Wed
Jun 5 2013 10:00am

B is For Bradbury: 5 Excellent Ray Bradbury Stories to Remember

Best 5 Ray Bradbury stories for beginners

A year ago today, we lost one of the most influential writers of the 20th century, Ray Bradbury. Bradbury inspired generations of creators, including Stephen Spielberg, NASA scientists, and of course writers like Neil Gaiman, Stephen King, Kelly Link and Harlan Ellison. What better way to celebrate his life and memory today, than to let his writing inspire you?

If you’re here on Tor.com, you’ve probably read some of Bradbury’s work. Scratch that. If you are breathing and attended school in the last 50 years you’ve probably read some of Bradbury’s work. But, as most of us can attest, a classroom setting isn’t always the best place to truly connect with literature. Sometimes being “taught” a book, poem, or story, can strip it of its soul. Perhaps you did fall in love with Bradbury’s words when you first met, but then puberty and college and jobs, and the Mad Men marathon you did that one weekend, all got in the way. Well, it’s about time you reconnected with some of the world’s finest storytelling—not just in science fiction, but across all genres.

My first introduction to Ray Bradbury’s work did indeed come in a classroom, though it was not through the classroom staple Fahrenheit 451. Instead, it was through a short story we were assigned to read by a substitute teacher who was attempting to keep my 7th grade English class from spiraling into Lord of the Flies-like chaos. The story was, “There Will Come Soft Rains.” I was enthralled: the quiet horror, the subtle way the mystery unfolds, the images of tiny robot mice with “pink electric eyes”—it was like nothing I’d ever encountered, and I wanted more. I remember gushing to my dad about it (I might have called Ray Bradbury my spirit animal—hyperbolic, perhaps, but it’s still pretty much true). Not long after, he brought home a copy of The Martian Chronicles for me to read. When I devoured that (probably in a single evening), he tried to satiate me with a huge collection of Bradbury’s short stories. I consumed it with the single-minded voraciousness that only kids seem to possess.

My dad, also an avid reader, was probably just grateful that I hadn’t descended into the wilds of a certain Sweet Valley popular at the time, but having a Bradbury enabler made all the difference to me as a reader. It shaped who I would become as an adult, an idea that Bradbury himself touched on in his foreword for The Best American Nonrequired Reading 2012: “Think of everything you have ever read, everything you have ever learned from holding a book in your hands and how that knowledge shaped you and made you who you are today.”

So, today, I hope to be a Bradbury enabler too. Though it is difficult to pick favorites from the hundreds of stories he wrote, I think these five offer an excellent entry point. If you’re already a fan of Bradbury’s short fiction, I hope (re)reading these will inspire you to share a few of the stories that helped shape you in the comments below.

 

“There Will Come Soft Rains” (1950) available in The Martian Chronicles

“At ten o’clock the house began to die.”

The title comes from a Sara Teasdale poem of the same name, which is featured within the story itself. The poem and the story contemplate life after mankind has perished. In the story, Bradbury’s house of the future carries on with its daily tasks and machinations, ignorant that its human inhabitants are missing. Burned into this story, like the silhouettes on the side of the house, is the emotional aftermath of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. It deftly reflects how the advent of atomic bombs would leave warfare and humanity forever altered.

 

“The Fog Horn” (1951) available in The Stories of Ray Bradbury

“The Fog Horn blew.

And the monster answered.”

A seasoned lighthouse keeper “onboards” the new guy, attempting to prepare him for some of the job’s more unique “challenges.” It does not go well. As much about broken hearts, longing, and loneliness, as it is about sea monsters, “The Fog Horn” explores the collision of the modern world with ancient instinct. “The Fog Horn” was originally published in The Saturday Evening Post as “The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms,” and was the basis for a film of the same name.

 

“The Night” (1946) available in The Stories of Ray Bradbury

“Here and now, down there in that pit of jungled blackness is suddenly all the evil you will ever know. Evil you will never understand.”

Bradbury often drew inspiration from poetry, which is evident throughout his work. But for me, the poetry inherent in his prose is particularly vibrant in “The Night,” which includes one of my favorite sentences in all literature: “The town is so quiet and far off, you can only hear the crickets sounding in the spaces beyond the hot indigo trees that hold back the stars.” In “The Night,” Bradbury puts the reader in the shoes of a young boy, confronting true fear for the first time in his life. It’s more than concern for his missing brother, or being afraid of the dark as he and his mother search for him—it’s the deep bottomless fear of realizing one’s own mortality, and the vast loneliness that accompanies that realization.

 

“I Sing the Body Electric” (1969) available in I Sing the Body Electric and Other Stories

“Clever beyond clever, human beyond human, warm beyond warm, love beyond love…”

Initially published as “The Beautiful One is Here,” “I Sing the Body Electric!” draws its title from a Walt Whitman poem that examines the connection between the human body and the soul. In the story, a trio of siblings, grieving the recent loss of their mother, builds the perfect robotic grandmother to care for them. “I Sing the Body Electric” was originally a teleplay written by Bradbury for the 100th episode of The Twilight Zone in 1962. It was his only script to be produced for the show.

