Ray Bradbury’s ‘Fahrenheit 451’: A Cultural Crystal Ball

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Author’s note: This piece first appeared on the now-defunct Yahoo Contributor’s Network.

Ray Bradbury’s “Fahrenheit 451” is celebrated for its condemnation of censorship and groupthink, but Bradbury — a writer who has always been categorized as “science-fiction” over the tonier synonym “speculative fiction” — deserves recognition for that book’s eerie prescience of culture. What he foresaw, from six decades out, is remarkable.

Though Bradbury copyrighted “Fahrenheit 451” in 1953, as described by The Big Read, it was adapted first from a short story called “Bright Phoenix” published in 1947, and then “The Fireman,” which was published in 1950. While increasing numbers of households would get televisions in that decade, at the beginning of the ’50s TVs were new. Yet not only did he foresee them in every household, he foresaw them taking over households: huge, wall-sized televisions. Bradbury imagined ear buds with his seashell radios long before the concept existed. And, in the dreaded Hound, he saw a future of robotics far out of line with the technology of the time.

But those details are prescience of technology, which, though still a neat trick, is not quite as stunning as understanding the evolution of culture if left to its natural course. With a beauty of language also often not given the credit it is due, Bradbury says: “With schools turning out more runners, jumpers, racers, tinkerers, grabbers, snatchers, fliers, and swimmers instead of examiners, critics, knowers, and imaginative creators, the word ‘intellectual,’ of course, became the swear word it deserved to be.” (Del Rey 50th Anniversary Edition, pg. 58).

Bradbury writes of the condensation of thought from book to digest to blurb in a way strangely predictive of Twitter, where all ideas must fit within the constraints of 140 characters. He sees the rise of advertising so incessant it’s nearly ritualistic, and long before the advent of reality TV, he predicted shows that were little more than life itself, with home participants easily joining.

He even wrote about the future of attempts to erase any signs of age, of having lived a life, of a world lacking depth and texture, with his description that sounds predictive of Botox long before people decided injections of neurotoxins were preferable to wrinkles: “So do you see now why books are hated and feared? They show the pores in the face of life. The comfortable people want only wax moon faces, poreless, hairless, expressionless.” (pg. 83).

And then there is that beauty of language that comes from its clarity, from each word in a sentence chosen for both its overt and subtle meanings while still seeing the far-off future from quite a distance. At a time when newspapers were in nearly every home, he said “I remember them dying like huge moths. No one wanted them back. No one missed them.” (emphasis in original; pg. 89)

There are classics that are classics through some sense of tradition, and then there are books that become classics because what they tell us about ourselves is unchanging, unencumbered by movement of culture in the world around us. “Fahrenheit 451” is about so much more than censorship. With amazing insight from more than half-a-century away, it is about the willing relinquishment of critical thinking.

 

Ecuador & Galapagos Day 1: Guayaquil, pt. 1

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One of the iguanas at the Iguana Park in Guayaquil, Ecuador.

After a night in a Fort Lauderdale airport hotel — where I’m pretty sure I saw a “working woman” on her way in, and ate a restaurant attached to a Bass Pro Shop, whoo-hoo! Florida — we boarded a plane to Guayaquil, Ecuador. We flew TAME, an Ecuadorian airline, and already found ourselves in the language minority.

Exciting.

We landed four hours later, over wide farmland, coming in close above winding beige rivers, large houses and their turquoise swimming pools glinting back up at us. With the gentlest of touches, the pilot landed the plane.

We were in Ecuador. Atwitter with nerves and anticipation, I grabbed my ginormous camera backpack from the overhead bin (that thing paid for itself many times over), the other passengers politely giving me berth. As a complete toady to habit, I was already far out of my element. I wasn’t yet sure how it felt.

We breezed through the airport, with everyone switching to English to accommodate as as easily as they smiled, and were met with our transport from the tour company, Pacific Tours. He was a young, tall, floppy kid who brought us outside to feed the koi in the beautifully-landscaped airport grounds as we waited for our van. For $0.10, you can get a handful of pellets, and I aimed for the small fish on the fringes, cheering when the one I threw it to actually devoured it.

The fish. Took this with my cell phone. That's right. In essence I had 3 cameras on me.

