Quite a few comments of late about how little discussion there is of Bradbury's stories on this forum.
So, let's talk about Bradbury's best short story!
I'll start by nominating "A Sound of Thunder". Remember it? It's the one with the dinosaur hunt. Yes, the one made into a pretty awful film about four years ago...
Despite some crummy adaptations, "Thunder" remains one of my favourite Bradbury stories. Reading it again recently, I was struck by the trouble Bradbury goes to in making the time travel elements plausible. This despite his general disdain for scientific detail.
Did you know he originally submitted this story to the Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction (in 1952, I think). They rejected it. The editors said they didn't believe a word of it, particularly the minimal changes to the timeline effected by the accidental killing of the butterfly by our time travelling heroes.
Not to worry. Collier's, a higher-paying "slick" magazine, bought the story instead. It went on to become one of most reprinted SF stories of all time.
To me, what the story has going for it is the thrill of the hunt. Bradbury is not the only writer to have written on this topic. It is fun to compare a similar story, L. Sprague de Camp's "A Gun For Dinosaur". The hunt is very similar in both stories. Where they differ is in the intensity of the description of the dinosaurs. Bradbury pulls out all his metaphorical stops, describing the T Rex's delicate watchmaker's hands, its piston legs, its scaled skin.
Bradbury also excels in his portrayal of Eckels, who is the ultimate coward - and yet to some degree sympathetically portrayed; Eckels is probably the character we identify with most, until he oversteps the mark - and the pathway - with his cowardice.
The title of the story is a metaphor, and within the story it does double duty. Amusing that most of the media adaptations (including the 2005 Peter Hyams film) retain the title, yet fail to make any reference to it.
Why is Bradbury so closely associated with dinosaurs, when he wrote only a handful of dino tales (but many many more Mars tales)? Answer: "A Sound of Thunder" is the definitive tale of man encountering dino. Until Jurassic Park came along. But notice how Jurassic Park also played on the idea of the hunter.
Random thoughts. Anyone care to add anything? Or perhaps name another story for discussion?
Wow - this will be difficult for me, loving so many of his stories.
One that leaps to mind as a favourite is "The Exiles".
I shall return...
I remember "A Sound of Thunder" very well from when I first read it, about 40 years ago. I agree completely with what Phil says: it's the vivid description of the dinosaur itself that has stayed with me - those little hands, the rancid breath, and all those little details. At the time, I was also hugely impressed with (and excited by) the "thought experiment" ending, although this may be an aspect of the story that has worn less well.
By the way, there is another story that springs to mind that echoes Ray's classic very strongly: "Poor Little Warrior!" by Brian W. Aldiss. In the Aldiss story, you also have a time-travelling dinosaur hunter who is portrayed as somewhat cowardly. And yes, there is a shock at the end, just like in the Bradbury story.
It's very difficult to decide whether an oldie like this story deserves to be named as Ray's best. There's no denying the excitement of the story, and the ingeniousness of the concept, but some of the more down to earth stories of later years probably have better writing in a strict literary sense.
Or do they? I'll sleep on this and nominate one myself, later on. Not now, though. It's one a.m. where I'm sitting!
I have "Poor Little Warrior!" in A Science Fiction Omnibus, edited by Brian Aldiss, a British Penguin Classic published in 2007. It should be easily available in your part of the world.
This, of course, is a sort of updated edition of A Penguin Science Fiction Omnibus, which came out in the early 1970s. The contents are somewhat different, but I think the Aldiss story is in both.
As long as Phil is hunting down the Brian Aldiss story, why not go the whole hog and throw in a Robert Silverberg story as well?
My note on Silverberg's "Hunters in the Forest" goes as follows:
"A distant cousin to Ray Bradbury's "A Sound of Thunder" and Brian Aldiss's "Poor Little Warrior!", this tale features a 23rd century thrill seeker who goes dinosaur hunting in the Late Cretaceous, outside his safe little time capsule. The constant peril is of course that the time capsule leaves automatically at a fixed time, whether you're in it, or not. Things get interesting when our hero unexpectedly meets a fellow time traveller, a seductive woman, who tries to persuade him to stay with her in the past, and to forego his ticket home. One senses that something dreadful simply has to happen ..."
If you enjoy the Aldiss, you may enjoy that one as well!
I think I once read the Silverberg story. It sounds familiar at least.
I still haven't laid hands on the Aldiss story, but I know where to find it.
Meanwhile, would anyone else like to comment on A Sound of Thunder? Is it Bradbury's best? If so, why?
And if not Thunder - then what? Nominate now!
I’d like to see a variety of stories discussed in this thread; not necessarily the one 800 lb. Gorilla of Bradbury stories. If you forced me to say which story by Bradbury was really his best, and locked me into a room until I’d made up my mind, there’s a fair chance that I’d say “Gotcha!” (1978), a story which I’ve mentioned several times in this forum. Perhaps I’ll discuss that one another time.
But for now, I’d like to nominate the story that is unquestionably my sentimental favorite: “Frost and Fire” (1946).
The story is notable for several reasons. Firstly, it is one of Ray’s amazingly few stories of novelette length (7, 500 to 17, 499 words). That in itself indicates an important entry in his story inventory. Secondly, it gives the lie to the frequent assertion that Bradbury “does not write science fiction”. Of course he does – it’s just that most of his work isn’t SF. “A Sound of Thunder”, nominated by Phil, is another example.
