Ray Bradbury: Thirteen of the Best

With the possible exception of Des Lewis, I believe I have read more short stories by Ray Bradbury than anyone.

Here are some of my favourites:-

The Highway

Poor people live by the side of a highway, and one day all of the cars go by in a rush, leaving the city behind. Last man to leave tells them that it’s the end of the world, but the peasant carries on ploughing his land, unconcerned because his concept of the world is entirely different to that of the city dweller. A story of hope, recognising that our concerns are not universal, and life will go on, even if not on the terms we understand. Right now, that might be a timely lesson.

The Concrete Mixer

The invading Martians come to conquer but are welcomed with open arms, and eventually they are assimilated, showing that a superior culture can be killed with kindness.

The City

At the far end of the galaxy a fully automated city waits twenty thousand years for the ship from Earth to arrive, Bradbury’s lyrical prose bringing this unlikely creation to memorable life on the page.

The April Witch

Cecy, who is paralysed but has the power to occupy the body of another, uses it to an unusual end, the story capturing the joy of love and the pain of those who can never experience it for themselves, the idea that just to be like everyone else, to share the same feelings, is for some a blessing.

The Scythe

One of my absolute favourite short stories, a modern evocation of the Grim Reaper, one in which a man is left so anguished by personal loss that he is willing to destroy the whole world simply to ease his own pain.

The Wind

A more overtly horrific piece, the tale of an explorer who is terrified of the wind, attributing to it a malign intelligence. Reminiscent of work by Leiber and others, in which a kind of pantheism ‘infects’ the natural order.

Boys! Raise Giant Mushrooms in Your Cellar

Children are ‘other’, and this chillingly effective story recognises that. It also brings to mind such things as the Invasion of the Body Snatchers and the strange adverts you used to see in the back of American comic books when I was a kid. I really, really wanted those X-Ray glasses that would let me see through clothes.

I Sing the Body Electric

A word perfect story of an electronic grandmother brought in to care for a child whose mother has died. The title comes from Walt Whitman.

The Haunting of the New

A haunted house story with a novel twist. Thomas Wolfe’s dictum that you can never go home again shunted through one hundred and eighty degrees, and then some.

Perchance to Dream

A man is threatened with takeover by an alien intelligence every time he sleeps and so must stay awake until help arrives, only when it does… A clever story, with a delightful sting in the tail.

And the Rock Cried Out

A beautifully written and meaningful exercise in putting yourself in somebody else’s shoes, as America falls and tourists in Mexico discover they are now immigrants, outsiders in a culture they previously looked down on.

Long After Midnight

Exquisite short, which says so much in so few words, taking in grief and gender identity, the labels we attach to others and their attendant expectations, as an ambulance crew tend to the body of a suicide.

Last Rites

A time traveller visits writers on their death beds to assure them that their work will be remembered by posterity. A story rich in sentiment and, possibly, wish fulfilment, but in tune with Bradbury’s concerns about literature and ultimately heartwarming. I hope the ‘traveller’ called in on Ray.

So, Ray Bradbury stories. What particular ones do the rest of you remember?


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10 Responses to Ray Bradbury: Thirteen of the Best

  1. One of my favorites has to be “Heavy-Set.” A thirty year old man who still lives with his mother spends all his time lifting weights, exercising. He rarely dates, though women find him attractive. Most of his friends are boys close to half his age. The story takes place around Halloween. Heavy-Set carves some pumpkins for a party he plans on attending, dressing up as a “mean little kid” in shorts with a big lollipop. His younger friends call to say they probably won’t be going to the party themselves—they’ve discovered girls. His mother convinces him to go anyway. I won’t say anything more about the plot, in case someone seeing this hasn’t read the story yet. It’s a beautifully-written piece, told in a much more spare style than a lot of Bradbury’s other fiction. You get a real sense of the man and his mother, and Bradbury masterfully builds up the tension. The last time I read it was decades ago, but I still think of it every now and then. What more could a writer ask for?

    • petertennant says:

      Another good one, Rob. I remember it from the “I Sing the Body Electric” collection, though damned if I can recall how it ends. I’ll have to look it up and read again.

  2. One of my favourites is “The Lake.” It’s about a drowning, and grief and love and memories. Bittersweet, melancholic, and nostalgic. Like a lot of Bradbury’s work, I guess, but this one has stayed with me a long time. And as Rob says, what more could a writer ask?

    • petertennant says:

      Great choice Michael. That’s the story Ray mentions in the video I included as part of the earlier post. It appears to have been very personal and important to him. I read it in “The Small Assassin”, as I just mentioned in reply to Des.

      • Michael Kelly says:

        Ah, just watched that. Good stuff. He considered it a turning point in his career.

  3. I must admit that I haven’t read much Ray Bradbury, but I really enjoyed THE CROWD when I read it a few months ago in the VanderMeers’ “The Weird’ book.

    • petertennant says:

      Excellent choice Des. I read it years and years ago in a collection titled “The Small Assassin”, and it comes immediately after “The Lake” mentioned by Michael. Many of the stories in this volume and companion “The October Country” are reprints from Bradbury’s first collection, “Dark Carnival”.

  4. Ray Cluley says:

    A few of those mentioned are amongst my favourites, too, such as The Scythe and The Wind. I really love The Jar, I think that would be my ultimate favourite overall. That, and a chapter in Dandelion Wine that reads like a short story, an ‘almost’ love story between a young man and an older lady. But there are so, so many Bradbury stories I love. I vaguely remember one I read when very young about an astronaut drifting in space after an accident on the ship, basically just waiting to die. Was that Bradbury? I think so. It traumatised me a bit, that one. And one where kids are playing at alien invasion, but it’s really happening.

    I must go and check my facts.

    • Ray Cluley says:

      The drifting in space one is Kaleidoscope. And I can’t believe I forgot another favourite, The Smile.

      • petertennant says:

        Yep, “Kaleidoscope”, with a spacecraft crew drifting further away from each other and talking via their radios. Brilliant stuff. Ditto for “The Smile”. And the kids playing at alien invasion story is the creepy “Zero Hour”. Bradbury wrote so many good ones. It’s only with “The Toynbee Collector” collection that I think he started to go off the boil, but after so many high points I reckon he was entitled to a few lows.

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