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Honoring Ray Bradbury: A look at his best short fiction

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This is a guest post by Aniya Wells.

June 5, 2011 was a sad day for all lovers of science fiction. The legendary and irreplaceable Ray Bradbury passed away on that day to much media attention, leaving hundreds of stories behind for present and future readers. People will always praise his dystopian novel Fahrenheit 451 as his masterpiece; I anticipate that it’ll be taught in high school and college classrooms for decades to come. But the truth of the matter is that Mr. Bradbury was a master at short fiction, writing over 600 in his lifetime. In these 600 stories, he took readers to distant worlds meeting alien beings, or he showed us an Earth that could be.

His talents will surely be missed, but his stories will be treasured forever. Here are three of his best short fiction stories.

The Martian Chronicles

While The Martian Chronicles is technically a novel, it’s composed of a series of short stories that roughly relate to one another. The stories involve the plight of humans on Earth as they eventually travel to Mars to escape an atomic holocaust, and later stories talk about their interactions with the alien race on Mars. It’s a stunning piece of science fiction, especially when you consider that Bradbury wrote these stories back in the early fifties, long before science fiction was mainstream by any means.

Bradbury wrote a piece in The New Yorker about his inspiration behind the story “Fire Balloons” included in The Martian Chronicles, and it’s one of the most poignant things I’ve ever read. The story itself is touching enough to inspire any reader: it involves a group of priest who travel to Mars on a missionary trip who expect to run into fearsome, hellish aliens. Instead they run into beings that take them quite by surprise. Both the short story and Bradbury’s recent essay about it are worth a read.

All Summer in A Day

This story, also published in the early fifties, tells the tale of a school on Venus in the distant future. The climate is harsh on Venus, where it mostly rains except for a few hours every seven years. The students in the story wait in eager anticipation during class for the sun to peek out for its brief appearance, and other children openly ask what the sun is like because they never experienced it on Earth. When the sun finally does appear, it’s all too glorious and brief for the kids to bear.

This story exemplifies the typical Bradbury narrative. It has otherworldly elements (a school on Venus, crazy weather patterns) set in a strangely familiar context. He treats the emergence of the sun as we would the appearance of some rare comet, and the effect is oddly striking. The students in the class can’t compare the sun to any other light they’ve experienced, and you have to wonder how it would feel to be in their shoes. All Summer in A Day can be found in most Bradbury short story collections.

Dark They Were, And Golden-eyed

The final short story in this small list is another classic of Bradbury’s. It’s plot focuses on the character Henry and his family as they make the uneasy transition from Earth to life on Mars. Henry notices that Earth natives slowly start to adopt strange and foreign practices while on the red planet and their appearances starts to change ever so slightly. It’s a dark and disturbing tale about facing the inevitability of change in unfamiliar circumstances, and a compelling read to boot. It’s tales like these that keep people up at night wondering about the future, and that’s one of the many contributions that will make Bradbury’s work stand the tests of time.

Aniya Wells is a freelance blogger whose primary focus is writing about online degree programs. She also enjoys investigating trends in other niches, notably technology, traditional higher education, health, and small business. Aniya welcomes reader questions and comments at aniyawells@gmail.com.

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