When you open the pages of a Ray Bradbury novel, you are entering an imagination that has traveled beyond the bounds of our rocky globe and deep into the most magnificent and difficult rooms of human existence, all at the same time. Bradbury is most known for his novels Fahrenheit 451 and The Martian Chronicles, but he also had a productive writing career as one of America’s most successful novelists, short story writers, playwrights, and screenwriters, among other works. He asserted that he was neither a writer of science fiction, fantasy, or magical realism, but rather a word magician whose novels were written by other people, including himself. You could say that Bradbury established himself as a genre unto himself, combining elements of the futuristic with those of the spooky, the odd with the nostalgic.
In such a magical setting, it’s difficult to believe this isn’t a scene from one of Bradbury’s books that he started his writing career. His encounter with Mr Electrico at a carnival when he was twelve years old resulted in him being led around a tent full of misfits who would later stalk the pages of his most morbid books. A little later in the day, Mr Electrico tapped Ray on the shoulder with an electrified sword and whispered, “Live forever,” in Ray’s ear. Bradbury absorbed the meaning of these terms. Every day for more than seven decades, he put pen to paper and used his prodigious storytelling abilities to concoct tales that have captivated legions of readers and inspired a legion of imitators. Nevertheless, where does a new reader begin, given the abundance of options? How about starting here: with our selection of the ten best Ray Bradbury works, which begins with the novel-turned-movie that established him as a household name: The Martian Chronicles.
Fahrenheit 451 (1953)
A futuristic society in which books are forbidden and the majority of people spend their days in front of television screens, firefighter Guy Montag does not extinguish blazes; instead, he ignites them. Mr. Montag has been ordered by the state to destroy prohibited publications, which are being sought because they advocate for critical thinking and nuanced thinking, and he works relentlessly in order to complete his mission. To be precise, until he comes across Clarisse, an isolated late-night pedestrian who serves as a catalyst for Montag’s re-awakening to his surroundings. Montag quickly begins to have doubts about his technology-dependent civilization, and he makes an attempt to save the secret world of printed information that has survived to this day.
Bradbury was inspired to create this grim rumination on a post-literature future by the Red Scare of the 1940s, which saw the United States seized by anti-communist panic and fear. The novel Fahrenheit 451 may be a parable about McCarthyism and Stalinism, but it is also a cautionary tale about the risks of political correctness and the hazards of technology that seems to be becoming more and more relevant today.
The October Country (1955)
Bradbury was, above all things, a short-story writer, despite his international fame as the author of the dystopian novel The Hunger Games. His debut book, Dark Carnival, was a collection of weird and melancholy stories that was published in 1947 and was written by him. His definitive tome of the macabre and strange — The October Country — was completed eight years later after he had edited, updated, and added to his collection of short stories.
Such favorites as The Small Assassin, Skeleton, and The Wind, wherein Bradbury upends the familiar, creating a world where the everyday is exotic and terrifying, are among the lovely morsels of autumnal confectionary found in this collection. The horror in Bradbury’s stories isn’t shocking or exciting in the traditional sense. Awakening to the terrifying reality of realizing that something inside you — whether it’s an unborn child or an accumulation of bones — is out to get you. In a world where the winds are gathering to plot your demise, it’s a terrifying experience. I defy you to pick up Bradbury’s The October Country on a dark and stormy night and not feel a shiver run down your spine, despite the fact that he avoids blood and gore and the standard monsters of supernatural literature.
The Martian Chronicles (1950)
When the pioneers depart Earth for Mars in January 1999, the heat from the rocket burns blazes through the cold Ohio winter, bringing the world closer to Mars. A never-ending stream of settlement missions land on the Red Planet in this superb saga about the colonization of a new frontier in space. The Red Planet’s cities are all but destroyed by the time the story concludes. When conflict on Earth comes dangerously near to wiping off civilization, the survivors flee to the planet they exploited, which is now a wasteland and a lonely wasteland, where they seek refuge.
Bradbury’s Mars, as well as his ethereal Martians, are fanciful works of fiction. Yet, despite his disdain for the hard scientific facts of disciplined science fiction writers, and his preference for old technology over new — bicycles over vehicles, typewriters over computers – he was able to foresee the future with astonishing accuracy. The Martian Chronicles might be viewed as a reflection of postwar living in the Midwest; yet, Bradbury also utilizes the odd light of an alien world to probe humanity’s insatiable desire for wealth and material gain. He serves as a foreboding reminder that technological innovation is only valuable if it improves the quality of our lives.
