Ray Bradbury, the American writer who did more than any other to bring science fiction into the literary mainstream, died last week. Born in a small-town in Illinois in 1920, Bradbury moved quickly into a career that spanned 60 years, 27 novels and more than 600 short stories. His death at 91 gave readers and critics pause to consider his contribution to world literature, as well as the birth and evolution of the sci-fi genre that he did so much to popularise.
• Those coming late to Bradbury should start with The Martian Chronicles (Harper Voyager Dh45). These connected short stories about pioneers who colonise Mars were originally published in the 1940s, in the cheap, pulp-fiction magazines – titles such as Planet Stories and Weird Tales – that helped incubate 20th-century sci-fi. When collected as a book in 1950, though, they won critical acclaim, making Bradbury’s name and helping propel sci-fi into the popular consciousness.
• A series of novels followed, including his most famous: Fahrenheit 451 (Harper Voyager Dh45) – named after the temperature at which paper ignites – is set in a dystopian future where books are banned. Bradbury preferred the term “fantasy” to describe most of his work: “Martian Chronicles is not science fiction, it’s fantasy. It couldn’t happen. You see?” Nevertheless, it’s sci-fi with which his name is inextricably linked. Go to the sci-fi writer Adam Roberts’s The History of Science Fiction (Palgrave Macmillan, Dh107) to learn how 20th-century sci-fi can trace its roots back to the tales of voyages to strange lands told in ancient Greece.
• Those seeking a targeted sweep through modern sci-fi, meanwhile, might move from HG Wells’s The War of the Worlds (Penguin, Dh50), to Isaac Asimov’s Foundation Trilogy (Everyman, Dh80), set in a future galactic empire on the verge of collapse, to William Gibson’s 1984 Neuromancer (Harper Voyager, Dh45), which tells the story of a hacker cast out of the “matrix” cyberspace world in which his peers reside.