Reviews by Evelyn C. Leeper

Reviews by Evelyn C. Leeper

All reviews copyright 1984-2014 Evelyn C. Leeper.


FAHRENHEIT 451 by Ray Bradbury:

[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 03/28/2003]

We just recently heard a radio dramatization of Ray Bradbury's FAHRENHEIT 451 from the BBC and I was wondering how accurate it (or the movie) were to the book. The answer is, sort of. For example, in the movie, everything is done with sound or pictures, with no writing, even in people's personnel files. The implication is that no one can read any more. But this doesn't make any sense when you consider that Montag makes off with books and reads them, and it isn't stated or implied in the book. The radio version has a lot of emphasis on children's nursery rhymes--in the book there is poetry, but on a much higher level. There is also more of Bradbury's story "The Pedestrian" in the radio version than in the book, though there is some even there. The ending of the radio version is more accurate to the ending of the book (though I don't think the basic idea of how to save books holds up. The idea that people memorize books and then destroy the physical copies rather than burying them somewhere seems just plain foolish. Bradbury also seems to want to declare with a wave of his hand that people have photographic memories and could relatively easily memorize whole books, but I don't think that's the case. However, one point worth noting is that Bradbury specifically says the problem is not that radio and television are inherently worse media than the book, but that their nature as mass media makes it more likely that one will find a degraded level of discourse in them.

[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 06/18/2004]

Ray Bradbury's FAHRENHEIT 451 (ISBN 0-345-34296-8), unlike many "topical" books, is still a classic worth reading. The premise might be unlikely, but then so is the premise of (for example) THE SPACE MERCHANTS. The whole idea of speculative fiction is to accept the one premise and see where it leads. (I think it owes a lot to GULLIVER'S TRAVELS, another book full of unlikely premises.) If you've only seen the movie and not read the book--and what does that in itself say?--you should be aware that the book is richer in detail, less dedicated to a happy ending, and contains an entire sub-plot about how governments making war wage the propaganda battle at home that is as pertinent today as ever.

To order Fahrenheit 451 from amazon.com, click here.


"Hollerbochen's Dilemma" by Ray Bradbury:

[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 06/20/2014]

"Hollerbochen's Dilemma", Ray Bradbury (Imagination!, January 1938; Sam Moskowitz's HORRORS UNSEEN): This was Ray Bradbury's first published story, and at under a thousand words, the shortest story on the ballot. (Indeed, Moskowitz's introduction is over half the length of the story itself.) It is one-third shorter than Kij Johnson's "Ponies", previously the all-time shortest Hugo nominee. At this length, it is "flash fiction" and so short that it can be little more than a gimmick story, but well-done. Whether something this flimsy should win a Hugo is the question, of course. I mean, "The last man on Earth sat alone in a room. There was a knock on the door," is the ultimate catchy flash fiction, but I don't think most people would give it a Hugo either. (Frederic Brown's "Knock", in case you are wondering.)


"Mars Is Heaven! by Ray Bradbury:

[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 07/27/2012]

"Mars Is Heaven!" was published in 1948 (the copyright is by Love Romances Publishing, which makes it sound like it appeared in some romance magazine, but LRP also published PLANET STORIES). It is considered a classic, but I find it very unconvincing, even with the explanation of telepathy and hypnosis. And why do the Martians have an Earth-style funeral for the astronauts when there is no one else to see it or care?.

The story also has a major goof, when Hinkston says, "That's why the town seems so old-fashioned. I don't see a thing, myself, that is older than the year 1927, do you?" He clearly means newer than 1927.

The "Ray Bradbury Theater" episode is problematic, because the time period of the "hometown" has to be shifted forward. The story places its hometown in around 1927; assuming a Mars landing date of 1960, the astronauts would be in their forties. But a television show from around 1990 has to assume a landing date of at least 2000, so if the astronauts are the same age, their hometowns would have to date to 1967. But 1967 was not the idyllic period that 1927 was: the Cold War, civil rights, and the Vietnam War, along with technological advances, made the Bradburian town an anachronism.

To order "Mars Is Heaven" in The Stories of Ray Bradbury, Volume I from amazon.com, click here.


"A Sound of Thunder" by Ray Bradbury:

[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 07/27/2012]

"A Sound of Thunder" was published in 1952 in COLLIER'S. For those unfamiliar with it, COLLIER'S was a magazine with the literary stature perhaps not quite of that of THE NEW YORKER or THE ATLANTIC MONTHLY, but more respected than the pulps, and evidence that Bradbury's science fiction had achieved respectability in the same way that Michael Chabon's has today. (Mark compared it to the SATURDAY EVENING POST, but since that magazine is also defunct, as a comparison it is not very useful.) This is undoubtedly one of Bradbury's best-known stories, even among people who can remember neither the title nor the author, so I am not going to spend time recounting the plot However, in a recent discussion on "Writing Excuses" about time travel someone claimed that the change put a Communist into office, but I had always read it as a Fascist, probably because he was named Deutscher. Certainly the description of him as "a militarist, anti-Christ, anti-human, anti-intellectual" allows for either interpretation. (It is telling that it seemed perfectly reasonable to write that Deutscher was "anti-Christ" (meaning anti-Christian, not the Anti-Christ), implicitly assuming that there were not many non-Christians in the population. If the sentence were being written today, it would probably be written as "anti-God", although one person in the discussion group pointed out that today being pro-Christ would be considered the more reactionary position.)

In the "Ray Bradbury Theater" episode, written by Bradbury, "Tyme Sefari"'s employees are all dressed in uniforms with styling and color reminiscent of Nazi Germany, complete with armbands. This indicates to me that Bradbury probably saw Deutscher as Fascist rather than Communist.

Oh, and the term "butterfly effect" in chaos theory was almost definitely inspired by the Bradbury story. When Edward Lorenz first presented the theory in 1963 he used the flap of a seagull's wings as his example, but colleagues suggested changing it to a butterfly's wings. Surely some of them had read the Bradbury (and of course, it emphasizes just how little variation of initial conditions is needed).

To order "A Sound of Thunder" in The Stories of Ray Bradbury, Volume I from amazon.com, click here.


"The Murderer" by Ray Bradbury:

[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 07/27/2012]

"The Murderer" was published in 1953 in THE GOLDEN APPLES OF THE SUN. This story seems more in the style of Frederik Pohl, C. M. Kornbluth, or even Philip K. Dick than Bradbury. It also may be the most topical of the three stories. While the music pollution Bradbury predicts has been somewhat ameliorated by the ubiquitous use of earphones, it is still the case that every restaurant, supermarket line, and waiting room has a television and/or a sound system going. (Yes, I have been in restaurants that have both: televisions with the sound turned off and music over the sound system.) And when it comes to cell phones, Bradbury is spot on. Bradbury predicted that they would fill the world with sound pollution; they have. Bradbury predicted that they would create a situation where people would freak out if someone was unreachable for more than five minutes; they have done that too.

The "Ray Bradbury Theater" captured all this, making dramatic use of the technological advances in the intervening forty years that made Bradbury's story even more inevitable. Special credit must go to Stuart French and his sound team for the sound work for this episode.

To order "The Murderer" in The Stories of Ray Bradbury, Volume I from amazon.com, click here.



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