Last Tuesday, one of the most prolific and talented writers of speculative fiction died at the age of 91. That writer was Ray Bradbury. I call him an author of speculative fiction because his work can’t be defined strictly along the lines of sci-fi or fantasy or horror or mystery. A lot of the time, his work is very like sci-fi. There are spaceships and aliens and other worlds…but there’s something different. Something almost…dreamlike, something vaguely Gaiman-esque about his tales. Even though he predates Neil Gaiman, they share similar dream-states in their writing where things aren’t always what they seem and never what you would expect.
About a year ago, I was reading a book called Dwellers in the Mirage by A. Merritt and I told a friend:
“For some reason, books from the 1940s and 50s, the ones with the cheap, thin card-like covers and aged-tan pages and that tiny font that looks like Times New Roman but somehow subtly isn’t…they always give me a feeling of dreamlike detachment, like the book is a hallucination, or a flock of cleverly disguised birds about to fly away.”
The book responsible for this impression is my dad’s 1953 copy of Fahrenheit 451. I don’t remember if this was the first Ray Bradbury book I ever read, or if it was just the first one I can remember reading. I know there was a copy of The Martian Chronicles in the house that I read around the same time, but I suppose it doesn’t matter which came first. I think I read Fahrenheit 451 when I was 9 or 10, years before I ended up reading it in middle school for English class. I’ll admit that, at the time, I didn’t understand a lot of the subtly and finesse of the book, but I got the basic idea. Fahrenheit 451 sparked my distrust of authority, public institutions, and the government. The idea that a government would outlaw books and then burn those books along with anyone possessing them terrified me. The idea of outlawing reading was unthinkable! It also sparked my sometimes uncontrollable desire to hoard books, especially old ones, because you never know when they might just “disappear” from record. I am fanatical about having hard copies of everything, thanks to Fahrenheit 451. I still have the same copy I read all those years ago, and every now and then, I’ll flip through the pages and experience the wonder and fear again, as a reminder of the importance of the tangible.