When the first edition of Listen to the Echoes: The Ray Bradbury Interviews was published in June of 2010, I embarked upon an overly-ambitious project. I began a series on my blog titled “The Essential Bradbury,” where I intended on listing the 25 must-read Ray Bradbury short stories for any would-be Martian-neophytes. I listed out each story, its history, themes, and what made the tale top-tier Bradbury. Over the next few years, I made it all to 18 stories, but then the old web site came down as Listen to the Echoes was published in a handsome new edition by a new publisher. I never completed the 25 “Essential Bradbury” stories.
So here I go again! Fans have been writing me, asking if I would re-post the old story suggestions and, at long last, finish the project. And so it begins. I figure I only have seven more stories to write about!
People often ask, "where should I begin when it comes to reading Bradbury?"
The long answer? In 2010, Everyman's Library republished The Stories of Ray Bradbury containing a staggering 100 of Bradbury's best short stories. Along with this, there is the equally voluminous Bradbury Stories, published in 2003, containing yet another 100 more short fictional gems. (Bradbury dedicated this last book, in part to me, an incredible, stirring gift.) Certainly, you cannot go wrong by reading either of these spectacular volumes. Bradbury is a master of the short story. It is, in my estimation, his strongest creative form. His wife of 56 years, Marguerite, agreed with me. Yet reading 200 stories is, for many, an unrealistic goal.
So the short answer of where to begin with Bradbury is this list, right here. I will offer up a streamlined list of 25 of my own personal favorite short fictions by the master of miracles. These stories will embody all the trademarks of vintage Bradbury: the lyrical language; the fantastic, original, and memorable ideas; the rich metaphor; and endings that sometimes surprise, sometimes sadden, always instruct and entertain. This list will be entirely subjective. These are my favorites. They will reflect a wide range, from weird tales to social science fiction to quiet and contemplative tales of contemporary literature. These tales are pure and classic Bradbury—our modern mythologist.
#1 “THE VELDT”
Where to Find It: The Illustrated Man, The Stories of Ray Bradbury
First Published: Under the title, “The World the Children Made,” September 23, 1950, Saturday Evening Post
Plot Synopsis: A husband and wife pamper their children by giving them a state-of-the-art nursery room, where dreams and fantasies come alive on the crystal walls. The room is of a virtual-reality playroom-cum-television of tomorrow. When the children become dependent on the new technology, the parents endeavor to wean them from it. But the children aren't so willing to let go.
Backstory: Bradbury wrote the first draft of this story in two hours after typing the word "The Playroom" on the top of a blank page. He then envisioned what a children's nursery of the future might look like. By looking at the typed manuscript in Bradbury’s files, the story—from beginning to final draft—was penned in just 13 days.
Critique: “The Veldt” is Bradbury’s first cautionary tale about the advent of television and the dangerous cultural implications of the technology. When he wrote the story, T.V. was in its infancy. Very few Americans, in fact, had televisions in their homes at the time Bradbury penned this tale in December, 1949. Bradbury would, just a few years later, examine the theme of a growing cultural dependency on technology and the proliferation of mass-media in greater depth in Fahrenheit 451. “The Veldt” paved the way for 451. Dark, prescient and frightening, “The Veldt” is vintage Bradbury.