I spent my late teens and most of my 20s reading mostly science fiction and the related genres of fantasy and mystery fiction. Science fiction and fantasy remain two of my favorite genres both in literature and in film, and I particularly enjoy reading apocalyptic and dystopian novels – you know, the dark stuff.
Back then, I was obsessed with Asimov, Herbert, Heinlein, Clarke, and Bradbury.
On June 5, Ray Bradbury passed away at the age of 91. He was the prolific author of novels, short stories, essays, plays, and poetry over a span of more than 60 years. You have to admire a man who was inspired to write every day for 69 years because he saw Lon Chaney perform in The Hunchback of Notre Dame and met a carnival magician, Mr. Electrico, who touched him with his electric sword and told him, “Live forever!” He says that if he didn’t become a writer, he would have become a magician.
Bradbury was inspired by comic book heroes Flash Gordon and Buck Rogers. He was married for 57 years to the same woman, raised four daughters, and never had a driver’s license. He talked about how happy he was and how much fun and joy he had living his life and writing and doing what he loved every day.
Fahrenheit 451, first edition book cover, 1953.
In his memory, I re-read one of his most famous and one of his earliest novels, Fahrenheit 451.
Fahrenheit 451 was published in 1953 and depicts a future world where books are outlawed, and firemen do not put out fires, they use fire to burn down homes where books are found. Fahrenheit 451 is the temperature at which paper burns. The protagonist in the story, Guy Montag, is a firemen who starts to question not only his career but the superficial relationships of a society that has abandoned critical thinking in the pursuit of never ending happiness that leaves one feeling empty and hollow.
What is interesting is that, according to Bradbury, his message was less about censorship and more about the dangers of technology. This book was written in 1953, and he includes devices that were not even invented until much later – flat screen televisions, ear buds for listening to music and news, and other mechanical devices.
Bradbury was concerned about the effects of technology and mass media on literature and critical thinking skills. He only recently allowed this novel to be downloadable to e-readers which, ironically, is how I read it.
Fahrenheit 451 is short, about 116 pages long, and easy to read. The content, however, will leave you thinking about your use of technology and how you balance that with living your life. How does your obsession with your smart phone and your computer devices and your television with hundreds of stations and your music plugged into your ears 24/7 impact your relationships with your family, friends, and society?
Do you want just the facts or do you delve deeper into why? Is your quest for eternal happiness overshadowing your ability to feel and think?
This book was published in 1953, 59 years ago (before I was born!), and yet it is eerily relevant to our modern-day world.
Honor Ray Bradbury. Read this or one of his other novels someday soon.
“I don’t try to describe the future. I try to prevent it.”