A few months ago, I finished Ray Bradbury’s “Fahrenheit 451”. I was so impressed with it, that I decided to read some more of his short stories. If you have been a science fiction fan for a while, then you should read some of his work, if you haven’t already. I just finished “The Illustrated Man” today. Overall, Bradbury seems to have a very bleak view of the future. This is manifested in several ways. First, many of his future societies are dystopian. For instance, “The Fox and the Forest”, involves the main characters “escaping” from the future via time travel to the past –to 1932. At several points, in the story it is made clear that 1932 is a better time to live than their own time. Children also tend to be portrayed negatively in Bradbury’s stories. For instance, “The Veldt” involves children that only want to watch lions kill things in their virtual reality “nursery”. The story “Zero Hour” involves very young children collaborating in a make-believe “invasion” from Mars -that turns out to be not-so-make-believe. Since children represent the future in a certain sense, the fact that Bradbury tends to portray them so negatively is yet another way that he manifests a bleak view of the future.
I suspect that Bradbury’s dystopianism lies partly in his view of human nature. He tends to portray people as brutish, irrational, and short-sighted. For an example of this, read “The Visitor”, which involves a telepath that arrives on Mars and offers the human exiles living there visions of the Earth they would like to return to. Another reason Bradbury tends to be dystopian is probably due to his mysticism. I suspect that Bradbury was religious. (See “The Man” and “The Fire Balloons”.) As a result, he would tend to believe that human beings are born with “original sin”, rather than being “tabula rasa”, at birth.
Although Bradbury’s dystopianism and religiosity would have turned me off when I was younger, I can now appreciate the fact that he was an excellent writer, even if I don’t agree with the themes of a lot of his stories. His writing style is remarkable because he uses metaphors and similes so effectively. For instance, in his story “Kaleidoscope”, he describes a rocket exploding and men being sucked out into the vacuum of space in this manner:
“The first concussion cut the rocket up the side with a giant can opener. The men were thrown into space like a dozen wriggling silverfish. They were scattered into a dark sea…”
The description of the explosion as a “giant can opener” and the space-suited men as “wriggling silverfish” thrown into space effectively painted a picture in my mind, and it really brought the story to life in a way that a straight description of the scene never could have. Although I may not agree with many of his themes, Bradbury’s style and technical proficiency as a writer is excellent.
I don’t know that I would recommend Bradbury to younger science fiction readers. Let teenagers start off with Isaac Asimov and Robert Heinlein. But, if you are a mature “sci-fi connoisseur” like me, then you should read Ray Bradbury.