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Ray Bradbury (1920-2012): Honoring a Fantasy Mastermind

The legendary author died on June 5. He was 91

Ray Bradbury was a peculiar breed of sci-fi scribe, less concerned with the distant future than about our fleeting present. In fact, he preferred to label his writing ''fantasy,'' and in dozens of novels and hundreds of short stories, the author — who died June 5 at age 91 — tended to speculate about the years yet to come as a way of showing how soon what we have right now will be gone. His best-known short-story collection, 1950's The Martian Chronicles, was an allegory of one generation ceding to the next: An ancient red-planet civilization collapses as earthling explorers arrive to conquer, only to eventually face the same fate. Something Wicked This Way Comes (1962) presented a sinister supernatural carnival with a merry-go-round that could turn the old young again, tempting the souls of otherwise-good townsfolk.

Bradbury, who also penned plays, movies, and teleplays, was a romantic, not a cynic. Even his darkest and most famous novel, 1953's dystopian Fahrenheit 451, is ultimately a redemption story. (A so-called "fireman" from a futuristic pro-censorship society is assigned to burn all books, but instead falls in love with their power and risks his life to protect them.) In Bradbury's 1957 coming-of-age novel, Dandelion Wine, a 12-year-old boy helps his grandfather bottle spirits made from the flowering weed. ''The wine was summer, caught and stoppered...sealed away for opening on a January day with snow falling fast and the sun unseen for weeks or months.'' Writing is how Bradbury preserved life. Not in bottles, but in pages.

Ray Bradbury Essentials

Fahrenheit 451 is required reading in many grade schools — and for good reason. But these lesser-known tales are also worth seeking out.

''There Will Come Soft Rains'' (1950)

After the extinction of humans on Earth, a fully automated house continues its daily routines in a heartbreaking reflection of the family who once lived there. (Short story from The Martian Chronicles)

The Illustrated Man (1951)

A short-story collection about a man whose body is covered in living tattoos, each one a different tale of the macabre or unusual — and some of hope and happiness, too.

A Sound of Thunder (1952)

Futuristic hunters venture back in time to kill dinosaurs in this cautionary tale. But the death of even the humblest creature causes ripples in the present. (Available in a short-story collection of the same name)

The Halloween Tree (1972)

An eerie figure named Moundshroud helps eight trick-or-treaters in this dramatic novel as they confront various ancient death rituals to save a missing friend.

From the Dust Returned (2001)

This novel about the vagaries of our relatives was more than five decades in the making, and chronicles an "eternal family" of monsters and ghouls and their assorted dark adventures.

Originally posted Jun 15, 2012 Published in issue #1212 Jun 22, 2012 Order article reprints