Ray Bradbury was dedicated to imagination. The landmark speculative fiction author began writing as a child, and wrote virtually every day for the rest of his life, continuing to publish new work even in the weeks before his death (I dare you to read that linked essay without crying). When Bradbury passed away at age 91 in 2012, he left behind a literacy legacy that has proved at times disconcertingly prescient, and remains relevant and wonderful today.
If you're looking to get started with Bradbury, this list celebrates some of his most beloved books. It also highlights other authors who share Bradbury's expansive imagination, lyricism, and power to make the extraordinary familiar and the familiar extraordinary.
If you like The Martian Chronicles, read Alien Sex.
The Martian Chronicles
Bradbury's book The Martian Chronicles is a collection of short stories depicting the colonization of Mars by humans from Earth. Through the eyes of martians and people, Bradbury explores themes like nuclear war, the dangers of idolizing technology, and the perils of censorship. Haunting and at times darkly funny, The Martian Chronicles takes an emotional look at the personal and political ramifications of a migration to the Red Planet.
Fans of The Martian Chronicles won't be disappointed by this memorably-named anthology. Edited by award-winning sci-fi, fantasy, and horror editor Ellen Datlow, Alien Sex explores intimacy between humans and extraterrestrials, as well as the many ways in which humans can become alien to each other.
One of the anthology's most remarkable contributions comes from Bradbury's contemporary James Tiptree Jr. (the pen name for Alice Bradley Shelton). Her story And I Awoke and Found Me Here on the Cold Hill Side reveals the dizzying and perhaps dangerous side effects of intimacy between humans and aliens. As in The Martian Chronicles, Alien Sex uses extraterrestrials as a lens to look at the ugliest, strangest, and silliest aspects of human appetites.
If you like Fahrenheit 451, read Way Station.
Bradbury's iconic dystopian novel Fahrenheit 451 is set in a near-future version of the American midwest. Guy Montag works as a fireman, tasked with burning illegal books and the possessions of those who dare to read them. Guy and his wife, Mildred, distract themselves from their fundamental unhappiness through drugs and the near-constant distraction provided by their TV and other modern entertainment innovations. Bradbury, who said in a 2003 interview that as a sci-fi writer he was more focused on preventing the future than predicting it, was clearly concerned about the censorship of the McCarthy era, the proliferation of nuclear weapons, and the increased omnipresence of television. Unfortunately, many of Fahrenheit 451's themes remain just as relevant today as when the book was first published in 1953.
Golden age sci-fi writer Clifford Simak shared Bradbury's concerns about nuclear war and thoughtless reliance on technology. His Hugo Award-winning novel Way Station chronicles the life of Enoch, a former Civil War soldier tasked with maintaining a way station between the galaxies for centuries. Enoch’s unique position as intergalactic innkeeper gives him a vantage point on the universe as a whole, and the role humanity plays in it. Set in the 1960s, Way Station often explores Enoch's concerns about warfare and nuclear weapons.
If you like The Halloween Tree, read Boy's Life.
The Halloween Tree
Bradbury's gorgeous, spooky, coming-of-age tale The Halloween Tree follows a group of eight friends who gather for a night of trick-or-treating. The young boys are pulled into a high-stakes journey throughout time and space to explore the origins of Halloween—and save the life of their sick friend, Pipkin. A beautiful and memorable story about rituals, childhood friendship, and the daily beauty we take for granted while alive, The Halloween Tree is a classic that continues to captivate generations.
Like The Halloween Tree, Boy's Life also explores the horrors and wonder that can lurk in every day life, particularly in the liminal space between childhood and adulthood. Corey, an eleven-year-old from Zephyr, Alabama, sees a frozen corpse floating in the river, and finds himself suddenly aware of the supernatural underbelly of his hometown. Abruptly conscious of his own mortality and the perils of life in Zephyr, Corey must brave mystics and monsters in order to save his father's life.
If you like Dark Carnival, read Unexpected Stories.
Many of the stories in Bradbury's debut anthology Dark Carnival focus on the tension and unspoken fears that can exist between parents and children. For instance, "Jack-in-the-Box" follows a young boy raised in seclusion who is told he is a literal god by his abusive and unstable mother. In "The Night," an eight-year-old ventures alone outside at night for the first time in their life. And in the Rosemary's Baby-like horror story "The Small Assassin," a newborn is intent on murdering the adults that would care for him..
Octavia E. Butler's "Childfinder" was the first story she ever sold—although it ultimately wasn't published until after her death, in the collection Unexpected Stories. As in many of her other works, "Childfinder" looks at the politics of familial relationships, age, and the expectations we have for our descendants. "Childfinder" focuses on Barbara, a woman with psionic abilities who seeks out pre-psionic children. Like "The Small Assassin," "Childfinder" views childhood as a vulnerable, turbulent, and potentially violent time. Barbara and her companion Eve are both responsible for horrible things that have been done to children in the name of mentorship—but without their guidance, pre-psionic children might be in even more danger.
If you like The Golden Apples of the Sun, read Hyperion.
The Golden Apples of the Sun
Bradbury's short story collection The Golden Apples of the Sun includes some of his most memorable stories, such as "The Fog Horn"—the ballad of a lovelorn sea creature—and "The Sound of Thunder," a cautionary time travel tale. The title story, "The Golden Apples of the Sun," takes its name from a line in John Keats' poem "The Song of Wandering Aengus," and chronicles a doomed solar mission.
Dan Simmons' Hugo Award-winning novel Hyperion explores many of the themes present in The Golden Apples of the Sun. The book begins as the universe stands on the brink of destruction. A group of pilgrims is nominated to make a voyage to the temple of the Shrike, a deadly creature worshipped by some and feared by many. Simmons' surprising and evocative saga weaves together disparate stories from across space and time. Hyperion incapsulates, as the works of Bradbury often do, the beauty and horror, the poetry and pain, of life among the stars.
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If you like Something Wicked This Way Comes, read Joyland.
Something Wicked This Way Comes
Like The Halloween Tree, Something Wicked This Way Comes is a spooky coming-of-age novel that uses horror to expose universal fears about aging and mortality. The book follows best friends Jim Nightshade and William Halloway, who find themselves locked in a high-stakes battle with Mr. Dark, the otherworldly leader of a carnival that visits their home town every October.
Much of Stephen King's work owes a debt to Bradbury—in King's own words, “without Ray Bradbury, there is no Stephen King.” Iconic King works like Stand By Me, Pet Sematary, and It are all reminiscent of Bradbury's stories about boyhood friendships and life-and-death battles with the supernatural.
Like Something Wicked This Way Comes, Joyland celebrates the beauty and grotesqueness of the carnival. It follows 21-year-old Devin, who takes a job with a carnival in seaside North Carolina to recover from a broken heart, but finds more mystery and murder than he bargained for.
If you like Dandelion Wine, read Shadow Show.
Bradbury's 1957 book Dandelion Wine is one of his most autobiographical works. The magical realism novel follows 12-year-old Douglas, a boy growing up in Bradbury's hometown of Waukegan, Illinois, as he realizes his own mortality over the course of one idyllic summer. Dandelion Wine encapsulates the bittersweet realization that childhood, like all beautiful things, is fleeting.
If you loved Dandelion Wine's sweet meditation on mortality, you'll likely also enjoy Shadow Show: All-New Stories in Celebration of Ray Bradbury, a collection of 26 never-before-published stories compiled following Bradbury's death. The knockout list of anthology contributors includes Margaret Atwood, Neil Gaiman, Joe Hill, Harlan Ellison, and Charlie Yu—all authors whose work both inside and outside of this anthology will thrill Bradbury fans.
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