I have been working on this post on and off for a few months now. I could never decide how I wanted to approach it. Should I focus on novels and short story collections? Should I look at the various iterations of Fahrenheit 451? Should I try to do a mix of early stuff and his later works?
I realize that some people are hesitant to read a Bradbury story because of the various genre labels that can be applied to them. They question the quality of the writing, or they are put off because they like to read about things that are “real.” To question Bradbury’s work in this way is misguided. He was, as Neil Gaiman explains, a man that “transcended genre and became a genre of one; often emulated, absolutely inimitable.”
If you are hesitant about trying Bradbury, then I say take it slow. Try him out in small doses or in different formats. See what fits. There’s enough of his work out there that it is safe to say that there is something for everyone. Here (to borrow a phrase used by Margaret Atwood, another author with strong ties to Bradbury) is a Bradbury “tasting menu” for the new or reluctant reader.
First, try a short story or two.
It is one of those stories that was much ahead of its time in terms of the home that he describes. Many of the innovations that he envisioned are now a reality in our homes today. And while it would seem (given that it was written just a few short years after the bomb had been dropped on Hiroshima) that he is making a statement on the dangers of nuclear warfare, there is a valuable lesson to be learned about over-dependence on technology, too. Bradbury draws upon the not-to-distant past to teach the reader a lesson about the future. It’s a lesson that we have yet to learn.
Similar in theme is the story that David Abrams wrote about this morning, “The Veldt.” Again, he demonstrates how technology, in the wrong hands, can have disastrous consequences. I also recommend (from The Martian Chronicles) “Way In in the Middle of the Air.” While Bradbury’s treatment of race in this, and several other stories, is, perhaps, not as enlightened as modern readers would like it to be, he does, at least, tackle many questions that other authors of the time – particularly in the field of science fiction – were reluctant to address.
If that worked out well for you, consider giving him a listen.
The fact that he wrote so many stories on this topic suggests an internal conflict on the part of the author. He, like the captain in the story, understood the urge to protect people, to keep the safe from all the horrors that the world has to offer. Bradbury also understands the power of words. In writing these stories, Bradbury is putting that power to use, telling his reader that he has struggled like they struggle, trying to decide what was best for the greater good of humanity. For him, free access to words and all their wonder always won out. Each of the stories in this collection shows us the danger of taking them away, of making them taboo. Scott Brick does an excellent job of bringing this conflict to life. His voice transports the listener to another era, one in which a young Bradbury was sitting at his typewriter, tapping out those first drafts.
Still not quite ready for Fahrenheit 451? Try the (authorized) graphic novel.
In the introduction, Bradbury recounts his journey in writing the novel, from those first short stories, to the final product. He describes Hamilton’s adaptation as “a pastiche of my former lives, my former fears, my inhibitions, and my strange and mysterious and unrecognized predictions for the future.” The format is well-suited to a new generation of readers, and it succeeds in bringing the story to life in a way that deserves the attention of the readers who came before. The pictures on the page are eerily close to the scenes I had created in my head, and this makes the impact of Bradbury’s words even greater.
Give Ray Bradbury a try. We will miss the man, that is certain. But we don’t have to (nor should we) miss out on his work.