Blog – Posted on Wednesday, Jul 22
The 10 Best Ray Bradbury Books
To open the pages of a Ray Bradbury novel is to dive into an imagination that journeyed beyond the confines of our rocky planet and deep into the most marvelous and troubling chambers of human existence.
Best known for his works Fahrenheit 451 and The Martian Chronicles, Bradbury had a prolific career as one of America’s most successful novelists, short story writers, playwrights, and screenwriters. He claimed that he was not a writer of science fiction, fantasy, or magical realism; rather, he saw himself as a word magician whose books wrote him. You could say Bradbury became a genre unto himself: a peculiar mix of the futuristic, the supernatural, the bizarre, and the nostalgic.
Bradbury’s writing journey began in such a fantastical way, it’s hard to believe it’s not a scene from one of his stories. He was twelve years old when he met Mr Electrico at a carnival and was shown around a tent of misfits that would later stalk the pages of his most macabre stories. Later that day, Mr Electrico touched Ray with an electrified sword and, in a whisper, exhorted him to “Live forever.”
Bradbury took these words to heart. He wrote every day for over 70 years, using his fecund storytelling talents to spin tales that have captivated legions of readers and inspired a host of imitators. But with so much choice, where’s a new reader to start? How about here: with our list of the ten best Ray Bradbury books, starting with the novel-turned-movie that made him a household name.
1. Fahrenheit 451 (1953)
In a dystopian world where books are verboten and most people spend their lives in front of television screens, fireman Guy Montag doesn’t put out fires — he starts them. Montag is ordered by the state to incinerate outlawed books, which are hunted for promoting free and nuanced thinking, and works tirelessly at his job. That is, until he encounters Clarisse, a solitary, late-night pedestrian, who reawakens Montag’s mind to the world around him. Montag soon begins to doubt his technology-addicted society and tries to salvage the hidden world of printed knowledge that still survives.
The Red Scare of the 1940s, which saw America gripped by anti-communist hysteria, prompted Bradbury to write this dark meditation on a post-literature future. However, while Fahrenheit 451 may be a parable about McCarthyism and Stalinism, Bradbury’s warnings about the perils of political correctness and the dangers of technology seem only to grow more prescient.
2. The October Country (1955)
Despite his renown for his book-burning dystopian novel, Bradbury was, above all else, a short-story writer. His first book was a collection of grotesque and moody stories published in 1947 under the title Dark Carnival. Eight years later, he cut, revised, and added to this collection to make up his definitive tome of the macabre and fantastic — The October Country.
Among its beautiful nuggets of autumnal confectionery are such favorites as The Small Assassin, Skeleton, and The Wind, in which Bradbury upends the familiar, creating a world where the everyday is alien and disturbing. The horror in Bradbury’s stories is not shocking or sensational. It’s the horror of realising that something inside you — an unborn baby, or a collection of bones — is out to get you. It’s the horror of a world where the winds are gathering to plot your ruin. But, while Bradbury might avoid blood and gore and the stock monsters of supernatural fiction, I defy you to pick up The October Country on a dark and stormy night and not feel a shiver run down your spine.
3. The Martian Chronicles (1950)
It’s January 1999 and heat from the rocket flames blazes through an Ohio winter as pioneers leave Earth for Mars. In this masterful saga about the colonization of a new frontier in space, incessant waves of settlement missions land on the Red Planet until its cities are all but destroyed. Things take a turn when war on Earth comes close to wiping out humanity and its survivors seek asylum on the planet they exploited, now a wasted and lonely land.
Bradbury’s Mars and his ethereal Martians are whimsical fantasy. He ignored the hard scientific facts of regimented science fiction writers and prized old technology over new — bicycles over cars, typewriters over computers — yet he had a remarkable insight into what lay ahead. The Martian Chronicles can be read as a mirror of postwar life in the Midwest; however, Bradbury also uses the strange light of an alien world to interrogate humanity’s perpetual greed. He issues a prescient reminder that technological advancement is only that if it enhances our existence.
4. The Illustrated Man (1951)
This dark and marvelous novel is a collection of short stories tied together by the presence of the Illustrated Man — a former carnival worker whose crawling tattoos spin stories of terror and wonder. Several tales bear some relation to The Martian Chronicles, and many reflect Bradbury’s early, futuristic work, including one of his best-known stories, “The Veldt” — a cautionary tale set in a childrens’ nursery that conjures up the contents of the imagination. The children soon become obsessed with the room, but when their parents consider turning the nursery off, they find that virtual reality has become all too real.
Exploring this living canvas with Bradbury as guide opens out into a thrilling exploration of the human condition, earning The Illustrated Man its place among the best Ray Bradbury books.
5. The Golden Apples of the Sun (1953)
For his fourth ‘fix-up’ of short stories, Bradbury abandoned frame narratives and simply juxtaposed tales from a variety of genres. The result is an astonishing mingling of his familiar, wistful fantasy, like “The April Witch” — a haunting tale about a teenage dream-traveler who longs to fall in love — with visionary science fiction, such as the title story — a terrifying yet beautiful description of a spaceship’s flight into the Sun’s atmosphere.
