Ray Bradbury and Science Fiction
Ray Bradbury. Does this name mean anything to you? Maybe books only, maybe fantasy, or maybe science fiction. Do you know that he was known as “America’s Official Science Fiction Writer”? However, his way of writing science fiction is much more different than you can think of, if you have never read Bradbury’s science fiction. He combines the future world of technology with past world’s images. An example would be helpful in understanding this. Picture that you’ve suddenly traveled in time and gone to the future full of strange machines and robots. You would be unable to adapt easily to that world. This is nearly what Bradbury does in his writings. Critics argue a lot on this “non-scientific anti-science fiction. ” Wondering why? Continue on reading and you will soon see with the examples from three different science fiction stories by Ray Bradbury.
First, you should know some thing about Bradbury himself. He was born in Waukegan, Illinois. He was a creative child and he had lots of nightmares and frightening fantasies, which affected his writing style. He began writing at least four hours a day when he was 12 years old. He sold his first story in 1941 and became a full-time writer in 1943. The Martian Chronicles (1950), a novel about peoples colonizing Mars, is one of his best-known works. Bradbury has also written poetry and scripts for plays and films. Bradbury’s early works include The Illustrated Man (1951), Dandelion Wine (1957), and Something Wicked This Way Comes (1962). His later works include Long After Midnight (1977), Death Is a Lonely Business (1985), and A Graveyard for Lunatics (1990). The short-story collections Quicker Than the Eye (1996) and Driving Blind (1997) move away from science fiction in style and subject matter. As Bradbury gets older, his writing style became different. According to my thoughts, he saw that the scientific development did not turn out as he imagined in his science fiction and he started to write stories that were more realistic.
I talked about three books before. They are all science fiction, but they are different in content. Can you guess them? The first is a novel, Bradbury’s masterpiece. The second is a compilation of short stories in which the stories are told from a man’s illustrations. The third is a compilation, too, but this time science fiction and fantasy are together. Here are the answers. The first one is Fahrenheit 451. It’s about a fireman named Montag whose job is to start fires instead of stopping. In Montag’s world, houses are fireproof and books are forbidden, so they need firemen to burn houses with books. They live in a futuristic world and people spend their time watching TV all the day. They never read books and their only option is to watch wall sized TVs. Montag wonders what’s written in the books and instead of burning them, he brings them home. He starts to read books and he reads more and more. He realizes how empty their futuristic life is. Later, he’s forced to burn his own house. He runs away from the city. Outside the city, there is a small community where book people live. In this community, people are away from technology and every person has at least one book memorized. This novel is considered as Bradbury’s best science fiction and one of the American classics. The second book is The Illustrated Man. The storyteller meets a man that has illustrations on his back, showing the future. The storyteller tells us stories of the future. At the end, among the illustrations, the storyteller sees himself choked by the Illustrated Man and he runs away. The third book is Long After Midnight. Compared to the other two, this one is a mix of science fiction with fantasy fiction and it’s an example of how fantasy writing affected Bradbury’s science fiction writing. Long After Midnight even includes realist fiction stories.
