Happy birthday, Ray Bradbury!

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“It was a pleasure to burn.”

It was with those words, that I was first introduced to Ray Bradbury. I became acquainted with Bradbury’s work early in high school, when my freshman English class was assigned what many consider to be the author’s seminal work, Fahrenheit 451. From the first sentence, I was hooked.

Bradbury painted a terrifying and believable world, where human beings wiled away their days in front of giant interactive television screens and books were not only forbidden, but destroyed. As I read the story of Guy Montag, a fireman tasked with the burning of books, I became a citizen of his world. I was terrorized by Captain Beatty and his mechanical “Hound”, I felt brokenhearted for Faber, and I fell head-over-heals in love with Clarisse McClellan. Thanks to Mr. Bradbury’s poetic writing and complicated characters, I was forever changed.

As a new Bradbury fan, I sought out his horror tale Something Wicked this Way Comes and his short story compilations Dandelion Wine and R is for Rocket. With each story I read, I became fascinated with a man who had not only influenced the work of literature, but was also an avid supporter of NASA* and worked with Walt Disney on his futuristic vision for Epcot.

Today is Ray Bradbury’s birthday, and though we lost him just last year, his work continues to inspire, entertain and thrill those who read it. In honor of the author who gave us the great Fahrenheit 451, here is a list of 5 great Bradbury short stories.

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1) A Sound of Thunder:

A big game hunter is given the opportunity to travel back in time to hunt a dinosaur. The Time-Safari representatives were very specific about the rules, making sure to note that one little thing changed in time could alter our future forever. This story of a time safari is a brilliant concept, followed by a plot that ratchets up the tension, leading to an perfect, inevitable conclusion.

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2) The Veldt:

A candy-coated yet sinister tale about a computerized room that bid the telepathic commands of two children (Peter and Wendy) to create whatever landscape their little minds can conceive. Spending all of there days on a virtual African veldt, the children are forced to say good-bye to the device, begging for one last tour of the digital landscape, much to the dismay (and safety) of their parents. This is a wonderful cautionary tale about the reliance on technology to parent our young.

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3) The Homecoming:

On the night before All Hallows’ Eve, the large, extended family of the Elliotts travel from all corners of the globe to the haunted-looking house where Timothy Elliot and his family live. Did I mention the Elliots are all monsters, vampires and ghouls (well all except for Timothy)? This is a beautiful tale filled with whimsy and magic, juxtaposing horrific monsters with familial devotion.

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4) The Rocket:

A sad and beautiful tale about a poor family man who crafts a rocket ship for his two children, in a future where only the wealthy can travel in space. This story is heartfelt and warm, and is as prescient today as it was in the 1950s, with it’s illustration of a society divided by class.

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5) The Fog Horn:

Two blue-collar guys manning a lighthouse listen as a fog horn calls out to the ships. Nothing out of the ordinary until the lighthouse foghorn receives a call in return from a prehistoric creature. A sort of mix of ghost story, dinosaur tale and Lovecraftian weird fiction, The Fog Horn fills the reader with wonder, dread and a sense of sad irony as the two men imagine that the creature might be striving against unrequited love.

These stories are just a few of the author’s contributions to the written word as well as some of my favorites. Do you have a favorite Bradbury story or novel? Let us know in the comments.

 

* Bradbury and his work has been the namesake of two NASA projects. The landing site of the Mars Curiosity Rover was named “Bradbury Landing” to honor the author who had died months earlier. Also, an impact crater on the surface of the moon was named the “Dandelion Crater” in honor of the author’s book Dandelion Wine.

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