The third and last unusual aspect of the story is that, despite its obvious strengths, it seems to be relatively little known – you don’t often see serious discussions of the story. In fact, I can’t remember ever seeing one. I have an old Sam Moskowitz article, which from the context appears to have been written in the early sixties, in which he praises the story, but that’s about all.
Why is it such a great story? To start with, it is built upon a fascinating premise – a world in which the inhabitants live a mere eight days. Straight away, this premise gives the story an irresistable momentum and unflagging suspense.
Bradbury kicks the story off with beautiful simplicity:
“During the night, Sim was born”.
Immediately we have a stong focus on our central character, the one who will provide the point of view for the rollercoaster ride that follows.
The urgency of Sim’s mission in life is captured in just a few lines, a few pages later:
“Birth was as quick as a knife. Childhood was over in a flash. Adolescence was a sheet of lightning. Manhood was a dream, maturity a myth, old age an inescapably quick reality, death a swift certainty”.
Bradbury uses brilliant devices to cope with the breakneck speed of developments. The very title of the story, as well as the names of characters such as Dark and Lyte, suggest that existence is reduced to its simplest elements – there is no time for detail.
Relationships are fully formed in a heartbeat. As soon as he meets Chion, he realises that they are enemies. They glare at each other, and Chion runs off, shouting “Tomorrow I will be big enough to kill you!”
This would make little sense in a conventional story – the two have only just met; there are no issues between them, much less a reason to kill. But here, in this speeded-up existence, such short cuts replace years of character development.
Elsewhere, Bradbury uses the concept of racial memory to save time in Sim’s education and development. Everything serves the speed of developments and the economy of narrative. It’s all wonderfully effective.
Almost inevitably, the superb pace of the developments and the fascination of the situation ebb towards the end of the story, when it becomes a fairly typical pulp SF adventure. But the brilliant early exposition, continuing towards the middle of the story, is quite enough to secure its position as a classic.
The clearest support I’ve seen for this story’s classic status is its position on the Top 200 Science Fiction Short Stories, compiled by Peter Sykes, on the austarnet website. There, it ranked 172nd on the all time list. Not bad – but the story is even better than that. “A Sound of Thunder” ranked 11th on that list, by the way.
I would nominate The Veldt. When I first read this story it seemd so far ahead of its time in the technology of the future that could allow a room to come alive and entertain. And then the Prestige of the act, the room IS alive and the children no longer need their parents and they use the room to achive their independence. That twist, build upon the description of the technology that only came around again in the Star Trek series, just floored me and never left any doubt about what a visionary Ray was.
Such a true statement about Ray. I stumble out of his stories, amazed.
His creativity is relentless.
I guess the secret is no secret. Ray has told us many times that his method is founded on hard work and not trying to do anything beyond letting his muse talk through his fingers. Quickly summerized (I miss-typed this word, then I left it alone, as it has positive connotations in respect to Ray's stories about Summer - the muse at work?):
1. wake up - any hour that causes the awakening is O.K.;
2. Ask "What if";
3. Listen to your muse and,
4. Let your fingers capture whatever comes to them from your muse, do not revise, edit or think about what is being transferred to the page.
5. Write until you are tired , then put it away until the muse calls you to look at it again, could be tomorrow or next year.
6. The re-reading can then begin and the editing takes place on the original if needed.
7. Bury what is not immediately obvious as good, and let it become fine wine for a time.
8. Call Donn Albright and let him rummage through the files that you have accummulated and he will find the gems there and put them into the next Guanlet Press edition.
What a system. If only I had thought of it myself.
Thanks to Ray and Donn for all the hours of pleasurable reading and thought proviking stories that have lifted many of us on our loneliest of nights and given us such joy on finding new stories that were not previously available to us.
Those last two steps require a very long-term view of things!
It seems this thread has stalled since April, but let's see if I can't jump-start a little life into it.
Being an indecisive person by nature, I could spend all night wrangling over which story is my favorite. I think, instead, I'll just go with the one that immediately jumps to mind: "And the Moon Be Still as Bright".
There are few Bradbury characters that I personally identify with more than Spender in this story...minus the whole homicide issue. Although I don't believe I could ever kill another human being (I have difficulty enough bringing myself to kill a spider), I feel that I can most certainly recognize the desperate rage that drives Spender to do what he does. I recognize it every time I hear of genocide in Africa, or a home invasion that leaves the parents of 16-some odd children murdered, or even when I'm driving down the highway and someone ahead of me tosses a large foam cup right out the widow. I think this kind of anger and frustration can also come when you feel the alienation that arises when others fail to see the beauty and worth of something you deem to be of great value. Like when my sister puts aside Bradbury or Salinger for Twilight *shudder*.
Another reason I love this story is for the near-prophetic quality I believe it has. Not only could I see this casual disregard for an alien culture occurring in the future, but we already have examples of it in our own history textbooks. Tenochtitlan is certainly one instance.
"And the Moon..." is undoubtedly one of his best, and it is absolutely pivotal to the Martian Chronicles. Prophetic, certainly, but Bradbury clearly had an eye on history when he wrote it.
I like the way Spender is allowed to be a sympathetic character (possibly more sympathetic in our eco-aware times than at the time it was written), and yet can be a villain at the same time. Some people say Bradbury can't do characters. I tell them to read this story.
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