighing one hundred pounds, sliced down along the oiled grooves of the drop, straight at his throat–bamm!–through–chopping off light, sound, odor, feeling, his head popped into the waiting wicker, a sexual spout of red blood jutted from his sundered neck; and the two of them, he and she of the blade, lay together in that scarlet orgasm even as the first star appeared.

  • I always loved There Will Come Soft Rains, Farenheit 451, and Something Wicked.

    Pea, thanks for posting that! I hadn’t read it before.

  • Way too hard to choose a favorite story, but I think my favorite collection has to be From the Dust Returned. It’s like a surreal generational (sub)urban fantasy. Dandelion Wine is a close second.

    Speaking of surreal, I read the story “Kaleidoscope” before bed the night Bradbury died. For those of you who have read that one, I think you know what I’m talking about.

  • Ken

    The First story that stuck with me was “Kaleidoscope” and it remains a favorite to this day. “Something Wicked” is another all time favorite. “The Rocket” made me smile and “Zero Hour” reinforced something that I’ve always tried to live by: “Listen to your kids.”

    Thank you, Ray. Thank you for The Autumn People and for every other gift you’ve given us. It was, indeed, a pleasure…to burn

  • (first time commenter shyly joins conversation)

    I saw “All Summer in a Day” performed as a monologue and it made me cry. One of the best, if not the best, short story I’ve ever read. It just goes to show you don’t need characters or cute animals dying left and right to tug at a reader’s heartstrings.

    Thank you for the post, Misty.

  • wrybread

    Picking out favourite stories from a writer as great and prolific as Ray Bradbury is like standing in front of the world’s greatest buffet bar and being told you can only pick one appie, one entree, and one dessert. It feels like picking favourites from so rich a menu defeats the purpose of having such a rich crop. That being said, here are some that stand out for me:

    “The Veldt”: I read this one in Grade 8 or 9 and was nonplussed by it, but when I went back and read it last year I was struck by how much the kids’ homicidal rage towards their parents hit a little too close to home, reminding me of how furious I would get when I was 12-13 and my parents wouldn’t let me watch a certain TV show, play my SNES, or rent R-Rated movies. I remember being mad enough to kill, and had I a few holographic lions at my beck and call I’d probably have sicced them on Mom and Dad. “The Veldt” is a terrifying story because it reminded me of a scary part of myself from back then.

    “Kaleidoscope”: I’d actually forgotten this one until J.J. mentioned it above, that’s definitely spooky to have been reading it the night before Bradbury’s death. At any rate, the story, about a crew of astronauts spinning out of control in their space suits after the wreck of their ship, is probably the most beautiful story about a terrifying existential nightmare scenario ever written.

    “The Other Foot”: One of the Mars stories that’s not collected in The Martian Chronicles, this one concerns a community of African-Americans who left the American south to live on Mars and their encounter with a ship of white refugees from Earth following a nuclear war. This story might feel somewhat cliched and glurgey by today’s standards, and fifty-odd years on it seems strange to think of a world which has rocket ships to Mars but where African-Americans are still lynched and subject to Jim Crow laws. But, keeping in mind that the story was published in 1951, one can feel Bradbury’s disgust towards his society’s still-pervasive racism permeating the story, and appreciate how fresh the story’s ideas were to the time. Thankfully, Jim Crow laws and lynchings are gone without Earth having had to be wiped out by nuclear holocaust in order to make it happen, but this story’s fear of humanity’s self-destructiveness and hope for reconciliation and an end to hate still ring true for me.

    “The Rocket Man”: Maybe it’s only because it inspired William Shatner’s finest hour, but this is one of those simple little stories that hit all kinds of universal themes of Exploration, Love, Loss, and Work (I often think of the title character’s night walk back to his house from the airport when I’m coming home late from work) and does it all so beautifully. The ending is predictable but absolutely heartwrenching.

    “The Fire Balloons”: A strange story about a group of priests searching for the divine on Mars, one of the few sci-fi meets religion stories that does poignant justice to both of them.

    “Mars is Heaven”: Another Mars story, this one about a group of astronauts who discover that Mars is an idealized 1920s utopia where all of their deceased relatives still live. But of course it’s too good to be true…justifiably one of Bradbury’s best known stories, and probably the one in which his nostalgic side and terrifying side are most equally on display.

    “The Rocket” A tale of a desperately poor man who wishes to let his children ride in a rocket. The way he does this is perhaps Bradbury’s best testament to the power of the human imagination.

    “The Martian Chronicles” I read this eighteen years ago, then again last year, and it was as beautiful as I remembered. I suppose eventually human beings will visit Mars, the actual rock in space. We might even colonize it. But it will never be as real as Bradbury’s world of wine-dark canals, silver meats, crystal buildings and ghostly brown-skinned Martians who vanish with the coming of man.

    Godspeed Mr. Bradbury, and I’ll make a wish on the next falling star I see.

  • umibozu

    I cried like a baby when reading ‘The Lake’.