Using similar symbols in every writing, Bradbury usually gives the reader the same message. He fears that a mechanized world would not be good for people and warns them by giving examples from the future. These examples are all different, but they have the same symbols and themes. Although Bradbury is not against development in science, the bad part of the future is shown in most of his stories. This is why he is called as a “anti-science fiction writer.” However, there are some exceptions like “I Sing the Body Electric” in which a robot maid becomes the mother of three children. Robots and rockets are the most common symbols in his writing. He sees robots and rockets as “extensions of our souls. ” He also mentions souls a lot and this makes his writing more related with religion. Bradbury’s most known stories were written around 50s, while the world is recovering from the World War II. I think that in Bradbury’s writing, there are some effects of this. After seeing how high-tech weapons destroy everything, Bradbury becomes afraid of the technological development as another war could end the world. In his stories which takes place outside of Earth, he usually uses planet Mars. In Roman culture, Mars is the god of war and this can be related with the World War II thing described above. Here are some specific examples from the books mentioned above. What was our first book? Fahrenheit 451. Let us start with its title. 451OF is the temperature at which papers (actually, books) start to burn. From the title, we see that the main symbols of this book are probably fire and paper (or books, whatever). The book starts with the heavy image of burning books with fire. “It was a pleasure to burn. It was a special pleasure to see things eaten, to see things blackened and changed. ” At the end, we see the fire image again, but this time, it is a friendly campfire image . These two fire images can also be related with the Phoenix, which is an important symbol in Fahrenheit 451. The Phoenix is the bird that burns itself and regenerates itself from its ashes. Bradbury believes that people can burn themselves (as they burn books), but they will regenerate themselves from the leftovers like the aftermath of a war. In addition to this, Bradbury uses the firemen in an opposite way to create an irony and it works very well. Instead of extinguishing fires, firemen burn houses which have books inside. Fahrenheit 451 is a bit different from Bradbury’s other science fiction works. It has the effect of World War II and it shows Bradbury’s anger to censors. The story takes place in the future, there are parlor walls (wall sized TVs), fireproof houses and such, but it is not like the others. It is more realistic and unlike the others, there is more chance for this to occur in the future. As far as I know, there’s only one short story named “The Pedestrian” which takes place in the world of Fahrenheit 451. In the story, a man is arrested just because he walked outside at night. The Illustrated Man will be the most detailed one, because the stories inside have the typical Bradbury symbols such as robots and rockets as told above. There are different stories, but they are all similar. The Illustrated Man has the best examples for showing the theme of danger of technologic development. Let me mention the stories, which have this theme. Actually, all the stories have the same theme, but in some of the stories, this theme is simpler and clearer. In the first story, “The Veldt,” two children kill their parents just because the parents don’t allow the children to go into the nursery, which is a room in which, virtual worlds are created. The parents are killed by the wild animals, which became real in the nursery. In addition, in “The Veldt,” the nursery is a symbol. Normally nurseries are to look after children or protect them. In this story, the nursery protects the children, too, but in a different way. “Marionettes, Inc.” is another story like this. In this one, a man buys his clone as a robot to get rid of his wife and to be free, but the robot gets angry because of being shut in a box by the man. After a while, it gets out of the box, takes the real man puts him in that box. Then the robot starts a completely new life with the man’s life. Although “The City” has a different plot, it gives the same message. Many years ago, the habitants of a planet lost a war and to take revenge, they program a city which changes the people to “golden bombs of disease culture ” and a spaceship crew returns to the Earth as they are modified by the city. In these three stories, Bradbury talks about the harmfulness of the technologic development. “The Veldt” is considered as Bradbury’s masterpiece on this theme . In “The Rocket Man,” we see the story of a man who has a family, which he can’t see because of rocket journeys. He tells his son that, “Don’t ever be a rocket man, because when you’re out there, you want to be here, and when you’re here, you want to be out there .” “No Particular Night or Morning” is another example showing the bad side of space travel. In this story, a man named Hitchcock tries to escape mentally from a space journey. For a long time, he hasn’t seen the Earth and he is going mad. This another bad thing can happen in the future of scientific development. In “The Fox and the Forest, ” we see two people running away from a war by travelling to the past and the people in the future sends a large search party after them. With this story, Bradbury says that there may be a big war in the future and even a single man’s workforce will be very important. Long After Midnight will be the last book to talk about and it will have less examples than the others will, because it is not completely science fiction. One of the good examples is “G.B.S-Mark V.” In this