Friday, June 08, 2012
Editorial: Living life at the top of his voice
Bradbury was the last of an influential generation of science fiction writers.
From the RoundTable blog
Read the latest entries
Some of Ray Bradbury's books are still being taught in classrooms, though science has expanded into places that in mid-20th century, when he came on the literary scene, could be visited only through the imaginations of science fiction writers like him.
If "The Martian Chronicles" remains relevant today to students able to watch NASA videos from rovers roaming the surface of Mars, it is because Bradbury's futuristic imaginings are less about science than the nature of human beings, the species that most fascinated him.
No matter if robots have shown Earthlings a red planet devoid of any signs of an ancient civilization of Martians. Bradbury's collection of short stories is less about Mars or scientific facts than his ambivalence about scientific discoveries in the aftermath of World War II and the unleashing of the atomic bomb. He tells tales of destruction wrought by advances in technology, and the surviving hope of people who have a second chance to achieve a just society. The thought that, one day, we will get it right is cause at least to try.
Bradbury died Tuesday at age 91, the last of a generation of science fiction writers — Isaac Asimov, Arthur C. Clarke, Robert A. Heinlein — who brought the genre into the cultural mainstream and opened people's eyes to the wonders science can reveal and the moral conflicts it can create.
Bradbury's critics complained his fiction strayed too far from scientific fact, but if his works live on it will be because of larger truths that humans will continue to ponder. His obituary in The New York Times notes that he "referred to himself as an 'idea writer.' ... I have fun with ideas; I play with them."
His best-known novel, "Fahrenheit 451," is the story of a "fireman" in an imagined America of the then not-distant future whose job was to burn books — a cautionary tale against government oppression.
Bradbury's warning against book burning was his most important legacy. "On the tombstone he ordered a few years ago," The Wall Street Journal reports, "the epitaph reads: 'Author of Fahrenheit 451.'" It is enough to ensure his place on the shelf for future generations.