“We have too many cellphones. We’ve got too many internets. We have got to get rid of those machines. We have too many machines now.” ~BBC News, 2011
The announcement today that science fiction writer Ray Bradbury, author of such high-school English classics as Fahrenheit 451, had passed away at the age of 91, left me initially with many mixed feelings. I seriously thought this guy was going to live forever. He was a writer from another time, with an old-fashioned, but timeless approach to his work that would influence writers from all genres even into the 21st century.
When I first read Fahrenheit 451 in middle school, as many people did, I was very underwhelmed and irritated. At 14, my mind could not grasp what Bradbury was trying to say, and what context he was writing from. I could not understand an alternate universe where books were banned, and free expression was limited, if only because I did not feel the urgency or the realism. I looked at the literal representation of a “book” as I read Fahrenheit 451 and deemed it as pure fantasy.
As I got older, and looked back on the famous novel, with more mature and experienced eyes, I finally was able to see the novel for what it was. Sure it was a piece of science fiction, and fantasy, but he wrote from personal experience. He saw our society going towards a certain place, and while Fahrenheit is exaggerated, it is not out of the realm of possibility. Our world was relying too much on technology and did not have their priorities in order.
The straying away from reading and the fear of censorship is very real, and what we at DigBoston would probably fear more than anything.
“In writing the short novel Fahrenheit 451 I thought I was describing a world that might evolve in four or five decades. But…in Beverly Hills one night, a husband and wife passed me, walking their dog… The woman held in one hand a small cigarette-package-sized radio, its antenna quivering… There she was, oblivious to man and dog, listening to far winds and whispers and soap-opera cries, sleep-walking, helped up and down curbs by a husband who might just as well not have been there. This was not fiction.”
~Ray Bradbury, New Maps of Hell: A Survey of Science Fiction (1960).
The worst part about all of this is that censorship has become much more accepted these days, especially on television where children can apparently be exposed to hot-button topics. While literary censorship is less popular, there is still the all-too-real fear that the government will go too far.
His other fiction touches upon these same themes. Many of the short stories in The Illustrated Man speak about people that met tragic ends at the hand of technology. The Veidt, for instance, tells the tale of two children who become obsessed with a high-tech nursery, and eventually end up trying to get rid of their parents. Even into the modern age, Bradbury continued to use his typewriter and refused to buy a computer.
For lack of a better term, Bradbury was a literary genius. He was eloquent, intelligent, and had influence throughout many genres of literature, including science fiction and fantasy. Reading many more modern works of science fiction and fantasy, I can see the similarities. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick predicts the same kind of alternate universe that Bradbury wanted to get rid of. While Dick may not have been inspired directly by Bradbury, the themes that the latter proliferated are still in the public conscious, and will be in years to come.
His website states the following about the author: “In a career spanning more than seventy years, Ray Bradbury has inspired generations of readers to dream, think, and create.” A lofty statement, but true.
Now to break the mood up a bit with a very proper dedication to the late author.