Saturday, August 23, 2008

Fantastic Stories and More

Ray Bradbury

Yesterday was the anniversary of the birth of Ray Bradbury (1920), the literary, fantasy, horror, science fiction, and mystery writer. I am noting this because my favorite novels include his 1953 dystopian novel Fahrenheit 451 and The Martian Chronicles. The latter is a book which has been described both as a short story collection and a novel. He is widely considered to be one of the greatest and most popular American writers of speculative fiction during the twentieth century.
I read these novels more than forty years ago and have reread them since. In my reading I found Bradbury's writing memorable in many ways. In The Martian Chronicles he demonstrates an ability to capture both the wonder of space and its impact on the lives of the people who colonized Mars. The stories adhere to create a novel with a dreamlike quality that made it different than the average genre fiction. This was noted by another of my favorite authors, Christopher Isherwood. A chance encounter in a Los Angeles bookstore with the British expatriate writer Christopher Isherwood gave Bradbury the opportunity to put The Martian Chronicles into the hands of a respected critic. Isherwood's glowing review followed and substantially boosted Bradbury's career.

Fahrenheit 451 has rightly become a classic with its allegoric telling of the dystopian future where books are burned by firefighters. It describes a world where book lovers hide in the forest literally becoming the books that they love in acts of self-preservation. Like the Phoenix, a small band of people survive a holocaust to rise again in the rebirth of a new world. You never forget the opening line: "It was a pleasure to burn."
Bradbury has written many other fictions worth reading, particularly short stories evocative of his own Midwest roots in Waukegan, Illinois. Perhaps my own roots in southern Wisconsin explain in part why I enjoy his writing. Some of his other writings that I have enjoyed over the years include Dandelion Wine, Something Wicked This Way Comes, The Illustrated Man and The Stories of Ray Bradbury ( I particularly cherished the collection The Vintage Bradbury).

The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury. The Heritage Press, Norwalk Connecticut . 1974 (1950)
Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury. Simon & Schuster, New York. 2003 (1953)

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