To open the pages of a Ray Bradbury novel is to enter an imagination that has travelled far beyond the bounds of our rocky globe, into the most fascinating and perplexing realms of human life.
Bradbury had a productive career as one of America’s most successful novelists, short storey writers, playwrights, and screenwriters, best known for his works Fahrenheit 451 and The Martian Chronicles. Bradbury, in a strange blend of the futuristic, the spooky, the bizarre, and the nostalgic, could be considered a genre unto himself. Bradbury was a Renaissance writer if there ever was one.
It’s hard to think this isn’t a scenario from one of Bradbury’s books because his writing career began in such a magical way. When he met Mr Electrico at a carnival when he was twelve years old, he was taken around a tent of misfits that would later stalk the pages of his most morbid books. Mr Electrico touched Ray with an electrified sword later that day and whispered to him, “Live forever.”
And Bradbury took Mr. Electro’s vow to heart, writing every day for more than seventy years, establishing a literary legacy that will live on in perpetuity, employing his prodigious storytelling abilities to craft tales that have enthralled millions of readers and inspired a slew of imitators.
He said that he was neither a science fiction, fantasy, or magical realism author, but rather a word magician who was written by his books.
It’s impossible to choose a Top Five list from Bradbury’s seemingly endless works, therefore this will be a list of my favourites and recommended must-reads.
A Ray Bradbury Top Five must-read list must include the following, in no particular order.
1. The Illustrated Man (1951)
The Illustrated Man — a former carnival worker whose crawling tattoos spun stories of dread and delight — weaves together a series of short stories in this dark and wonderful novel.
Several stories are connected to The Martian Chronicles, and many of them resemble Bradbury’s early futuristic work, such as “The Veldt,” a cautionary storey set in a children’s nursery that conjures up the contents of the imagination. When the children’s parents consider shutting off the nursery, they discover that virtual reality has become all too real, and “Kaleidoscope,” in which an accident rips open a starship and spews its space-suited crew into space, where they meet a variety of ends. This narrative is so amazing that I read it at least twice a year to see how a master works.
Exploring this live canvas with Bradbury as your guide becomes a riveting investigation of the human condition, putting The Illustrated Man among the best Ray Bradbury books.
2. Fahrenheit 451 (1953)
Guy Montag, a fireman in a dystopian society where books are forbidden and most people spend their days in front of television screens, doesn’t put out fires; he causes them. Montag is assigned by the authorities to burn forbidden publications that promote free and complex thought, and he works diligently to complete his task. That is, until he meets Clarisse, a lone late-night pedestrian who reawakens Montag’s awareness of his surroundings. Montag begins to have doubts about his technology-dependent civilization and attempts to save the secret realm of printed knowledge that still exists.
Bradbury was inspired to create this grim essay on a post-literature future by the Red Scare of the 1940s, which saw America seized by anti-communist hysteria. While Fahrenheit 451 may be a parable about McCarthyism and Stalinism, Bradbury’s warnings about the pitfalls of political correctness and technological advancements appear to be becoming increasingly prescient.
This short novel, based on his short tale “The Fireman,” is perhaps most recognised for the Francois Truffaut film starring Oscar Werner and Julie Christie. And if that’s the case, people are missing out on a classic science fiction storey with a chilling Orwellian theme. Read the book and watch the movie. Fahrenheit 451 serves as a admonitory tale.
3. The Martian Chronicles (1950)
The heat from the rocket burns blazes through an Ohio winter in January 1999, as pioneers depart Earth for Mars. In this superb epic about the colonisation of a new frontier in space, waves of settlement missions land on Mars until the planet’s cities are nearly destroyed. Things take a turn when humankind is on the verge of extinction on Earth, and the survivors seek refuge on the planet they once exploited, now a barren wasteland.
Mars and the ethereal Martians are fanciful imagination in Bradbury’s hands. Despite the fact that he eschewed the hard scientific truths of regulated science fiction writers and preferred old technology to modern — bicycles over cars, typewriters over computers – he possessed a remarkable foresight into the future. Bradbury utilises the unusual light of an alien world to question humanity’s constant avarice in The Martian Chronicles, which might be interpreted as a mirror of postwar life in the Midwest. He reminds us that technical growth is only worthwhile if it improves our lives.
Rather than sticking to science fiction conventions, each chapter is an experiment in style and atmosphere. It does, however, take place on Mars, but it is the Mars of Edgar Rice Burrows and Barsoom, not the world we know from various landers and orbital photographic surveys. In Bradbury’s universe, Martians exist, and when Earthlings come, all hell breaks loose, albeit in a calm, retrospective, and masterfully portrayed manner
The text alone in The Martian Chronicles is worth reading; from “The Off Season”: “The wind threw the sand ship keening across the empty sea floor, past upturned pillars, past derelict marble and brass docks, past dead white chess cities, past purple slopes, into the distant…”
4. The October Country (1955)
Despite his fame as the author of the book-burning apocalyptic classic Fahrenheit 451, Bradbury was first and foremost a short-story writer. Dark Carnival, a collection of weird and melancholy stories published in 1947, was his first book. He trimmed, altered, and expanded to this collection eight years later to create The October Country, his ultimate tome of the macabre and bizarre.
Such classics as The Small Assassin, Skeleton, and The Wind, among its lovely bits of autumnal sweets, upend the familiar, creating a world where the mundane is exotic and terrifying. Bradbury’s horror stories aren’t surprising or exciting. It’s the terror of realising that something inside you is out to get you, whether it’s an unborn child or a pile of bones. It’s the terror of living in a world where the winds are conspiring to bring you down. But, though Bradbury avoids gore and the stock creatures of spooky literature, I defy you not to feel a shiver running down your spine as you read The October Country on a dark and stormy night.
5. The Golden Apples of the Sun(1953)
Bradbury abandoned frame narratives for his fourth ‘fix-up’ of short stories and simply juxtaposed tales from a variety of genres. The result is a stunning fusion of his familiar, wistful fantasy, such as “The April Witch,” a haunting tale about a teenage dream-traveler yearning to fall in love, and visionary science fiction, such as the title storey, a terrifying yet beautiful description of a spaceship’s flight into the Sun’s atmosphere.
A seemingly uninteresting storey is tucked within amidst these treats. The film “The Pedestrian” is about a man who enjoys getting out of the house and going for a walk. In a nod to Fahrenheit 451, this society is one in which individuals are cooped up in their homes, engrossed in television — and going for a walk results in arrest. Bradbury warns that technology progress can steal people of their humanity and enforce adherence to the current quo by depicting neighbourhoods as graveyards and people as mindless insects.
A fascinating account of a spaceship’s journey into the Sun’s atmosphere in order to sample some of its composition. Scientifically improbable, but a masterwork of heat, terror, and beauty in Bradbury’s hands. It’s also the title storey in a wonderful anthology of 22 pieces, including “The Fog Horn” and “A Sound of Thunder,” which are both classics.
Happy reading guys.