Happy 99th birthday to Ray Bradbury! Born August 22, 1920, the writer behind the foreboding dystopian classic Fahrenheit 451 and the foundational work of philosophical science fiction The Martian Chronicles built a career that will long outlive him (he died in 2012).
And while he is best known for a few classic works—in any given month, Fahrenheit 451 is almost always Barnes & Noble’s top-selling science fiction title in paperback—Bradbury was also wildly prolific. Over the course of his career, he wrote 27 novels and over 600 short stories, spanning genres from science fiction and fantasy to horror and mystery, too. He was also a cartoonist, and even produced two seasons of an anthology TV series for HBO in the mid’80s.
In short, if you’re looking to celebrate the legacy of this legendary writer, there’s a wealth of Ray Bradbury books to choose from. Yet despite his status as a household name, a number of jewels from his backlist have slipped through the cracks in popular memory. If you’ve loved Bradbury’s major novels, try one of these lesser-known, entirely worthy works.
The Green Towns
Green Town is to Bradbury what Derry and Castle Rock are to Stephen King: an invented town that brings to life the community of the author’s childhood dreams, shot through with an undercurrent of the supernatural. The town is based on Waukegan, Illinois, where Bradury spent his boyhood years, and his fond memories and great love for the place shine throughout the Green Town series’ four novels, the most widely read of which is Something Wicked This Way Comes.
The series is stuffed full of nostalgia, looking back at the experience of boyhood in the 1920s. Start with Dandelion Wine, follows 12-year-old Douglas Spaulding through various wild and imaginative adventures. The blend of magical realism and pure childhood adventure will leave you wondering what was real, and what only happened in the mind of the young boy.
The Halloween Tree
This is going to sound like a trip as much as a story, but stick with me: eight boys rushing to meet their friend Pipkin at the haunted house in town are deterred by the ghoulish Mr. Moundshroud, who leads the children on a trek through time to try to teach them what Halloween is all about. Meanwhile, Pipkin is ushered off by a shrouded… Something. The journey takes them away on the tail of a kite and through the history of various cultures, from ancient Egyptian to Celtic Druidism and on to Mexico and Paris (full disclosure, some of these depictions are more historically accurate than others). Think A Christmas Carol, but for Halloween, and full of holiday spirit and childhood nostalgia.
From Dust Returned
In upper Illinois, the Elliott family has lived a quiet Midwestern life for basically forever. Literally.‚they’re immortal As the story starts, the family prepares for its extended relatives’ arrival. And this is where it gets really fun: this particular undying family tree includes some strange fruit, including odd creatures and monsters of all sorts. Shenanigans ensue in the vein of the haunting, the curious, and the wistful as the reader is given a grand introduction to several members of the family via a series of interwoven short stories.
The Crumley Mysteries
A book in this series, Let’s All Kill Constance, served as my introduction to Bradbury’s non-SF, non-fantasy works, and it convinced me that I really needed to look closer at the sum total of what he produced. Confession, I spent most of the book wondering what the heck was going on. Much like Green Shadows, White Whale, the author’s chronicle of his time working on John Houston’s film adaptation of Moby-Dick, this mystery series is narrated by an unnamed male author who essentially serves as a proxy for Bradbury himself within this fictional world. If the books hold a shade too true to the noir trope of incomprehensible mysteries, well, it doesn’t much matter: every line is a fast-paced beat in a topsy-turvy carousel of dialect and quirky characters that never stop being fun. If you want to start the series from the beginning, pick up Death is a Lonely Business.
The Cat’s Pajamas: Stories
Bradbury has several short story collections in print and they all deserve your attention, but this one is a favorite, if only for its most excellent title. It collects 22 tales pulled from across the span of Bradbury’s 60-year career, and all but two had never before been published in collected form. It’s a showcase for Bradbury’s great range, dabbling in the past and shooting into the future, and covering everything from a group of senators gambling with the fate of the United States, to giant alien spiders in search of a new planet home on Earth, to a concluding poem that pays homage to the author’s own literary heroes.
The Toynbee Convector
And another collection… Most of the stories we think of when we hear the name “Ray Bradbury” are drawn from the early part of the author’s career, but he never stopped creating. This newly reissued edition of a collection of his later works is proof positive of that. Originally published in 1988 and long unavailable, this volume brings together the 22 examples of the best of latter-era Bradbury, including the title story, in which an inventor of a time machine counts down the days to when his past and future will collide. In “On the Orient, North,” a ghost fights off the final end by spinning stories that sustain it, while “West of October” is the story of a woman with the power to send the souls of her family into different bodies, with extremely unlikely consequences. It is masterful stuff from a master who remained one up until the end.
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Yestermorrow: Obvious Answers to Impossible Futures
Rather than fiction, this one waxes philosophical: Yestermorrow collects Bradbury’s own musings about the future and the state of the contemporary world (contemporary to 1991, anyway). Through a series of essays, reflections, and even poetry, Bradbury explores how the past and present are woven into every aspect of our society. Turning to the future, he makes an appeal that we need creative thinkers to serve as the architects of all of humanity’s tomorrows. Like everything else Bradbury ever wrote, this book is, ultimately, heartfelt and full of optimism. Featuring special appearances from Walt Disney and Bernard Berenson!
Zen in the Art of Writing
Bless this man for putting his personal philosophy of writing into print; certainly it has helped shape the approach to writing taken many other authors ever since, including myself. All you have to do, according to Bradbury, is hold onto your passion for the craft… and persist. Emphasizing an approach that celebrates the joy of creation for its own sake and relies on persistence of daily practice, Bradbury’s book for writers offers one of the most hopeful and accessible approaches to making it in this business you’ll ever encounter. If you’ve ever thought you had a story in you, this book will help you capture your enthusiasm and get it onto the page.
What are your favorite unheralded works by Ray Bradbury?