His name may be synonymous with futuristic
technologies, but Ray Bradbury never learned to
drive a car—the Jaguar in the garage

notwithstanding.  He complains that there are too
many cellphones, too many machines.  He may
have anticipated the Internet with a virtual
reality machine envisioned in his 1957
Dandelion Wine, but could hardly
be more scornful of the actual World
Wide Web—when a major search
engine approached him about putting
his work online, he responded: “To hell
with you. To hell with you and to hell
with the Internet.”    And don’t expect to see Ray
Bradbury using an iPad or a Kindle.  He prefers old-
fashioned bricks-and-mortar libraries as a place to
expand one’s mind, and has helped raise money to
keep their doors open.  

    Perhaps this is not surprising for an
    author whose most famous work was
    a book about saving books.  If you
    read Fahrenheit 451 years ago, you
    probably recall that the threat to
    books came in the form of fire—the
    title was derived from the
    temperature at which paper burns.  
    But if you re-read it today with a post-
    Cold-War perspective, you might be
    more struck by Bradbury’s depiction
    of a dumbed-down communal
    culture and public hostility to
    literature.   They didn't start burning
    the books until most people stopped
    caring about them.  That’s a theme
    that is more relevant now than ever
    before, and all the tweets in
    cyberspace year don’t undercut its

Yes, Ray Bradbury’s works are still up-to-date, still a
useful guide to the unfolding future.  But don’t jump to
the conclusion that the man who wrote them is bedazzled
by the promises of tomorrow.   Of the many stories he has
written, the most deeply felt and personal ones celebrate
the past.   Although Bradbury has refused to cite any one
of his books as a favorite, his late wife Maggie admitted
that he was most fond of
Dandelion Wine, an account of a
young boy’s coming of in a small town in Illinois during
the summer of 1928.  

That’s where Ray Bradbury was born, on August 22,
1920, in Waukegan, a city of 19,000 citizens back in those
simpler days.   Waukegan may be just 35 miles from
Chicago, but the city, at least as memorialized in Ray
Bradbury’s fiction as “Green Town,” might well have been
several galactic light years distant from that major
metropolis which, four years before his birth, had been
dubbed by a poet as the “hog butcher of the world.”   
Waukegan was “a land as bright, beloved and blue  / As
any Yeats found to be true,” Bradbury would later write in
a poem so Ciceronian in its praises that it almost makes
the reader embarrassed to read it...or, then again,
perhaps envious of someone who, looking back on his
childhood, could proclaim:

    Byzantium I come not from….
    As boy
    I dropped me forth in Illinois.
    A name with neither love nor grace
    Was Waukegan, there I came from
    And not, good friends, Byzantium….
    Pretending there beneath our sky
    That it was Aphrodite’s thigh….

    And uncles, gathered with their smokes
    Emitted wisdoms masked as jokes,
    And aunts as wise as Delphic maids
    Dispensed prophetic lemonades
    To boys knelt there as acolytes
    To Grecian porch on summer nights….

When Bradbury was thirteen, the family relocated to Los
Angeles, but the future author always retained more of
Middle America than Hollywood in his mindset.  Even in
old age, he has held on to the enthusiasms of the small
town child—for candy, toys, the fanciful and
imaginative.   This childlike sense of wonder must have
been the impetus for his attraction to the science fiction

There was plenty to keep the young Ray Bradbury
awestruck in Southern California.   Almost immediately
upon arrival, he began hunting out movie stars.   Outside
the gates of Paramount Studios, he waylaid W.C. Fields
for an autograph (who obliged, handing it back with the
comment: “There you are, you little son of a bitch”).  He
chased Marlene Dietrich deep into the recesses of a
beauty salon, again emerging with a signature.  He
crossed paths with the young Judy Garland, then still
known as Frances Gumm.  And he convinced George
Burn to let him attend a rehearsal for the Burns and Allen
radio show—a move that precipitated Bradbury’s
transformation from fan to industry insider.

Burns offered encouraging feedback to the youngster’s
early attempts at writing.   “He told me I was a genius and
my scripts were brilliant,” Bradbury later recalled.  “Of
course they were lousy and he knew it.”  But one of Ray’s
jokes made its way into a broadcast—heady stuff for a
fifteen-year-old, and a professional writing career was
born.  Soon after, a poster in a bookstore on Western
Avenue alerted Bradbury to the existence of the “Science
Fiction Society,” a local group where he met
and other writers, both established and
aspiring.  Heinlein helped Bradbury publish an early
story, and by the early 1940s the lad from Waukegan was
selling material regularly to pulp fiction periodicals.

