Ray Bradbury, innovator of the sci-fi genre

Ray Bradbury, innovator of the sci-fi genre

Ray Bradbury

Ray Bradbury, born on August 22, 1920 was a reference point for science fiction genre fiction, although his concept of science fiction was slightly different from what we are used to thinking. Sometimes, he did not even consider himself a science fiction author, since he did not believe much in science, but he considered it a pretext to tell stories and to exalt the humanities such as literature and philosophy, which he himself considered immortal and lasting over time.

“First of all, I don't write science fiction. I've only done one science fiction book and this is Fahrenheit 451, based on reality. Science fiction is a representation of the real. Fantasy is a representation of the unreal. So Martian Chronicles is not science fiction, it is fantasy. This is why it will last a long time, because it is a Greek myth and myths have the power to resist. "

Precisely this different conception, however, allowed him to write novels and short stories not necessarily relegated to the science fiction genre, but able to get out of that ecosystem, to become real fixed points in modern literature . These, disconnecting from the purely commercial nature that science fiction novels often have, will be considered real fiction, worthy of even being included in school anthologies.

The first years of life

Bradbury spends the first years of his life in Illinois, in a town called Waukegan (which in his stories he will turn into Green Town), but he is in Los Angeles that will spend most of its existence. He was a great reader and delighted in writing several short stories at a young age: just think that he was so fascinated by the novels of the Barsoom Cycle, in particular by the character of John Carter, written by his favorite author Edgar Rice Burroughs (creator, among the other, by Tarzan), who decided to write his personal sequel at the age of only twelve.

But his life began to change when he discovered the existence of Los Angeles Science Fiction Society, a sort of real circle of science fiction fans, of which he became a member and on whose fanzine, called Immagination! , managed to publish his first short story in 1938, entitled Hollerbochen's Dilemma, the story of an individual able to stop time to escape dangers, which however, when these are too numerous, make it explode.

“Hollerbochen's Dilemma was very badly received and nobody liked it. I also think it was a terrible story ”.

Bradbury said about his early history. However, taking a leap forward in 2014, Hollerbochen's Dilemma will be nominated for the Retro-Hugo Award, a prestigious award given to science fiction, in the category "Best Short Story".

First difficulties and satisfactions

But the very narrative style, almost totally devoid of those characteristic elements that permeated the science fiction of those years, closed many doors to him, since what the specialized and sector magazines were looking for was something completely different from the stories that Bradbury wrote, so much so that he was even forced to create his own fanzine from scratch, called Futuria Fantasia, in which to publish his stories.

It will only be starting from the 1940s that Bradbury will be able to get published also in real professional magazines; furthermore, due to his failure to join the US Army due to his poor eyesight, he managed to become a full-time writer, devoting almost all of his days to writing and creating his short stories.

Il the first of these, also considered the first real "professional" piece, is entitled Pendulum, co-written with Henry Hasse and published in the magazine Super Science Stories in 1941.

“I was light years away from writing my first good story, but I already saw my future. I knew the path I wanted to choose. "

The Martian Chronicles

Towards the end of the 1950s, Bradbury published, in addition to Super Science Stories, several short stories in a series of specialized magazines such as Thrilling Wonder Storiers, Planet Stories and The Arkham Sampler, all with one common thread: the colonization of Mars by the terrestrials.

Each story is self-conclusive, but they are all placed within a large frame narrative: the conquest and colonization of the red planet. However, although at first reading it seems like a sort of "celebration" of the men who conquer space, in reality it is a real metaphor and critique of what was the colonization of America by the founding fathers, with the consequent extermination of the Native Americans (who in the work are "impersonated" by the Martians).

Later, all the stories were collected in what is considered one of the best works of the author: The Marzian Chronicles e, which from 1950 onwards will allow Bradbury to make itself known to international audiences, both science fiction and non-science fiction fans.

