Reacquainting With A Sci-Fi Genius

I was ecstatic to find so many Ray Bradbury and science fiction fans just itching to come out of hiding and play.

I have, since writing that column, re-read Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451.

I’m happy to say I enjoyed it immensely. The plot wasn’t new and shocking to me as it was when I first read it decades ago, and the story’s been done again and again with varying degrees of success since then.

In fact, if you can, try to catch The Book of Eli, a movie that is on rotation on cable now. It’s a pretty good riff on the theme of a post-apocalyptic world that has all but eradicated books and the ideas within them.

But back to Fahrenheit.

In Bradbury’s world, the citizens are kept complacent and malleable, not by brutal force, but with the seductive, hypnotic kiss of technology.

For example, tiny shell-like devices in their ears pump music into their minds, distracting them from thoughts that might turn dangerous or rebellious.

Devices in homes create walls of virtual existence where fantasies play out around them, complete with imaginary characters that are more real to them than the actual people in their lives.

Ponder that the next time you pop in earbuds and turn up the music loud. Remember that virtual world when you sit entranced in front of your big screen, surrounded by a wall of sound and watching “reality TV.”

Some of my readers pointed out other examples.

Bill Schroeder wrote: “Like you, I grew up reading the same classics (I’m 52) and over the years I’ve come to discover that science fiction has become science fact, it is indeed a Brave New World we live in. Today’s (June 16) Honolulu Star-Advertiser has a small article about a young girl who had a vein grown for her. This was a theme in some of Robert Heinlein’s works about the Elder, where regeneration and keeping cloned bodies on hand for spare parts was a social norm.

“I also remember one book from the late ’60s where you could take your ID disk, put it into the slot, key in your special number and get all your financial information, ATMs were introduced in the late ’70s or early ’80s. I remember the first one I saw while stationed in Norfolk, Va., and that book came to mind.”

A friend, George Willoughby, wrote: “I’m sure you’ll enjoy Fahrenheit 451 again, I just wish you had bought the hard copy so I could borrow it when you are pau! By coincidence, on a whim a few weeks ago I bought a copy of Stranger in a Strange Land and am halfway through it. I can happily report that, yes, although it’s clearly 1960s fiction, it reads even better now than when I was a kid.”

But another reader, Joseph Colagreco, asked, “I wonder, would someone younger than us think the same?? I now am 62. I wonder if it’s a generational thing only.”

Is it? Are there any young readers out there – teens, 20s, even 30s – who have read and enjoy the books of Bradbury, Heinlein, Asimov and Clarke? Who have even heard of them? Or are those books too dated, too retro, too old to satisfy the tastes of modern kids?

Let me know. I’m really curious.

By the way, next on my list: Foundation.