“Where they have burned books, they will end in burning human beings.”
– Heinrich Heine
I couldn’t let the day pass without a few words about Ray Bradbury, who passed away at the age of 91.
I’ve never been a big fan of the man. It’s fairer to say I’ve respected him from afar. He had a fine imagination, and a perfectly fine prose, but his work wasn’t weird enough or pushed the boundaries enough for me to really take an interest like I did with other sci-fi writers like Michael Moorcock or Samuel R. Delany.
In addition, at age 91, it’s fair to say he had a good innings.
That said, I’m still sad about his passing, as he was the last of the really big names in science fiction from his era (Frederick Pohl and Jack Vance are still around, but neither of them ever really had mainstream popularity outside of the genre ghetto). He was also the last man alive who contributed something to the canon of widely read dystopian fiction – George Orwell, Aldous Huxley, Yevgeny Zamyatin, Jack London and Philip K. Dick have all already joined the big anti-fascist protest in the sky, and more recent examples of the genre from Margaret Atwood or the cyberpunk writers have yet to reach the same status.
In a strange example of synchronicity, he’s also been popping up quite a lot in my life recently in the run up to his death. Whilst charity-shopping, I found a copy of the excellent Dandelion Wine whilst listening to the Something Wicked This Way Comes album by The Herbaliser. The same day as realising Bradbury actually wrote the screenplay to John Huston’s Moby Dick (1956), someone linked me to the fucking hilarious Fuck Me, Ray Bradbury by the talented Rachel Bloom. Stuff like that.
But that’s what Bradbury was like – he popped up where you wouldn’t expect him.
Now I’m listening to the Bloom song, I can’t be bothered typing any more. I’m not one for platitudes, especially not when someone’s died. So I’ll say to anyone who hasn’t, read The Illustrated Man, The Silver Locusts and Dandelion Wine, as they’re all fine books, and watch the underrated 1966 Truffaut adaptation of Fahrenheit 451.
But mainly, there could be no fitting tribute to the man than to keep reading. Because the scariest thing about Fahrenheit is not that people are going around burning books, but that nobody is stopping them. Because, like in Brave New World, nobody is interested any more.