I picked up Fahrenheit 451 at fifteen years old during one of my many summer trips to the neighborhood library. It was the first book I read that summer, and I still cannot say why my hands grabbed that ratty paperback. Perhaps I had heard of it before, listed with the likes of other childhood favorites, Animal Farm or Brave New World. Or maybe I was drawn to the title which seemed appropriate to read during a stifling Houston June. Whatever the case, I kept that book for over a month after I finished it (racking up a whopping three dollar late fee). Though I was done with the book, I couldn’t convince myself that it was time for the book to end.
I heard of Ray Bradbury’s passing on the radio last Tuesday on my way home from the Inprint office. And several times this weekend, I thought about him and his work and the work of science fiction as a whole. I once took a workshop in which the professor would not allow students to bring in science fiction short stories, arguing something like “that work belongs in a genre specific workshop.” But since that workshop, I’ve come to love several works of science fiction—Atwood, Miéville, Lethem—and can’t see why my professor outlawed the genre. Good sci-fi should be labeled as nothing less than good literature, not pushed aside like an all-too-nerdy, obnoxiously-intelligent little brother.
But what makes a good sci-fi?
My first thought is of how the genre uses the uncanny—which literally means something beyond one’s home or ken. The world created in sci-fi is both familiar and unfamiliar, a source of comfort and fear. We feel close to these worlds and yet terribly alienated from them. This alienation, separation, provides an important scope with which to read the novel. I have found that good sci-fi allows me to view my own world from a distance, to see its loveliness and flaws. Any further away and I would never relate. Any closer and I would miss it entirely.
This is the realm in which Bradbury’s work exists. These are books which look at the best and the worst in us and our world. Most importantly, these are books which celebrate endings. He writes in a time in which things have changed. And by doing this, he reminds us to look at the way we are now, fight to keep the things we love, and allow the things that should change to end.
A recent issue of The New Yorker published an essay by Bradbury entitled “Take Me Home.” He begins with a story about his first encounters with science fiction. He writes, “[reading sci-fi] was one frenzy after one elation after one enthusiasm after one hysteria after another. I was always yelling and running somewhere, because I was afraid life was going to be over that very afternoon.”
He writes, “[reading sci-fi] was one frenzy after one elation after one enthusiasm after one hysteria after another. I was always yelling and running somewhere, because I was afraid life was going to be over that very afternoon.”
And so—thank you, Mr. Bradbury. We celebrate you in your end for being an author who looks at the end, who asks us time and time again to be enthused, elated, frenzied, who never fails to send us “running somewhere.”