Person by person, we just keep losing the greats: Science fiction author Ray Bradbury passed away this morning in Los Angeles, at the age of 91. Even if the name is less familiar, you must know Bradbury for Fahrenheit 451, the seminal dystopian novel about a future where no one reads and firemen raid houses to find and burn forbidden books. You likely read it in your high school English class as your first introduction to the genre, later to be followed up with Kurt Vonnegut and Margaret Atwood.
Bradbury’s literary career encompasses 11 novels and over 400 short stories, but I’m focusing on this book because of its importance in our generation’s education. I remember reading the book in freshman or sophomore English and being immediately hooked. It was a one-sentence plot, deceptively simple, and yet it brought forth commentary on entertainment, shortened attention spans, humans’ cruelty, and nuclear war. As fireman Guy Montag probed the boundaries of this society that had outlawed books, we experienced with him the horror of a society happy to sit and just watch the soap operas playing on their parlor walls.
I’ll always remember the horror that gripped me in Montag’s run from the Mechanical Hound, or the shuddering disgust at how nonchalantly his wife overdosed on sleeping pills and then got her stomach pumped. And the book’s ending was perfect: Montag joins a group of exiled book-lovers who have committed the text to memory and then voluntarily burn the books so as to protect themselves. As nuclear war approaches, these are the people who will rebuild our society. And he wrote this in 1953!
Like I said, part of this book’s enduring effect is that for many kids it was their first introduction to sci-fi, speculative fiction, dystopia… however you want to categorize it. It was pressed into our hands before we even knew what to call the genre; reading it, we thought, This kind of writing exists? It’s not all boring prose and outdated stories? At least, that’s what my burgeoning writer self thought. I would go on to read the authors listed above and today’s dystopian novels, but I will always remember the utter surprise and delight at discovering Bradbury.
I’d love for this to be an open thread to just share memories of Bradbury’s work, especially works other than Fahrenheit 451. So, please comment away and honor Mr. Bradbury. We’ll miss you, sir.