Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Writers in His Genre Tend to Be Underrated, Which is Always an Error

Ray Bradbury was a paradoxical kind of visionary, both enthused and terrified at what lay ahead for humanity. He spoke with great optimism about man’s capacity to create his own destiny, through scientific progress and space exploration. Yet his science fiction depicted a future marked by ambivalence, pessimism or outright horror.

Bradbury’s three best-known works encapsulate these various strands of gloom. His masterpiece, Fahrenheit 451 (1953), ranks alongside Brave New World and Nineteen-Eighty Four as a giant of 20th-century dystopiana, imagining a world in which firemen burn books and the dangerous ideas contained within them. Before it, The Illustrated Man (1951) anthology mixes anxiety-laden tales with horror stories of technology unleashed – Frankenstein for the atomic age.

Then there was The Martian Chronicles (1950). In this short-story collection, human settlers on the Red Planet end up diseased, homesick, neurotic, mad or dead. The explorers, driven from Earth not by an optimistic desire to seek new worlds, but by nuclear war and tyranny, are destined to ruin the new planet as they did the old. ‘We Earth Men have a talent for ruining big, beautiful things’, says one trooper in the story ‘And the Moon be Still as Bright’: ‘The only reason we didn’t set up hot-dog stands in the midst of the Egyptian temple of Karnak is because it was out of the way and served no large commercial purpose.’ Man can leave his own planet, but he can never escape himself.
Fahrenheit 451 is always worth re-reading, especially as college campuses are becoming the dystopia that Bradbury imagined.