Bradbury’s stories combine fear with a childlike wonder. In A Sound of Thunder, time-travelling hunters kill a single butterfly in the age of the dinosaurs, trapping them on their return in a terribly altered present, where a fascist has just won power. The Small Assassin records a new mother’s creeping realisation that her baby wants to kill her.
But it is for Fahrenheit 451 that Bradbury will be remembered. His novella opens up a nightmare future where the state burns books to keep the population mindlessly happy – and brutally enforces its authority. Born of an encounter with an overbearing policeman, it is a book that celebrates the well-stocked mind as a bulwark against tyranny. It turns reading into an act of defiance.