RAY BRADBURY’s (1920–2012) late career as genial Disney-sponsored spokesman, World Fair consultant, and purveyor of golden summery Midwestern nostalgia occludes the actual writing that made him famous. He’d be the first person to tell you he wasn’t a science fiction writer; he wrote fantasy and horror for most of his career, creating a vernacular American fantastic. His first published story, “The Homecoming” (1946; plucked from the slush pile by Truman Capote, illustrated by Chas. Addams), and last essential novel, Something Wicked This Way Comes (1962) bracket his career neatly with a lyrical, macabre yearning for darkness that had not existed in American literature before him. And his writing could be very dark. In South America he’s shelved next to Borges as a master of the short story, and when you read “The Small Assassin” (1946) you see the parallel, as Bradbury subtly lays the grind of new parenthood into the substrate of his story. Personally, I don’t know a more dread-evoking story than “The Playground” (1953) and rate Bradbury’s bullies over the entire Cthulhu Mythos. Bradbury’s so thoroughly disseminated through popular culture that nobody credits the song “Rocket Man” as deriving from one of his stories. He’s almost too big to see. Which is how you wind up as a National Treasure, but don’t let that stop you from reading the stories. As Stephen King said, “Ray Bradbury wrote six hundred stories and three hundred of them are masterpieces.”
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READ MORE about members of the New Gods Generation (1914-23).