For me, my first Bradbury was “The Veldt.” (Read the story here.)
It was seventh grade or so, and we first read the story and then watched the short film — if you aren’t familiar with the story, it tells the tale of a family of four where the parents are growing increasingly concerned about the power and even the reality of their house’s “nursery,” a virtual-reality Holodeck-style playroom. The children continue to set it to the veldt, in Africa, where hungry lions wait.
Is the room pure fantasy? Could it become real? Are those lions… hungry?
(Doubly awesome that the children are named Peter and Wendy.)
This story blew everything open for me.
It was my first taste of science-fiction, for one — okay, sure, I’d seen (and adored) Star Wars and Transformers and all the expected sci-fi of my youth. But none of it was mature, transgressive, nor did they carry the power intrinsic to the genre. They were fantasies of a sort. “The Veldt” was no such fantasy.
In fact, it was pretty damn scary.
And so, it was also my first taste of horror. Believe me when I tell you that “the Veldt” is a horror story at its core — oh, not the horror you might think of with chainsaws and underground monstrosities and insane alien gods from behind time and space, but it’s a scary story (especially to a seventh grader). Bradbury could write across genre like nobody else (and in that way remains very much an inspiration to me — his career was not one where he fell into a genre hole and remained trapped there for all time).
Finally, it was my first look of the short story as an art form. Bradbury says that if you want to learn how to write, learn how to write short stories first. It’s a good and interesting piece of advice and his short fiction is some of the best around even still. (You know how Bradbury wrote many of his early stories? Most writers start with an idea, but he started with titles. He cobbled together a list of titles, one after the other, and then went down the list one by one, writing a short story to go with each. Thus proving that you can write however the fuck you want to write, no rules, no laws, no preconceived notions, as long as you write.) The short story up until that point was not a thing I was really all that aware of.
I was a reader, yes, a voracious one, but “The Veldt” was the first door I opened beyond the somewhat childish reads I’d been handed to that point. It was my gateway drug to Robert McCammon and Stephen King, to Robert Heinlein and Arthur C. Clarke, to most of the books on my shelves then and even now. And how appropriate for it to be “The Veldt” — a story about a room of fantasy that threatens to become real, a room that is itself a gateway.
I was inspired by Bradbury and many of my other inspirations were themselves inspired by Bradbury.
Even now as a writer I’m inspired by him, sometimes opening Zen In The Art Of Writing to read.
But “The Veldt.”
That was my first Bradbury.
What was yours?