THE author of modern classics including Fahrenheit 451 and The Martian Chronicles Ray Bradbury died this Tuesday aged 91, but his work will endure. Few can match Bradbury’s gift for employing fantastic settings to such thought-provoking and often horrifying effect. A master of the short story, his best works draw the reader in with a cosy, sometimes over-wrought prose style, only to burn a troubling and indelible image into the imagination. The humanist and classical scholar Gilbert Highet placed him in the great tradition of literary fantasists – from Hoffman to Poe.
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.