Ray Bradbury was a giant of American literature. The man just could not be stopped - in his 91 years of life and a career spanning over 70 years, he wrote nearly a dozen novels and somewhere in the neighbourhood of 600 short stories. His imagination and vision took us to Mars, to dystopian worlds of mind control, to carnivals and space and beyond. His contribution to science fiction, and literature as a whole, cannot be overstated, and scores of fans the world over would agree. But like most legends, there is one of the stacks of Ray Bradbury books which will be best remembered.
When you ask a stranger about Ray Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451 will be the first thing to pass their lips nine times out of 10. Themes from the dystopian book-burning novel are as relevant today as when it was written in 1953 and when a book stays socially relevant for more than 50 years it's sure to have a legion of fans.
There are four first editions of Fahrenheit 451 that can be found. First is the soft cover edition released about six weeks before the hardcover version, which, despite being second in the timeline, is usually preferred by collectors. The hardcover commands four figures for a decent copy and more when signed. The special fire-proof asbestos cover edition that was limited to 200 copies is rarely seen priced at less than £6,650. The granddaddy of them all is the special cloth and gilt presentation copy which Bradbury had specially bound and limited to 50 copies. These extremely scarce editions may actually sell for more than the Asbestos Edition depending on who the book was inscribed to.
For the super-fan, nothing else but a complete collection of Bradbury first editions will do. The Fine Books Company of Rochester, Michigan, is offering a remarkable set of Bradbury firsts for sale with more than 60 different titles published from 1947 until 2009. The asking price is about £25,000. For those without deep pockets, many limited editions of Bradbury's work have been produced over the years and these are rather more affordable alternatives.
David Aronovitz of The Fine Books Company estimates Bradbury, famous for being one of literature's most obliging authors, may have "signed or inscribed a million" or more books, magazines and other ephemera during his long career, so there is no shortage of signed Ray Bradbury books available. However, serious and sophisticated collectors who enjoy signed books should still take this statement as a challenge to build a library of desirable and rare Ray Bradbury books. What particularly remains appealing today are those books which Ray signed and dated at the time of publication, especially those copies signed / inscribed during his earlier years. Also, there are a goodly number of association copies to be had as well. With patience, even these more coveted items may be located too. Since Bradbury's death at age 91 in June 2012, signed, inscribed and autographed Ray Bradbury books have increased in value, but for now affordable options are still quite plentiful.
Bradbury truly was the father figure of modern American literature. Born in Illinois, Ray Douglas Bradbury, (Douglas after actor Douglas Fairbanks) grew up loving two things, magic and libraries, and spent much of his youth perusing both. However, it was Mr Electro who convinced him to take up full time writing. In 1932, Bradbury attended a Labor Day carnival where the magician, Mr. Electro, knighted the young writer with his electric sword and commanded that he "live forever." Bradbury considered this for a while and decided he should forget about being a magician and become an author, where his words could live for eternity. Bradbury graduated from high school in 1938 but did not proceed to college due to a lack of funds. He received his higher education somewhere else; explaining "when I graduated from high school, it was during the Depression and we had no money. I couldn't go to college, so I went to the library three days a week for 10 years."
It was during this time Bradbury began publishing short stories in science fiction pulp magazines such as Imagination! and Super Science Stories, and even launched his own fanzine in 1939 called Futuria Fantasia. By the 1940s, Bradbury was married, and published his first full length work called Dark Carnival, a collection of short stories. Dark Carnival has since gone out-of-print and continues to be hunted by collectors. The book has featured on BookFinder.com's annual list of the most sought after out-of-print books for several years.
In 1950, Bradbury cemented himself in the science fiction community with the publication of The Martian Chronicles. However, Bradbury himself considered the work to be fantasy because "science fiction is a depiction of the real. Fantasy is a depiction of the unreal. So Martian Chronicles is not science fiction, it's fantasy. It couldn't happen."
It doesn't really matter whether the Martian Chronicles are labelled science fiction or fantasy. Bradbury was a master of both genres as well as myriad other styles - mysteries (Death Is a Lonely Business, A Graveyard for Lunatics, Let's All Kill Constance), horror (Something Wicked This Way Comes), poetry (The Last Good Kiss, Then Is All Love? It Is, It Is!), children's stories (Dogs Think That Every Day Is Christmas) and non-fiction (Zen in the Art of Writing, The God in Science Fiction) are all part of the Bradbury canon.
3. Sun and Shadow
Sold for: £1,901
One of the most elusive of Bradbury publications, this little chapbook was printed on a small pilot-press from handset type, in an edition of only 90 copies. None were originally offered for sale, but the story did appear in The Golden Apples of the Sun, pictured here.
4. Something Wicked This Way Comes
Sold for: £1,849
First edition of Bradbury's fourth novel, published 1962 – a fantasy horror story about a carnival. Signed: "For Joan & Eric [Ambler]- SOMETHING WICKED" for someone, I hope, good - with the friendly wishes of Ray Bradbury."