The Butterfly Effect

One of the leading stories this week concerned the passing of Ray Bradbury. This is noteworthy considering that in the 1940s Bradbury was to a great extent consigned to the pulp magazines. I’d wear a legacy such as that like a badge of honor now, but back then it was anything but. So-called “serious” or “literary” authors did not frequent those types of publications. Bradbury kept plugging away and by the mid-1960s his novels and short stories were being studied in university courses. If you wanted to break a friend into the science-fiction genre, you did so by steering him over to the paperback section of a drug store and thrusting FAHRENHEIT 451 (“Oh yeah, I’ve heard of that. Did he write that?”) or THE MARTIAN CHRONICLES or THE ILLUSTRATED MAN into their hands. Bradbury has seen his work go from pulps to hardcover to paperbacks to yes, e-books. News comes that there is going to be a huge roll-out of his work in digital form, sooner rather than later. A few things were available at the time of this death; a sticking point that had kept more from being available had nothing to do with adversity to the technology; Bradbury simply did not want the libraries to be bypassed. Indeed, word comes down that in accordance with The Man’s wishes e-book versions will be available for lending from your local library as well.
Most folks talk about FAHRENHEIT 451 when they mention Bradbury. I’m going to talk about four short stories that have stuck in my mind for over fifty years. Every time we get a gullywasher around here, when the rain pours and pours for more than a day or so, I think of “The Long Rain” a gem of Bradbury’s from 1950. First published in a wonderful little periodical titled Planet Stories, the tale deals with three earthmen who are stranded on Venus in the midst of the torrential rains which at that time everyone thought enveloped the planet. A classic. “The Small Assassin” is one of the darkest stories that Bradbury, or anyone, ever wrote. I missed its original publication in 1946 in the pages of Dime Mystery(love that title) by a few years but I am sure it caused a stir. Read this story about a baby who may or may not be homicidal and see what you think about toys left on the stairs and pretty things. “Way in the Middle of the Air” was published in  Other Worlds in 1950 and became a part of the canon of  The Martian Chronicles. It was social commentary disguised as science fiction, telling the tale of the day that all of the black folks left the country and emigrated to Mars, and the surprising reaction from some quarters. While I have never forgotten this story since  the day that I read it, it, I had particular cause to recall it several years ago, during one of a series of visits to New Orleans.  I was staying on the east side of the city at that time and, purely by happenstance, went for two days without seeing a Caucasian face. It briefly crossed my mind that perhaps all of the white folks had left the country and I had somehow missed the memo. The story was still so vivid in my mind, some forty-odd years on, that I expected to see the rocket departing when I looked up in the sky. The most haunting of Bradbury’s stories for me personally, however, remains 1952’s “The Sound of Thunder.” It has been heavily anthologized, but first appeared in Collier’sin 1952. I as a rule don’t care for time travel stories, but this one is quite different,  a cautionary tale about the importance of following directions and staying on the path. The term “butterfly effect” was indirectly coined as a result of this story. If you haven’t read it, do so and see why.
Now it is your turn. What is your favorite Ray Bradbury novel, collection, or short story? Do you recall when you first read a Bradbury work? How did it affect you? And if you have never read any of Bradbury’s works, we’d like to know that, too.

11 thoughts on “The Butterfly Effect

  1. Without a doubt, The Butterfly Effect moved me deeply and fascinated me with the law of unintended consequences. I highly recommend a novel simply called “Q” by Evan Mandery that uses time travel and consequences very effectively (a man keeps travelling back and tinkering with his own past).

    The first Bradbury was Fahrenheit 451 in high school. Then it was an assignment. However, I caught some of the delight when a science teacher used it as an example when he was teaching us about the properties of different materials (such as when a sheet of paper would burn and, of course, when a book would burn.) Got my attention.

    Great post. I’ve read a couple of those stories and will seek out the rest.


  2. “The seller of lightning rods arrived just ahead of the storm.” One of the best first lines of any book I’ve ever read is from SOMETHING WICKED THIS WAY COMES by Bradbury. You wanna talk about a dark tale, this is it. Two thirteen-year-old boys figure out the grisly secrets of the Cooger & Dark’s Pandemonium Shadow Show. I still have the 1962 paperback I bought in 7th grade. Scared the you-know-what out of me. R.I.P Mr. Bradbury. And thank you for all the thrills and chills you’ve given us.

  3. Reading The Illustrated Man in junior high was one of those life altering encounters with the written word. I was just blown away with the breadth of RB’s imagination. “The Veldt” particularly stood out for me, probably because it’s the first in the collection. Or maybe because it was just plain chilling. Either way, I knew I was in for a lifelong ride with this man.

    Living in SoCal I had the chance to hear RB speak on several occasions, most notably at the local branch of the LA library that was the one I’d grown up with. Here we spoke briefly and he encouraged me in my writing, which was just getting underway. Priceless.

  4. I shared something with Mr. Bradbury. I grew up in Green Town! Would you believe that we weren’t assigned to read ANY of his books in school? I stumbled onto him myself.

    I remember most his line in 451-where Clarice (I hope I recalled her name right) says to the hero: “Children didn’t used to kill children.”

    His ability to read our society is and was astouding!

  5. Something Wicked This Way Comes still gives me a delicious shiver, and I always approach a carousel a little bit nervously. But it had a good ending (they beat the monsters!), so it’s a scary ride, but things turn out. I think that’s why I enjoyed it so much.


    1990. I find it fascinating to read his essays on what he thought about writing.

    RIP, Mr. Bradbury.

  7. 451 always hits the mark with me, chilling me to the marrow in just the right way. But I recently stumbled upon one of his short stories, “The Dog in the Red Bandana.” It’s remarkable on many levels (characteristic of RB’s work) but there was another element here, in that when I read it aloud at the dinner table, my kids listened closely and when it was over, they remained silent for a long while. Reverent, even. Perhaps because kids and dogs have such natural affinities, perhaps because an abstract concept became utterly real and tangible. But the story hit them like a heart-bomb. Here’s a link to it. By the way, RB wrote it two years ago — at age 89.

  8. Thanks for sharing. For those of you who mentioned SOMETHING WICKED THIS WAY COMES…anyone reading that book would almost have to think twice about attending a carnival. I think about it every August, when the state and county fairs start up.

    A postscript…I picked my 14 year-old daughter up last night after her boyfriend’s parents had invited her over for dinner. She was clutching the house copy of THE ILLUSTRATED MAN, a first edition hardcover no less. She had, unbeknownst to me, lent it to the lad to read. My initial reaction was “YIKES!” followed by “Great!” It’s not a museum piece, it’s a book, regardless of its values to collectors. And when I found out that it was his first exposure to Bradbury, all the better. Last word was that he was headed to the library for more, more, more. It doesn’t get any better than that.

  9. “There Will Come Soft Rains” from, first, Collier’s magazine then, a few month later, The Martian Chronicles. The quietest, most beautiful, and most chilling argument against nuclear war ever.

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