story, a man traveling in a rocket chats with the robot of Bernard Shaw. They talk about human and it becomes a philosophical talk. In here, Shaw’s robot is a duplicate of Shaw himself, “extension of his soul.” In “Punishment Without Crime,” a man is arrested because of killing a robot of his wife. This story talks about what kind of problems people can have in a world of robots. It is just like “Marionettes, Inc.” In “Forever and the Earth,” Bradbury talks about the same theme, but from another point of view. He thinks that, after a point, scientific development will come to an end and science fiction will not be a popular genre. The theme is simpler, but it creates an interesting story about which you will see more in the next section. The last story is “The Messiah.” This is a story in which a martian appears like Christ to a priest from a martian missionary group. This is a good example of Bradbury’s “search for a new image of God. ”
When you read Bradbury’s science fiction repeatedly, you see the same pattern occurring almost in every story. As I said at the very beginning, Bradbury combines the future and the past. Then he adds his emotions and sometimes some fantasy. This thing makes his writing “non-scientific.” Moreover, this creates an ironic style in his writing. Critics argue on his style. Should Bradbury be considered as a science fiction writer? Let us see this argument in depth by analyzing Bradbury’s writing. Fahrenheit 451 is a good example of this. As you know, the story takes place in the future, but the world is not as fututristic as The Illustrated Man. Bradbury has the job of firemen reversed instead of creating a new job. In this way, he combines the future with the past and he creates an irony. In Fahrenheit 451, people use sleeping pills to sleep and this is not a futuristic solution. By writing this novel, Bradbury’s aim is to show what can happen if books are banned in today’s world, not the future, although it does not seem like that. The Illustrated Man is more futuristic and the style is recognized less in the stories. However, there’s still some, of course. As I said above, in the “The Veldt,” we see the job of a nursery changed. This change is different from the change in firemen in Fahrenheit 451, but it’s the same style. To create an irony, Bradbury makes old things futuristic by changing their jobs. “The Exiles” is a very strange story. In this story, old books are forbidden and a group is going to Mars to explore there. For this journey, the captain takes the last copies of these forbidden old books such as Tales of Mystery and Imagination, Dracula, Alice in Wonderland, etc. At this moment, the people on the Mars are talking about this space crew coming to Mars. In the spaceship, they start to burn books and as they burn the books, one of the people dies on Mars. The names of the martians are Mr. Edgar Allan Poe, Mr Dickens, Mr. William Shakespeare, etc. Before approaching Mars, the books in the spaceship were all burned and when they arrive at Mars, they can’t find anybody. The story looks silly, but it is not. In the story, you are not told how the authors live on Mars, but you learn that authors live with their books. Bradbury tries to give this message through the whole story by using the authors of the past and Mars travelling of the future. Again, the same style. In some other stories, he uses ‘frightening’ and ‘vivid’ descriptions that make the reader to get the story’s atmosphere. These stories are “Kaleidoscope,” which is about a space crew who are thrown into space by a meteor crash and “The Long Rain,” in which a space crew falls to Venus and tries to survive from Venus’ non-stop rain. Here are some examples of these descriptions. In “Kaleidoscope,” the space crew is thrown “like a dozen wriggling silverfish ” and calling each other like “lost children on a cold night .” In “The Long Rain,” the men became “as white as mushrooms ” and they see a river “boiled out of the earth, suddenly, like a mortal wound.” There are more to tell, but they are very long. The last book is Long After Midnight. In Long After Midnight, we see Bradbury talking about some authors who are probably his favorite authors. There are two stories like this. One is “G.B.S-Mark V.” A man is talking with the robot of Bernard Shaw. In “Forever and the Earth,” an author brings Thomas Wolfe from 1938 to 2257. In 2257, people are not interested in science fiction anymore, because everything that can be told in science fiction became real. That is why Wolfe is brought to their time. He writes a perfect story by using the style of the past and the wonders of the future. In these stories, the main characters are from the past and Bradbury brings them to the future somehow.
As you see, Bradbury uses the same theme and style more and more in his science fiction. There can be different reasons for this. Especially, Bradbury’s fear of technological development turning into an evil can clearly be seen. Bradbury combines the future and the past to create ironical stories, which warn us about the future. You can also ask, “What about the fantasy fiction and Green Town (“Bradbury’s fictional re-creation of his own home town of Waukegan, Illinois .”), but these topics are large enough to create another project. I hope this text was not boring for you to read.
Bradbury, Ray. Fahrenheit 451. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1993.
Bradbury, Ray. Long After Midnight. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1985.
Bradbury, Ray. The Illustrated Man. New York: Bantam Books, 1967.
Mogen, David. Ray Bradbury. Boston: Twayne Publishers, 1986.
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Umland, Samuel J. Cilffs Notes on Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451. Lincoln: Cliffs Notes, 1995.