Long before the dawn of the space age, Ray Bradbury wrote stories that touched readers’ hearts and vividly imagined a world beyond Earth.
His central themes revolved around the greed of corporations, the dangers of ever-advancing technology in the hands of those who care only for money…and the simple wonder of looking up at the night sky, wondering if anyone is looking back.
Here There Be Tygers (1951)
Collections: R is for Rocket, The Golden Apples of the Sun
In this story, explorers come to an uninhabited planet, searching for resources to bring back to Earth.
The story begins with a philosophical debate on colonialism, and the impetus for some to rape and pillage the planet.
By contrast, the captain of the rocket simply yearns to explore new worlds. In the end, the planet is too perfect, and gives them everything they could ever want.
Ultimately, the group decides that the planet must remain unspoiled by the greedy hand of man. They cover up its existence, and report back that it should be avoided at all costs.
All Summer in a Day (1954)
Collections: The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction
A brilliant portrayal of the casual, everyday sadism in young children, “All Summer in a Day” follows a group of schoolchildren living on Venus, where the sun only shines for one hour every seven years.
Kids bully Margot, born on earth, due to her memories and fondness of the sun.
Her classmates lock her in a closet just before the sun is due to make its one-hour appearance, and are so happy frolicking outside that they forget all about her.
By the time they remember to let her out, the sun has faded once more.
A film adaptation was made in 1982, although the ending varies slightly from Bradbury’s original work.
A Sound of Thunder (1952)
Collections: Collier’s, The Golden Apples of the Sun
Far in the future, time travel exists as a commodity, rather than a marvel of science. What’s more, only the rich can pay for amazing trips into the past.
The protagonist books himself a trip to prehistoric times, in order to hunt the fearsome T-Rex.
Despite numerous warnings, Eckels manages to step off the path. He then accidentally kills a butterfly.
When he and his guide return to the present, they notice many changes, both large and small. All seem to have stemmed from the butterfly’s death.
Eckels has irrevocably changed the future…apparently for the worse.
There Will Come Soft Rains (1950)
Collections: The Martian Chronicles
In one of his most terrifying and heart-wrenching stories, Ray Bradbury gives readers a mechanized house as the protagonist.
It mindlessly prepares for the morning by making toast, cleaning the dishes, and patiently waiting for its owners to get ready for each new day.
As it turns out, the house miraculously survived a nuclear war, which destroyed the entire human race. All that remains of their legacy is this automated house, who waits for no one to return.
It is incredible that Bradbury predicted smart home technologies 70 years before they became popular, but his anti-war sentiments come through clearly in this story.
He later commented that the news of the US beginning their work on the hydrogen bomb scared and inspired him to write this story, so that he might convey the horror of annihilation to his readers.
The Veldt (1950)
Collections: The Illustrated Man
In a fun twist on advanced technology, some children spend all day in a room whose walls can show them whatever they imagine.
As the house takes on more and more of the parents’ chores—from housework to childcare—the adults struggle to retain their children’s respect.
After some encounters with their increasingly rebellious children, the parents threaten to take away their beloved room, as advised by a psychiatrist. The children beg for one last visit with their African savannah.
However, the kids don’t have to worry: the house will always take care of them…no matter what.
Usher II (1952)
Collections: The Illustrated Man, The Martian Chronicles
In reference to Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Fall of the House of Usher,” Bradbury’s Stendahl goes to Mars to seek refuge from the anti-literary views on Earth.
He builds an exact replica of the House of Usher from Poe’s story, complete with robots enacting the human characters, and strange sounds from mysterious contraptions.
When people come to visit, they are all killed in the same methods as others from Poe’s impressive repertoire. The final inspector is trapped behind a wall, and the house sinks into a lake.
The Flying Machine (1953)
Collections: The Golden Apples of the Sun
This story, set in ancient China, opens with an emperor becoming horrified and displeased, upon learning one of his subjects has invented a machine to fly.
Though the machine is beautiful and well-intentioned, the emperor fears the machine might become an unstoppable weapon.
With sorrow in his heart, he orders the inventor to be killed, and the machine to be burned.
Everyone who witnessed its flights is silenced. However, the emperor regrets that he had to resort to wanton destruction of such a beautiful dream.
The Long Rain (1950)
Collections: Planet Stories, The Illustrated Man
In all Ray Bradbury stories involving Venus, it’s portrayed as a planet with almost unstoppable rain. The sun shines briefly, once every seven years, as described in “All Summer in a Day.”
When their rocket crashes, four men are marooned on Venus. If they can get to the Sun Domes, they still have some hope of survival on this inhospitable planet.
However, the rains of Venus seem to wear on the men’s sanity. One by one, they fall to suicide or mercy killings, while their minds deteriorate during the slog to the elusive Sun Dome.
Ray Bradbury tells stories that reach beyond cautionary tales, typical sci-fi offerings, or even the average plot twist. Something about them sticks with you long after you finish reading.
Perhaps the appeal of Bradbury’s work lies less in his understanding of technology…and more in his deep, unflinching understanding of the human condition—especially humanity’s greed, self-centeredness, and oftentimes dangerous imagination.