The world lost one if its pioneers of science-fiction/fantasy literature on June 5, and one whose body of work helped spark this blogger’s love of science-fiction -Ray Bradbury! For those who never had a chance to sample his work, or who wish to re-acquaint themselves with his classics, the Winnipeg Public Library has a good selection to choose from.
The Martian Chronicles was Ray Bradbury’s first major title and it received widespread acclaim. It is epic in scope, with multiple characters and spanning many decades in time. Written in the late 1940’s-1950’s, it envisioned humanity’s attempt to reach and colonize Mars to escape an Earth seemingly doomed to self-destruction. But it soon turns out that the red planet is already occupied by natives wary of those “aliens”. The Chronicles are structured as a series of short stories with different protagonists sharing a larger narrative of humanity’s decades-long efforts in colonizing and surviving on Mars. Like any good work of science-fiction, the Chronicles are a reflection not only of future possibilities, but of (then-) current world issues (fear of nuclear warfare, debating views of colonization’s effects on societies, xenophobia) as well as being exciting and fun in its own right. Though fantastic (sometimes fantastical) technology is part of the tales, the humans are very much its central element. I find that is true in all of Bradbudy’s writing that I have read. A graphic novel adaptation is also available.
Fahrenheit 451, a classic that I remember seeing on television as a child years before reading the novel (the movie version also available at the library). The dystopian world where the story takes place resonates to our modern world: Bradbury writing the novel in 1953-anticipates reality television, human libraries (in this case people memorizing entire books in order to preserve them), new forms of media gaining prominence over books and being used to dull and manipulate people into apathy and compliance. In this future world, “firemen” are tasked with finding and burning books with flamethrowers, as all book have been deemed dangerous and offensive, and the population is kept in a state of apathy through junk virtual entertainment. The hero of the novel is one of these firemen, who comes to recognize the value of books and changes his views of his society through key encounters with other people struggling to change it.
An equally good, but far less well known title is Dandelion Wine. Contrary to what most may assume, a large quantiy of Bradbury’s stories were not set in space or in the future, but in ordinary everyday settings, where fantastical events would be introduced. This collection of short stories is a work of nostalgia set in rural america over one summer in 1928. It is about the lives and adventures of a young boy, Douglas, his family and friends, and the lessons learned while growing up. Bradbury wrote a sequel to this story entitled Farewell Summer, which is set one year after Dandelion Wine at the end of Summer of 1929. This time Douglas and his friends decide to wage “war” against growing up, time (symbolized by the courthouse clock) and the elderly, who then respond in kind against the rebelling youngsters. Both tales strike the right balance bewtween levity and profound meditation on the trials of growing out of childhood and are quite uplifting.
Something Wicked This Way Comes made me think of alot of Stephen King’s work: like It, The Stand or Christine, in the way that he embodied supernaturally dark forces in deceptively ordinary forms. In this coming-of-age tale, malevolent forces start affecting the inhabitants of a midwestern town when a traveling carnival arrives, and two young boys must try to uncover the nature of what they are facing and try to save their friends and families. This being Bradbury, the tale never goes too far into dark territories and the story overall is not as bleak, but there are definitely a few resemblances with some King’s work. The movie version of this tale is also available at the library.
Some of Bradbury’s short stories have also been adapted to graphic novel, and in The Best of Ray Bradbury: the Graphic Novel, one can find some of his more notable ones, including A Sound of Thunder, which deals with time-traveling safari hunters going after the ultimate predator of the jurassic era. Of course, as in any good time-travel fiction, things go wrong.
Of course, this still represents a small fraction of Bradbury’s work, and I would be interested by your own suggestions of other great reads by him.