Ray Bradbury died on June 5, 2012, but his words will never be forgotten.
CNN sites that during his long and prolific life, Bradbury wrote over 600 short stories, many of which were collected into various anthologies or gathered together into novels with similar themes. His writing has been described as futuristic, gorgeous, layered, wondrous, and magical; no one can levitate an ordinary object in more poetic detail then Bradbury.
Now that Bradbury has passed away, people are interested in reading more of his works. He was famous for his novels Fahrenheit 451 and The Martian Chronicles, but his short stories are just as important works of science fiction. For those looking for some guidance on where to begin, here is an unofficial list of the Top Ten Best Short Stories that he ever wrote. The list counts backwards beginning with the 10th favorite story and works its way forward to #1:
10. Dark, They Were, and Golden-eyed: This is one of Bradbury’s delicately dreamy stories about a father living on Mars who wants to return to earth with his family. The characters transform in this tale, losing their fear and their memories and their human form as they slowly turn into Martians. This can easily be called a “green” story today, as the characters forsake the human houses for the Martian villas. What makes this tale so good is that it promotes the idea that man cannot control outer space – that no matter how many rockets the humans build or how many colonists they send into the stars, humans will be forced to adapt to the new environment instead of the other way around.
9. The Magical Kitchen: this story uses humor in a way that demonstrates that what appears to be broken does not necessarily need to be fixed. The descriptive words practically roll off the tongue when Bradbury describes the tasty dishes coming out of Grandmother Spalding’s kitchen. No one in the large boarding house, including the Dandelion Wine protagonist Douglas, can ever figure out exactly what it is they are eating – but it is beyond delicious. When Aunt Rose comes to visit, she decides that it is up to her to ‘fix’ Grandmother’s disorganized kitchen ways. Everything plunges into unedible chaos until young Douglas makes a key decision which returns everything back to normal, and leaves Aunt Roses’ luggage packed and left at the front door for her immediate departure. It is Bradbury’s use of language that turns this into an extraordinary work of literary art, demonstrating an amazing ability to say ‘they ate dinner’ in one thousand and one different and magical ways.
8. The April Witch: can only be described as ‘spellbinding’. The reader follows a wisp of a spirit named Cecy as she drifts through the farmlands in search of love. Cecy is from a magical family, and she is able to take over the living body of Ann, a young farm girl. Cecy forces Ann to be kind to Tom, a boy whom Ann does not particularly like, making her attend a dance and act like she is having fun. The attraction to this particular story lies in Cecy’s ability to enchant, and her longing to be able to love a human. Full of hope and longing and frailty, this is a sweet story with dark undertones of possession and trickery.
7. The Homecoming: a haunted house prepares for the joyful family reunion of an extended supernatural clan. Written in 1946 (62 years before Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book) the story follows a young boy named Tim who has the distinction of being the only human in a large family of ghosts and vampires and magical entities. Tim just wants to fit in, and his family accepts him for what he is – mortal. Bradbury is a master of creating existential characters that push previous conceptions of ghouls and beasties into new territory; a true celebration of all things Halloween.
6. Season of Disbelief: This is not a story that warms the heart or leaves one satisfied. It is a cruel story, disavowing all that is good about memories and age and wisdom. Neighborhood children criticize and bully kindly old Mrs. Bentley into believing that she was never young, never had a first name, and that all of her memories are lies. In today’s internet generation of throwaway media and reducing all communication to soundbytes, this story is particularly visionary and chilling.
5. The Fog Horn ( also known as The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms): For anyone who ever delighted in Lovecraft’s tales of Older Than Old Gods, as well as those people who believe in the Loch Ness Monster and Krakens so big they could pull an entire ship down into the depths of the world… this story is a favorite. Imagine the loneliness of a great sea monster, drawn out of the darkest waters of the ocean by the possibility of the voice of a contemporary, and then finding out that it is not a friend, but a fog horn. A simple story, but full of irony and dark subterranean possibilities.
4. Tomorrow’s Child: Imagine loving a child so much that you would be willing to leave one dimension in order to co-exist with the child in another dimension? The final sentences describing a reunited family of geometric shapes cavorting together is brilliant. This story ranks #4 for its blatant originality and perfect blending of the words ‘science’ and ‘fiction’.
3. All Summer in a Day: This story has been a staple of middle school language arts programs for years, and with good reason. Humans have colonized the planet Venus, where it rains every day; the sun only comes out for two hours every seven years. The story focuses on a classroom of children that are anticipating this moment of sunshine. Margot, a quiet child, is the only one who can remember ever having seen the sun before. She desperately misses the sun, and cannot wait for the moment when the rain stops. The other students tease and bully her for her memories, and eventually lock her in a closet, thus causing her to miss the sunshine. Heartbreaking and leaving no illusion to the cruelties of children, the tale is one of Bradbury’s best examples of mankind excluding someone because they are ‘different’.
2. The Sound of Thunder: By far one of the most singularly frightening of all stories ever written, Bradbury explores the idea that one tiny mistake which occurs on a prehistoric time travel hunting expedition can change the history of the entire world. The scope and sequence of the words and images are incomparable, and even though several movies have been made of this story, none of them have done justice to the fear generated by the written word. Begs to question science and inventions and the idea that this could really happen.
1. The Veldt: The best of the best. Bradbury imagines a world of enormous flat screen TVs, interactive video game playing, the future generation of children indifferent to violence or homicide, and smart houses 50 years before it is ever invented. But in a twist of futuristic fate, the lions on the screens are not just images – they are real. A spoiled brother and sister cannot tolerate rules or restrictions, and decide it is better to sacrifice their parents to the lions on the video screens then live within parameters. This story is more horror then science fiction, somehow implying that there is rationality in the irrational and no need for remorse when involved with acts of murder.
In June 2012, HarperCollins announced that Bradbury’s backlist of short stories and novels would be available as e-content.
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