The Illustrated Man (1951)
With the presence of the Illustrated Man — a former carnival worker whose crawling tattoos tell stories of dread and wonder — this dark and marvelous novel is a collection of short stories bound together by the Illustrated Man’s presence in each story. There are other stories that are related to The Martian Chronicles, and many of them represent Bradbury’s early, futuristic work, including one of his best-known stories, “The Veldt,” which is a cautionary tale set in a children’s nursery that conjures up the contents of a child’s mind. The children quickly become enthralled with the room, and when their parents consider turning off the nursery lights, they discover that virtual reality has become all too real for them to bear.
Finding your way around this living canvas with Bradbury as your guide opens up into a fascinating investigation of the human condition, earning The Illustrated Man a position among the best Ray Bradbury books.
The Golden Apples of the Sun (1953)
Bradbury abandoned frame narratives for his fourth ‘fix-up’ of short stories and instead just juxtaposed tales from a variety of genres in this collection. With “The April Witch,” which is a haunting tale about a teenage dream-traveler who longs to fall in love, and visionary science fiction, such as the title story, which is a terrifying yet beautiful description of a spaceship’s flight into the Sun’s atmosphere, the author has created an astonishing mingling of his familiar, wistful fantasy.
A seemingly uninteresting story is tucked within among these treats. “The Pedestrian” is a short film about a man who enjoys getting out of the house and taking a walk. However, in the spirit of Fahrenheit 451, this society is one in which individuals are confined to their homes, engrossed in television — and in which even going for a walk results in arrest. Bradbury cautions that technological advancements can steal individuals of their humanity and drive them to conform to the current quo through his depiction of communities as graveyards and people as mindless insects.
Dandelion Wine (1957)
Every summer pleasure available in Green Town, Illinois, is ripe for the picking in the year 1928. Douglas Spaulding, a 12-year-old boy, begins his vacation with high hopes, but as the temperatures increase, things take an unexpected turn for the worse. Douglas’ frenzied imagination transforms the town into a fantastical world filled with time-travelers, witches, charmed tennis shoes, and inconceivable ‘happy machines.’
In the traditional sense, this Ray Bradbury novel is not a supernatural fantasy novel in the traditional sense. Author Ray Bradbury mines a rich vein of contemporary American folk-fantasy and combines it with pleasant humor and a clear desire for simpler times, transporting you back to those unforgettable summers as a youngster. This novel, on the other hand, is not without its darker themes. While growing up, Douglas finds himself caught between the simple pleasures of childhood and the terrible world of adulthood, as the passions that lurk beyond the realm of innocence are gradually revealed: love, despair, and the struggle to hang onto one’s childhood.
Something Wicked This Way Comes (1962)
Bradbury returns to Green Town in his second fantasy tale about childhood, The Children of Green Town. Autumn has arrived this time, and a traveling carnival has arrived in the middle of the night, selling rides and sideshows with hidden horrors to the unsuspecting public. Young boys Will Halloway and Jim Nightshade, who are drawn to the strange carnival’s allure, finally learn the carnival’s true, evil nature and must ask the assistance of Will’s father to break the cycle of fear that has gripped them.
Those familiar with Bradbury’s work will recognize the bildungsroman themes and melancholy blend of nostalgia and fantasy that he employs once again to depict a whimsically terrifying landscape as an allegory of good and evil. Bradbury casts a light on the most powerful humanizing force we have in our possession – love — by traversing all of the passions that exist between birth and death.
The Halloween Tree (1972)
Halloween is meant for books by Ray Bradbury, just as Christmas is meant for Charles Dickens’s works. What we’re talking about here is not the candy-corn version of Halloween, but the genuine experience of entering a lengthy time of darkness signaled by the death and decay of the natural world.
This scary Ray Bradbury tale is set on Halloween night, which makes for an excellent read. Joe Pipkin, the ringleader of a group of costumed lads, is nowhere to be found when they set out to meet him for a night of trick-or-treating, but the guys are determined to find him. In the course of their search for Pipkin, they come to a ghostly mansion just outside the city limits. The Halloween Tree, which is festooned with jack-o-lanterns, looms large beside it. The boys go on a time-and-space-spanning odyssey that takes them from Ancient Egypt to contemporary Mexico in order to understand the origins of Halloween, and in the process, they might just save their friend. Moundshroud is introduced here. In The Halloween Tree, Bradbury elevates the issue of death from a personal to a more universal level, while yet maintaining his distinctive shadow tattooed on the trunk.