Ray Bradbury turned 86 today.
His name first meant something to me only because of that goofy TV adaptation of The Martian Chronicles,and it was 1979, and I ate up anything science fiction because I was still
drowning in the wake of Star Wars.
In high school, I recognized Ray’s name when I found Fahrenheit 451 in a library’s used book sale. It scarred me in the best ways possible, and I wanted more.
It was my sophomore year at Bowling Green when I really started scarfing down Bradbury stories by the handful, sitting in the stacks on the first floor of the library. This is where I met those bratty kids from “The Veldt” and the time-traveling hunters in “A Sound of Thunder” and the world-altering inventor of “The Toynbee Convector.” (It was also in this period when I read a review of Bradbury’s collections that featured a description of “The October Game” as the most chilling story that Ray had ever written. It would take me a long time to track down a copy, but I still remember finding it in the Upper Sandusky library on a visit to my grandmother’s, and feeling icy water down my back when I read the story alone in a quiet den.)
His novels I find kind of hit-or-miss. Of the three I really like, two – Dandelion Wine and The Martian Chronicles – are more akin to superbly-assembled short story collections. The third is Something Wicked This Way Comes.
The first time I ever got paid for a short story (Florida Magazine, August, 1995 – “Heading Home” – I made $100), I found myself writing a letter to Bradbury late at night. I mailed it and forgot about it immediately, but I can still remember shaking when, a few weeks later, a letter from Ray arrived at my house, congratulating me on my first story sale.
Though I’ve kept up with reading most of his new novels and collections over the last decade or so, my favorite Bradbury years are still those when I’d stumble across never-read books in secondhand stores and library cast-off sales, or I’d find an edition with a particularly neat cover I’d never seen.
Bradbury still takes up more space on my bookshelves than any other author, though, so it was tough coming up with a list of my favorite stories. Here are fourteen, ranked not at all – they’re typed in the order I found them as I thumbed through my books.
- “Tomorrow and Tomorrow” This one I found in a 1967 anthology called Time Untamed – which includes a jaw-dropping collection of authors: Isaac Asimov, Robert Bloch, Clifford D. Simak, John Wyndham, Theodore Sturgeon, L. Sprague DeCamp and Fritz Leiber – and it’s fantastic. A time-changing paradox,
a necessary murder, and a typewriter.
- “The Toynbee Convector” A classic Bradbury twist of optimism.
- “Banshee” Ghosts, Ireland, and jilted women.
- “The Town Where No One Got Off”
What’s really scary is realizing what everyone carries inside them, and wondering how close to the mark Bradbury hits.
- “A Sound of Thunder” No, they NEVER made a movie of this. I don’t care what you think. To take a masterpiece like this story and make it a joke would be un-freaking-thinkable.
- “The Small Assassin” Killer baby. When people talk about vintage demented Ray, this is what they’re talking about.
- “The Lake” Dead friend. Beach. Sometimes you still get to say goodbye.
- “The October Game” The penultimate paragraph begins: “Everyone sat in the dark cellar, suspended in the suddenly frozen task of this October game;” and damned if just re-reading the ending of this story to type that sentence didn’t raise goosebumps on my arm. The. Darkest. Bradbury. Ever.
- “Fever Dream” Next time you get sick, why don’t you ponder whether those germs are actually thinking about what they’re doing?
- “The Veldt” I think about this one a lot as virtual reality inches itself more and more into real life.
- “Night Meeting” I’m a sucker for stories where the walls of time and space fade.
- “Kaleidoscope” Only Bradbury could take the premise of astronauts perishing after a rocket explosion and make it equal parts uplifting and heartbreaking.
- “The Long Rain” If you don’t feel soaked to the bone after this one, you didn’t read it slowly enough. Throw the real world version of Venus out the window – Bradbury’s is what it should be like.
- “Chrysalis” Fear, transformation, wonder.
There are others I could add – The Skeleton; A Piece of Wood, Punishment Without Crime, the one with Picasso drawing in the sand on the beach – but the ones above are
the ones I practically have memorized.
Happy Birthday, Ray!
Summer just ended.
School starts Wednesday, so my daughter and I went for a
walk tonight, after the neighborhood kids had all finally gone inside, but
before the sunlight had faded.
There was just enough of a chill in the air to put summer to
bed, even though I’m sure there’s a week or three of warm weather left down the
We stood at the edge of the field across the street and
stared at the contrails of jets glowing pink in the sunset. We listened to the
bugs in the trees and breathed. For a second or two, I tasted the air of every
last night of summer vacation ever and it squeezed at my chest and put a lump
in my throat.
We only saw two lightning bugs, but we did discover a big
spider, high up between two power lines at the end of the road.
By the time we got back to the driveway, the big white light
over the garage was buzzing. It only comes on when it senses night has fallen.
It wasn’t even nine o’clock yet.