Nestled among these delights is a seemingly bland tale. “The Pedestrian” is about a man who likes to get out of the house and go for a stroll. However, harkening back to Fahrenheit 451, this society is one where people are locked in their homes mired in television — and where going for a walk gets you arrested. Through his portrayal of neighbourhoods as graveyards and people as mindless insects, Bradbury warns that technological advancements can rob people of their humanity and enforce obedience to the status quo.
6. Dandelion Wine (1957)
It’s 1928, and all the summer joys of Green Town, Illinois, are ripe for picking. The vacation begins with great promise for 12-year-old Douglas Spaulding, but as temperatures rise things turn unexpectedly sour. In the feverish mind of Douglas, the town becomes a realm of time-travellers, witches, enchanted tennis shoes, and impossible ‘happiness machines.’
This Ray Bradbury book is not supernatural fantasy in any conventional sense. Bradbury mines a deep vein of modern American folk-fantasy and combines delightful whimsy with an obvious nostalgia for simpler times, taking you back to those one-of-a-kind, childhood summers. However, this novel is not without its darker elements. Douglas finds himself caught between the uncomplicated joys of childhood and the frightening world of adulthood, as the passions that lie beyond the world of innocence are gradually revealed: love, sadness, and the struggle to hold onto the past.
7. Something Wicked This Way Comes (1962)
In his second fantastical novel about childhood, Bradbury returns to Green Town. This time, it’s autumn and a travelling carnival has arrived in the dead of night, offering rides and sideshows with hidden horrors. Preteens Will Halloway and Jim Nightshade, who are fascinated by the mysterious carnival’s temptations, eventually discover its true, insidious nature, and must enlist the help of Will’s father to end its predatory cycle of dread.
The bildungsroman themes and haunting blend of nostalgia and fantasy will be familiar to Bradbury’s readers, as once again he limns a whimsically sinister landscape in an allegory of good and evil. Traversing all the passions that lie between birth and death, Bradbury shines a light on the most powerful humanizing force we possess — love.
8. The Halloween Tree (1972)
Just as Christmas is meant for Dickens, Halloween is meant for books by Ray Bradbury. Not candy-corn Halloween, but that authentic Halloween feeling: the onset of a long period of darkness heralded by the death and decay of the natural world.
In this eerie Ray Bradbury novel, it’s Halloween night. A band of costumed boys set out to meet their ring-leader, Joe Pipkin, for a night of trick-or-treating, but discover that he’s nowhere to be found. In their search for Pipkin, they arrive at a haunted house just outside town. Looming beside it is the Halloween Tree, lit up with jack-o-lanterns. Here we meet Moundshroud, who takes the boys on a time-and-globe-spanning adventure — from Ancient Egypt to modern-day Mexico — to learn the roots of Halloween, and in the process they might just save their friend. The Halloween Tree is both fun and yet still tattooed with Bradbury’s signature shadow, as he takes the question of death from a personal to a worldly discussion.
9. Death Is a Lonely Business (1985)
Among the shadows and murky canals of Venice, California, a struggling young author works away at his clacking typewriter until his friends start to fall victim to a series of mysterious ‘accidents.’ The writer teams up with a savvy homicide detective and a reclusive actress of yesteryear to investigate the connection between these bizarre events, and gradually uncovers the truth about his own creative abilities.
With Death is a Lonely Business, Ray Bradbury dips his pen into the inkwell of noir for the first time and creates a stylish tale of mayhem and murder. Nevertheless, a funhouse cornucopia of colorful characters and kooky fantasy elements give this mystery a distinctly Bradburian slant. Bradbury also appears to be experimenting with autobiography: the clumsy, near-sighted writer bears a great resemblance to Ray, while the frequent allusions to his stories are unmistakably Bradbury creations — it’s all part of the novel’s charm.
10. Green Shadows, White Whale (1992)
Green Shadows, White Whale is a wacky and wonderful mix of autobiography, Irish legends, and wild adventures. It’s also a roman-à-clef, depicting real events from Bradbury’s time in Ireland, working with the brilliant but terrifying John Houston on the screenplay for Moby Dick. However, the movie itself becomes merely an anchor for a series of vivid vignettes and anecdotes about living, working, and partying in Ireland. Meet congenial IRA terrorists, tippling men of the cloth, impish playwrights, and all the regulars at Heeber Finn’s pub, as you embark on an entirely surprising and immensely enjoyable odyssey of Ireland. It is Bradbury’s vibrant prose, as well as his joyful depictions of Ireland’s beautiful landscape, that earns Green Shadows, White Whale the final spot on our list of the best Ray Bradbury books.
Looking to explore the otherworldly speculations of some other imaginative authors? Check out our guide to 100+ of the best Sci-Fi books! Or if you’re looking to read more mind-bending short stories, head to our list of short stories that could change the way you think!