Almost from the start, Bradbury as-
pired to something higher than the
formulas of genre fiction.  When his
story “Homecoming” was turned
down by
Weird Tales, Bradbury
published it instead in
where it was championed by Truman
Capote;  soon afterwards, it was
chosen for inclusion in
The O
Henry Prize Stories of 1947
Around this same time, Bradbury’s
work was accepted by
Harper’s and
The New Yorker.   By the early 1950s, when he began
publishing the novels and short story collections for
which he is best known—including
The Martian
(1950), The Illustrated Man (1951),
Fahrenheit 451 (1953)—Ray Bradbury had evolved into a
strange hybrid, a genre writer with the soul of a poet.  

Even a quick perusal of his classic works makes clear the
contradiction.  Take, for example, a throwaway passage
The Martian Chronicles.  Here any other science
fiction writer of Bradbury’s generation would have
written: “The rocket ship landed.”  Instead, this is what
we get with Bradbury:

    The ship came down from space.  It came
    from the stars and the black velocities, and
    the shining movements, and the silent gulfs
    of space.  It was a new ship; it had fire in its
    body and men in its metal cells, and it moved
    with a clean silence, fiery and warm . . . It was
    a thing of beauty and strength.  It had moved
    in the midnight waters of space like a pale sea
    leviathan; it had passed the ancient moon and
    thrown itself onward into one nothingness
    following another.  (from The Martian

A pale sea leviathan moving through the midnight waters
of space?  This passage reminds me of my own
memorable boyhood encounter with Ray Bradbury.  He
came to my home town to give a talk, and I arrived
hoping to hear of aliens from outer space and other
fantastic sci-fi concepts.  Instead, Bradbury talked about
his love of Melville’s
Moby Dick.  You may not know this,
but Bradbury wrote the screenplay for John Huston’s
1956 film adaptation of Moby Dick.   If Ray had been
unavailable, might Heinlein or Asimov got
the call?  I doubt it.  If Asimov, despite all
his polymath pretensions, had written
Martian Chronicles, he would have stuck
with: “The rocket ship landed.”  

In truth, there was never much science in
Ray Bradbury’s science fiction.   If sci-fi is
the literary equivalent of a theme-park ride,
Bradbury rates a C ticket at best.  Many of
the stories in
The Martian Chronicles, for
instance, could have been moved from the
Red Planet to Norman Rockwell’s small town America
with very few modifications required.   Even Bradbury’s
most fully developed sci-fi work,
Fahrenheit 451, relies
very little on futuristic technology—the mechanical
canine that figures as the most advanced gizmo in the tale
was, according to the author, inspired by
The Hound of
the Baskervilles
(1902) rather than any of the many
robots celebrated in pulp fiction tales—and makes it
greatest impact by addressing issues of anti-
intellectualism, censorship, authoritarian institutions
and political correctness:  all demons of the mind
not the
machine, ones that don’t require microprocessors or
wireless networks to wreak their havoc.

Given these precedents, it was inevitable that Bradbury
would move even further afield from the expectations of
genre fiction.  
Dandelion Wine, a 1957 novel with a
marked autobiographical tone, showed how much
Bradbury was willing to thwart his sci-fi fans.   Here he
makes passing reference to pulp fiction plot lines—time
travel, witchcraft, even a fanciful “happiness machine”—
but in each instance Bradbury chooses to parody the
concept at hand.  The happiness machine actually makes
people sad.  The witchcraft proves to be a mixture of
urban legend and malicious gossip.  The promised trip in
time turns out to be nothing more than an old Civil War
veteran telling stories of the old days.  This is not just
Bradbury renouncing his roots, but positively ridiculing

My first experience of reading Ray Bradbury came when a
section of
Dandelion Wine was assigned in school—I
think I was 12 or 13 years old at the time, roughly the
same age as the protagonist in this story.  This extract,
called “The Sound of Summer Running,” can stand alone
from the rest of the novel, and once again relies upon a
very simple premise.  Indeed, this may be the simplest
plot I have ever encountered in many years of reading.  A
boy wants a new pair of sneakers—or what we called
“tennis shoes” back then
(even if you never played tennis,
you called them that)—for summer
vacation.   That’s it, nothing more
or nothing less.