The consecration with Fahrenheit 451

But the definitive consecration as a writer for Bradbury will come in 1953, when his most famous novel will be published: Fahrenheit 451 (also known in Italy as The Years of the Phoenix), considered by many to be like Orwell's 1984 and Huxley's New World .

The title chosen by the author for the novel refers to what, at least according to Bradbury, should be the ignition temperature of the classic paper, at the pressure corresponding to 1 atmosphere. In reality, this depends on many factors, in particular on the thickness of the paper itself: an example is newsprint which lights up at 185 degrees centigrade, as opposed to letterhead paper which undergoes the same phenomenon at 360 degrees.

The book was born as a sort of extension of another short story by Bradbury, entitled The Fireman, and tells the story of Guy Montag, a man who works in the fire brigade, who, however, in the future dystopian in which we find ourselves, does not put out fires, but sets them. In fact, there is a law that prohibits every individual from reading any book, under penalty of burning his own home, together with all the paper material placed inside it. Obviously, our protagonist will have the opportunity to repent of this distorted view of the world, putting himself against the law and against his own commander.

As we said earlier, Bradbury was a great reader, so much so that after finishing his studies he began to study on his own, locking himself up in local libraries. It is not surprising, therefore, his passion for books and love for them; just think that, in the last years of his life, he strongly opposed the publication in ebook format of his works. Within Fahrenheit 451 we have, in fact, a strong allegory with what was the burning of a large amount of books during the Fascist period, as well as with the various cultural repressions put in place by the various totalitarian regimes, in which many writers came persecuted and killed.

Several years later, more precisely in 1966, the book obtained a film adaptation, directed by François Truffaut, intended for the market and international distribution, in a production that had a very high budget and which will also reach us in Italy in 1971, enjoying some success with the public.

The Twilight Zone and other television companies

Bradbury's fame as a writer soon became very vast, so much so as to get him several engagements as a screenwriter for various television and film productions, such as the one for the transposition of Herman Melville's Moby Dick novel, The White Whale.

Worthy of note is his collaboration in the science fiction series The Twilight Zone (known to us as At the Borders of Reality), for which he signed the hundredth episode, entitled “I sing the electric body "(title, among other things, of a poem by Walt Whitman), taken from a short story, present in the collection of the same name.

In an interview with Sam Weller, Bradbury told about meeting with the author of the series Rod Serling, a year before the premiere of The Twilight Zone, and his "request for help" for the writing of a series with which "he did not know where to end up":

“I said to him, 'Come home with me now and I will give you books that will help you.' I gave him copies of books by Richard Matheson, Charles Beaumont, John Collier and Roald Dahl. And then I told him again: 'Now you have a complete idea of ​​how your show should be. Buy some of these stories or hire these authors to work for you, because you can't do it all by yourself. ' "

Later, Bradbury said he was annoyed by what Serling did for the series, because, according to him, he was based too much on those stories, so much so that it almost seemed like a real plagiarism:

“He was unconsciously aggressive. He unknowingly plagiarized. "

Modern influences

With his stories, Ray Bradbury has inevitably influenced several works of modern Pop Culture (especially as regards Fahrenheit 451), from films, to TV series, to other literary works. Here are some tributes and quotes from various media, as well as dedications to the same author:

the landing area of ​​the Curiosity probe on Mars is named Bradbury Landing, in honor of the American writer; The Mnemone is a short story by Robert Sheckley, inspired by Fahrenheit 451, in which all books are forbidden, so a man with mnemonic consciousness will decide to memorize as much as possible to pass them on orally; on Topolino, there is a parody called Papercelsius 154, in which music is forbidden; the title of Robert Calvert's symphonic poem, Centigrade 232, alludes to Fahrenheit 451 for its metric equivalent, "meaning that the writer is destroying his drafts"; the 2002 film Equilibrium has many similarities with Fahrenheit 451: the various book fires, the protagonist being part of a sort of militia, his redemption, while in the film it is emotions that are forbidden, instead of books.

If you want to read the work of Ray Bradbury Fahrenheit 451, you can buy it by clicking on this link.

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