 

“The Lake” (1944) available in The October Country

“Water is like a magician. Sawing you in half.”

Like a lake, there’s more to this story than initially meets the eye. On the surface, it is a classic ghost story—a young man, revisiting the scene of a tragic accident makes an unexpected discovery. But beneath that, like so many of Bradbury’s stories, it is about teetering on the edge of childhood—moments from falling, leaping, or flying, into the unknown abyss of adult life. “The Lake” was also adapted into an episode of “The Ray Bradbury Theater.


When Nancy Lambert doesn’t have her nose buried in a book, she’s busy writing, cutting down restless draugrs in Skyrim, or putzing around online.

30 comments
James Nicoll
1. James Davis Nicoll
Unsurprisingly, Bradbury's stories were adapted for radio on numerous occasions. "There Will Come Soft Rains" was adapted by Dimension X twice, once on its own and once with a number of other stories from The Martian Chronicles. For some reason, while X Minus One reused a number of Dimension X scripts, "There Will Come Soft Rains", either version, was not among them.

In the 1970s, Mind Webs, WHA's excellent SF radio show, adapted "The Fog Horn". Sadly, while the episode survives online, the sound quality is poor.
Pritpaul Bains
2. Kickpuncher
R is for Rocket is probably my favorite short story compilation by anyone, ever. I would list my favorites from it but I'd end up listing more than half the collection.
lake sidey
4. lakesidey
I would recommend "A Sound of Thunder". Just for the language, the way it rolls around in your head. And yes, I loved "The Fog Horn", probably the first Bradbury I read.
Rob Munnelly
5. RobMRobM
I always vote for October Game, the uber-creepy story of a man planning revenge on his wife while the family is hosting a neighborhood Hallowe'en party. Has one of those "Did he or didn't he" endings that you could argue over all night. The story is findable for free by websearching. I also really liked the Martian Chronicles.
chani_dib
6. chani_dib
Kaleidoscope always haunts me. Ray Bradbury was always best at finding human moments enabled by technology.
Matthew Abel
7. MatthewAbel
The Pedestrian; Dark They Were and Golden Eyed; All Summer in a Day; and, sweet Jesus, most every short story the man produced.
Alan Brown
8. AlanBrown
He was a master of the short form, but it was Dandelion Wine that completely blew me away when I was a kid. I was just Douglas Spaulding's age when I first read it, and there were so many powerful themes in that one that I barely understood.
Cathy Mullican
9. nolly
My favorites include The Homecoming, and all the other Family stories; The Wonderful Ice-Cream Suit; Frost and Fire; and one I can't recall the title of just now, about a boy who doesn't want to play with the other kids because he's found a time machine! -- which is his elderly neighbor, telling him tales of the past.

I grew up on my father's copy of the mega-collection _The Stories of Ray Bradbury_, published by Knopf; I have my own copy, now, and was lucky enough to get it signed a few years back.
Colin Bell
10. SchuylerH
"The Day It Rained Forever", "The Veldt", "The Golden Apples of the Sun" (scientifically inaccurate, of course, but I still like it), "The Small Assassin", anything in The Illustrated Man and one of the books that got me into SF & F, The Martian Chronicles. (My edition replaced "Usher II" with "The Fire Balloons". I prefer it that way.)
Michael Walsh
11. MichaelWalsh
I've always liked how The October Country begins:

"...that country where it is always turning late in the year. That country where the hills are fog and the rivers are mist; where noons go quickly, dusks and twilights linger, and midnights stay. That country composed in the main of cellars, sub-cellars, coalbins, closets, attics, and pantries faced away from the sun. That country whose people are autumn people, thinking only autumn thoughts. Whose people passing at night on the empty walks sound like rain…"
James Nicoll
12. James Davis Nicoll
@10 I find it's generally a good idea to have extremely minimal expectations re: scientific accuracy when reading Bradbury.
Colin Bell
13. SchuylerH
@12: As I recall, even Edmond Hamilton pointed out this shortcoming in Bradbury's work. I tend to regard Bradbury as a fantasy author who used rocket ships rather than magic wands.
chani_dib
14. RobinM
I love I Sing the Body Electric it's one of my all time favorite stories. I've heard of the Lake but haven't read it; I'll have to track it down. You should also try the Shadow Show short story collection inspired by Bradbury but written by famous authors like Ellison and Gaiman to name a few.
chani_dib
15. Petar Belic
I do love Bradbury's elegaic Martian Chronicles. Who can ever forget the ending of The Million-Year Picnic? For me it encapsulates everything Bradbury was about. It was one of the first SF short stories I read my children.
James Nicoll
16. James Davis Nicoll
even Edmond Hamilton pointed out this shortcoming in Bradbury's work.

Ow. That's like getting ear-flicked for egregious sexism by Laumer or excessive credularity by John W. Campbell, Jr.
P. F. Nel
17. dolphintornsea
Some superb stories are mentioned in these comments, but here's one that a lot of casual Bradbury fans won't know:

"Gotcha!", a 1978 story that may be the single scariest thing he ever wrote (and considering "The Small Assassin", "The October Game", "The Whole Town's Sleeping", "The Night", "The Burning Man" and others, that's saying a hell of a lot).