When I read this story again decades
later, I was struck by how vividly I
still remembered it from my first
encounter with it.   Nonetheless, I
also recall my shock, at that young
age, that a writer could devote a
whole story to something so simple.  
Around this same time, I had seen
the movie version of
Fahrenheit 451, and I knew that
Bradbury wrote about outer space and futuristic societies,
but the most advanced technology in this story was a
shoe!  And not even a swoosh on it!  Yet when described
by Ray Bradbury, a simple running shoe can seem to
embody the most amazing ingredients.  Here is part of his

    Somehow the people who made tennis shoes
    knew what boys needed and wanted.  They
    put marshmallows and coiled springs in the
    soles and they wove the rest out of grasses
    bleached and fired in the wilderness.  
    Somewhere deep in the soft loam of the
    shoes the thin hard sinews of the buck deer
    were hidden.  The people that made the shoes
    must have watched a lot of winds blow the
    trees and a lot of rivers going down to the
    lake. Whatever it was, it was in the shoes,
    and it was summer.

Who needs a rocket ship, I ask, when Bradbury can point
you toward something as magical as that as close as you
local Foot Locker outlet?  

Bradbury returns to the same small town setting for his
1962 novel
Something Wicked This Way Comes.   Here
he tries to stay closer to a familiar genre recipe, in this
instance attempting a horror story in the vein of H.P.
But once again, Bradbury rebels against
the constraints of the idiom. Here our
author continually steps back from the
wicked to luxuriate in the innocent. His
two protagonist, Will Halloway and Jim
Nightshade, are thirteen-year-old boys
who are both fascinated and bewildered
when a sinister carnival comes to town.   
The innocence, both legal and meta-
physical, of these two youngsters is a
major theme of this book.  Indeed, a
certain Peter Pan-ish quality pervades
Bradbury’s world view, and never more so than in this
story, where readers of a certain age can relive a
chastened sense of wonder that most of us out-grew in
our youth…if we ever possessed it at all.

Many of the adult characters in the book also seem
caught up in a radiant adolescent mindset.  In just the
opening pages, we encounter Mr. Crosetti the barber,
who cries with joy because he smells some cotton candy.  
We meet Mr. Tetley, the smoke shop proprietor who tries
to scare the youngsters by hiding behind the big wooden
Cherokee he keeps outside his store, but then gets
transfixed by the sound of distant music.  We follow Miss
Foley, a teacher, who finds herself magnetically attracted
to the carnival house of mirrors.  And, as the tale
progresses, Charles Halloway, the middle-aged father of
Will and a janitor at the local library, emerges as the hero,
a role he assumes primarily due to his ability to be even
more boyish than the boys themselves.  

None of these adults acts like a grown-up, and even the
villains, when they take center stage, operate in
the same manner as eternal adolescents,
corrupted but not matured by the years.  
Ray Bradbury was already in his 40s when
this novel was published, yet every page
glows with the mindset of the very young.
It is hardly surprising that one of the
“horrors” of the story involves a carousel
that can make the unwary child who climbs aboard grow
up too fast.  In the ever youthful mind of Mr. Bradbury,
that is the ultimate tragedy.  

In the final analysis, there is more philosophy in this
book than horror. Bradbury never writes down to his
reader, and when forced to choose between thrills and
chills, on the one hand, and poetic imagery and
philosophical musings on the other, he always takes the
high road.   It is all too telling that the most impassioned
chapter in
Something Wicked This Way Comes takes
place in a library, and focuses on a lengthy digression on
human history and the nature of good and evil.  I suspect
that, if this book were a first novel arriving in a publishing
house today, the editor would have slashed away at this
interlude, reducing it from ten pages to two paragraphs.  
But the “non-commercial” elements of Bradbury’s work
(and there are many of them) represent, to my mind, the
most essential part of Bradbury’s greatness:  namely, his
willingness to break all the rules, and make every story—
whether about Mars or witches or just tennis shoes—into
a personal statement, something no other author would
have written, or could have written.

This is precisely why Ray Bradbury, the most reluctant
master of science fiction, was arguably it finest exponent
from the so-called “golden age” that spanned the middle
decades of the 20th century.   This genre has always
struggled for respectability because its conceptual
brilliance has too often been compromised by shoddy
writing and a passive acceptance of familiar formulas.  
Bradbury deserves our gratitude for being incapable of
the former, and seemingly unaware of the latter.    In the
current day, when almost every type of story telling—
from the novel to the movie theater and beyond—seems
dominated by gimmicks and formulas, he is a role model
that we need more than ever.
conceptual fiction
Ray Bradbury at Ninety:
An Appreciation
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Conceptual Fiction:
A Reading List
(with links to essays on each work)

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Abbott, Edwin A.

Adams, Douglas
The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy

Aldiss, Brian
Barefoot in the Head

Aldiss, Brian

Aldiss, Brian
Report on Probability A

Allende, Isabel
The House of the Spirits

Amado, Jorge
Dona Flor and Her Two Husbands

Amis, Martin
Time's Arrow

The Golden Ass

Asimov, Isaac
The Foundation Trilogy

Asimov, Isaac
I, Robot

Atwood, Margaret
The Handmaid's Tale

Banks, Iain M.
The State of the Art

Ballard, J.G.
The Atrocity Exhibition

Ballard, J.G.

Ballard, J.G.
The Crystal World

Ballard, J.G.
The Drowned World

Barth, John
Giles Goat-Boy

Bester, Alfred
The Demolished Man

Blish, James
A Case of Conscience

Borges, Jorge Luis

Bradbury, Ray
Dandelion Wine

Bradbury, Ray
Fahrenheit 451

Bradbury, Ray
The Illustrated Man

Bradbury, Ray
The Martian Chronicles

Bradbury, Ray
Something Wicked This Way Comes

Brockmeier, Kevin
The View from the Seventh Layer

Bulgakov, Mikhail
The Master and Margarita

Bunch, David R.

Burgess, Anthony
A Clockwork Orange

Card, Orson Scott
Ender's Game

Carpentier, Alejo
The Kingdom of This World

Carroll, Lewis
Alice's Adventures in Wonderland

Chabon, Michael
The Yiddish Policemen's Union

Chiang, Ted
Stories of Your Life and Others

Clarke, Arthur C.
Childhood's End

Clarke, Arthur C.
A Fall of Moondust

Clarke, Arthur C.
2001: A Space Odyssey

Clarke, Susanna
Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell

Crowley, John
Little, Big

Danielewski, Mark Z.
The Fifty Year Sword

Danielewski, Mark Z.
House of Leaves

Davies, Robertson
Fifth Business

Delany, Samuel R.

Delany, Samuel R.

Delany, Samuel R.
The Einstein Intersection

Delany, Samuel R.

Dick, Philip K.
Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?

Dick, Philip K.
Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said

Dick, Philip K.
The Man in the High Castle

Dick, Philip K.

Dick, Philip K.