It can be found in only one collection: The Stories of Ray Bradbury (1980). There is a recent (2010, I think) Everyman edition.
chani_dib
18. mir1
Really? No one mentioned "All Summer in a Day"? My absolute favorite Ray Bradbury story, and (perhaps not so coincidentally) my first one as well. It was in my third grade Reading Comp textbook, but we never read it in class. Luckily, I habitually brought my textbook home with me to read and discovered it on my own. Like all Bradbury stories, it's heart-breaking and poingant and beautiful.
Colin Bell
19. SchuylerH
@18: @7 mentioned "All Summer in a Day". I agree, it's a favorite of mine too.
James Nicoll
20. James Davis Nicoll
I just listened to "The Meadow", one of the two surviving episodes from '46-'47's World Security Workshop, (from wikipedia) "an anthology series on the ABC radio network, presented by United World Federalists, and its predecessor Americans United for World Government."

(The idea was atomigeddon, even the very limited sort available in the 1940s, would have been in a sense somewhat regrettable and that it might a good idea to give an organization limited powers over the nations of the world to prevent it. Odd to see a Republican like Bradbury buy into that, especially in an era when the US had a monopoly on atomic weapons)

Anyone want to explain to me what about this story made it worthy of inclusion in The Best One-Act Plays of 1947-1948?
Colin Bell
21. SchuylerH
@20: Best One-Act Play? Must have been a slow year. (some of Poul Anderson's early Psychotechnic stories struck me as pro-world-government, particularly "Un-man")
James Nicoll
22. James Davis Nicoll
I don't want to go all Leo Tolstoy here but there are some Bradbury stories that seem to be highly rated because of the author's name and not the actual quality of the story itself. Of course, this is not peculiar to Bradbury in any way.

Anderson started off a lot farther to the left than than he ended up. His changing politics are one reason he walked away from the Psychotechnic League setting, that and WWIII didn't happen on schedule; just another case of inconsiderate politicians screwing over SF authors on the specious grounds that they prefer not to kill a hundred million people over keeping an SF setting viable for a few more years.
Colin Bell
23. SchuylerH
@22: That is true, particularly when you get post-59 and the reactionary aspects kick in. (I feel he was slightly disappointed that we didn't start burning books in the streets)
M Sharp
24. Acyn
My all-time favorite from Bradbury is "Dark They Were and Golden-eyed."
Maybe not his best action -- but I loved the feelings it invoked - the slight sadness and inevitibility of the future.

Also - "The Watchful Poker Chip of H Matisse" (from October Country) for its absurdity, and "The Thing at the Top of the Stairs" (from The Toynbee Convector) as the scariest thing I've ever read from him. RB made walking up a flight of stairs wonderfully nerve wracking!
chani_dib
25. McDude
Reading "All Summer in a Day" in Junior High English class was, I think, my first exposure to SF short fiction. It's an incredibly powerful story that to this day I still find haunting.
chani_dib
26. sofrina
so many to choose from. "kaleidoscope" definitely stays with me over the years. i did a term paper on bradbury in 10th grade and read a lot of his works for it. my favorite short story of his is "the green morning" from the martian chronicles, about a man who migrates to mars and is almost deported because he can't adapt to the thin air. he spends a month riding cross country planting every kind of tree possible in hopes of improving the oxygen content in the air.
chani_dib
27. Haley
I love Dandelion Wine, though it isn't exactly a one or the other. I guess Bill and Helen's story within just moves me so much (sometimes I feel I am a Bill, and Bradbury was a Helen as strange as that sounds).

I really love We'll Always Have Paris as well...There's so much to choose from! Ugh!

Let's just say I really love Bradbury.
chani_dib
28. SueQ
My favourites are 'The Lake', 'All Summer In A Day', 'The Sound Of Thunder', 'Dandelion Wine', 'The April Witch', 'The Homecoming', and 'The Ravine'. You can practically taste the words as you read a Ray Bradbury aloud. I miss him so much.
chani_dib
29. Ronrose
I've read Poe and Hawthorne,
Melville And Verne.
Studied the Classics,
Tried to learn.
Read lessons of History,
Time, and Space.
In present life all seemed
Out of place.
Books full of words
From a man named Ray.
Awaiting on dust covered
Shelves they lay.
Hatching from darkness
where somnambulists play.
Like Lazarus arisen,
I see light of day.
Bradbury's tales, now
Show me the way.
chani_dib
30. AlQuin
Nice that you don't necessarily have to go 200 years to meet imagination; just go to the attic.
chani_dib
32. Linda Napikski
I'm so happy to find this post! I was cruising around looking for recommendations of the best Bradbury stories out there. Thanks for posting this! Feel free to give me more recommendations at http://warandpeacenapikoski.blogspot.com/2014/07/a-month-of-short-stories-and-their_3.html if you have other suggestions. I've been exploring short stories by different authors and today am pondering Bradbury.

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