Disch, Thomas M.
Camp Concentration

Disch, Thomas M.
The Genocides

Doctorow, Cory
Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom

Donoso, José
The Obscene Bird of Night

Ellison, Harlan (editor)
Dangerous Visions

Ellison, Harlan
I Have No Mouth & I Must Scream

Esquivel, Laura
Like Water for Chocolate

Farmer, Philip José
To Your Scattered Bodies Go

Fuentes, Carlos

Gaiman, Neil
American Gods

Gaiman, Neil

Gibson, William
Burning Chrome

Gibson, William

Grass, Günter
The Tin Drum

Greene, Graham
The End of the Affair

Grossman, Lev
The Magicians

Haldeman, Joe
The Forever War

Hall, Steven
The Raw Shark Texts

Harrison, M. John
The Centauri Device

Harrison, M. John

Heinlein, Robert
The Moon is a Harsh Mistress

Heinlein, Robert:
Stranger in a Strange Land

Heinlein, Robert
Time Enough for Love

Helprin, Mark
Winter's Tale

Herbert, Frank

Hoffman, Alice
Practical Magic

Huxley, Aldous
Brave New World

Keret, Etgar
Suddenly, A Knock at the Door

Keyes, Daniel
Flowers for Algernon

Kundera, Milan
The Book of Laughter and Forgetting

Kunzru, Hari
Gods Without Men

Lafferty, R.A.
Nine Hundred Grandmothers

Le Guin, Ursula K.
The Dispossessed

Le Guin, Ursula K.
The Lathe of Heaven

Le Guin, Ursula K.
The Left Hand of Darkness

Leiber, Fritz
The Big Time

Leiber, Fritz
Conjure Wife

Leiber, Fritz
Swords & Deviltry

Leiber, Fritz
The Wanderer

Lem, Stanislaw
His Master's Voice

Lem, Stanislaw

Lethem, Jonathan
The Fortress of Solitude

Lewis, C. S.
The Chronicles of Narnia

Link, Kelly
Magic for Beginners

Malzberg, Barry N.
Herovit's World

Mann, Thomas
Doctor Faustus

Márquez, Gabriel García
100 Years of Solitude

Markson, David
Wittgenstein's Mistress

Matheson, Richard
Hell House

Matheson, Richard
What Dreams May Come

McCarthy, Cormac
The Road

Miéville, China
Perdido Street Station

Miller, Jr., Walter M.
A Canticle for Leibowitz

Millhauser, Steven
Dangerous Laughter

Mitchell, David
Cloud Atlas

Moorcock, Michael
Behold the Man

Moorcock, Michael
The Final Programme

Morrison, Toni

Murakami, Haruki

Murakami, Haruki
Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the
End of the World

Nabokov, Vladimir
Ada, or Ardor

Niffenegger, Audrey
The Time Traveler's Wife

Niven, Larry

Noon, Jeff

Obreht, Téa
The Tiger's Wife

O'Brien, Flann
At Swim-Two-Birds

Okri, Ben
The Famished Road

Percy, Walker
Love in the Ruins

Pohl, Frederik

Pratchett, Terry
The Color of Magic

Pynchon, Thomas
Gravity's Rainbow

Rabelais, François
Gargantua and Pantagruel

Robinson, Kim Stanley
Red Mars

Rowling, J.K.
Harry Potter & the Sorcerer's Stone

Rushdie, Salman
Midnight's Children

Russ, Joanna
The Female Man

Saramago, José

Sheckley, Robert
Dimension of Miracles

Sheckley, Robert

Sheckley, Robert
Store of the Worlds

Shelley, Mary

Silverberg, Robert
Dying  Inside

Silverberg, Robert

Silverberg, Robert
The World Inside

Simak, Clifford

Simak, Clifford
The Trouble with Tycho

Smith, Cordwainer

Smith, Cordwainer
The Rediscovery of Man

Stephenson, Neal
Snow Crash

Spinrad, Norman
Bug Jack Barron

Stross, Charles

Sturgeon, Theodore
More Than Human

Sturgeon, Theodore
Some of Your Blood

Swift, Jonathan
Gulliver's Travels

Thomas, D.M.
The White Hotel

Tiptree, Jr., James
Warm Worlds and Otherwise

Tolkien, J.R.R.
The Hobbit

Updike, John
The Witches of Eastwick

Van Vogt, A.E.
The Mixed Men

Van Vogt, A.E.

Van Vogt, A.E.
The Voyage of the Space Beagle

Van Vogt, A.E.
The World of Null A

Vance, Jack

Verne, Jules
Around the Moon

Verne, Jules
From the Earth to the Moon

Verne, Jules:
Journey to the Center of the Earth

Vonnegut, Kurt
Cat's Cradle

Vonnegut, Kurt
The Sirens of Titan

Vonnegut, Kurt

Wallace, David Foster
Infinite Jest

Walpole, Horace
Hieroglyphic Tales

Wells, H.G.
The First Men in the Moon

Wells, H.G.
The Island of Dr. Moreau

Wells, H.G.
The Time Machine

Wilson, Robert Anton & Robert Shea
The Illuminatus! Trilogy

Winton, Tim

Woolf, Virginia

Zabor, Rafi
The Bear Comes Home

Zelazny, Roger
Lord of Light

Zelazny, Roger
This Immortal

Special Features
Notes on Conceptual Fiction
When Science Fiction Grew Up
Ray Bradbury: A Tribute
The Year of Magical Reading
Remembering Fritz Leiber
A Tribute to Richard Matheson
Samuel Delany's 70th birthday
The Sci-Fi of Kurt Vonnegut
Curse You, Neil Armstrong!
Robert Heinlein at 100
A.E, van Vogt Tribute
The Puzzling Case of Robert Sheckley
The Avant-Garde Sci-Fi of Brian Aldiss
Science Fiction 1958-1975: A Reading List

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