The fish. Took this with my cell phone. That’s right. In essence I had 3 cameras on me.

Ecuador is on the U.S. dollar, which made the trip incredibly simple. No conversion math, things just cost what they cost. And then we were off to our hotel, the bus lurching through tight traffic on what felt like a main thoroughfare. With the trill of trumpets, we arrived at our temporary headquaters, The Grand Hotel Guayaquil, a police officer (I think) guarding us from the streaming traffic as we exited the van.

We were greeted by bellmen in uniform, by softly smiling receptionists with perfect English, and by a beautiful tropical scent that filled the gleaming lobby. Our bags were no longer ours to handle, our rooms dispatched with cheerful efficiency, and when I reached mine, I discovered they’d given me a lovely view of the street. I was officially Somewhere Else.

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We didn’t have long before we were to meet our guide, Mario Fuentes of “My Trip to Ecuador,” for our afternoon and evening tour of Guayaquil. We’d found Mario through a site called “Tours by Locals,” and he came highly recommended. He was very responsive during the planning stages, is fluent in English, Spanish and Portuguese, and we were looking forward to learning about his city from him.

Guayaquil is the city with the largest population in Ecuador, and an easy launch point for a trip to the Galapagos. I think we’d thought we’d breeze through, with the Galapagos Islands our main event.

But it was far lovelier than we expected. Mario arrived, punctual and grinning, revealing dimples in each of his cheeks. And we were off. We walked around the corner to the obligatory church, a huge one with gorgeous stained windows that suffered very little damage in the April earthquake. Like Chicago, Guayaquil also had a major fire, so the church was rebuilt in the early 20th century.

Can I tell you the name of the church? I cannot. Churches are not my thing. But, here, have some pictures anyway.

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And on the outside:img_5151

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Yikes, am I right?!

Then it was off to El Parque de Las Iguanas, or, literally, the Iguana Park. Iguanas were everywhere, along with turtles and pigeons. And very excited children. A woman sold ice cream carved off of a block, and a man tried to sell us selfie sticks on our way in and our way out.

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This kid manhandled this huge iguana, and the iguana did. Not. Care.

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Is that a bird? A Plane? Nope. IGUANAS.

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And then we were off to Las Penas. And that’s where our tour took an unexpected turn.

(To be continued…)

In or near Chicago in October? Come see “Me Inside Me Presents: Witch, Please,” on October 1, 8, 22 and 29 at Donny’s Skybox Theater at 7 pm. Tickets available at SecondCity.com.

Check out  my full-length novels,  Her Cousin Much Removed,  The Great Paradox and the Innies and Outies of Time Management and Aunty Ida’s Full-Service Mental Institution (by Invitation Only), and the sequel, Aunty Ida’s Holey Amazing Sleeping Preparation (Not Doctor Recommended) which is now available!

And download Better Living Through GRAVY and Other Oddities, it’s free!

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Let’s Get our Comedy On! It’s Comedy Book Week!

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It’s Comedy Book Week, the brainchild of author Ana Spoke! Who doesn’t love a funny book? (If you love a funny book, I’ve got several right at the bottom of this post, and yes, that was a hard plug. I’m only about 5/8ths sorry).

So this Friday, I will be participating in a Q&A on Facebook. Uh-huh, that Facebook, the one I eschew like…someone eschews something s/he really doesn’t like. My brain’s got a case of the Mondays.

Bonus, if you come hang out for the Q&A, you might actually get to see my face. My face face. The front of my head.

There will even be an Aunty Ida giveaway, so if you haven’t read her yet, you could get a chance for free!

Let’s get funny!

(I just made that up. Yes? No? You don’t think the coffee is working for me?)

And check out Ana’s book! Her protagonist’s first name looks very familiar…VERY. FAMILIAR. Personally, I think it’s an excellent choice. Oh, and as of this writing, it’s FREE!

Check out  my full-length novels,  Her Cousin Much Removed,  The Great Paradox and the Innies and Outies of Time Management and Aunty Ida’s Full-Service Mental Institution (by Invitation Only), and the sequel, Aunty Ida’s Holey Amazing Sleeping Preparation (Not Doctor Recommended) which is now available!

And download Better Living Through GRAVY and Other Oddities, it’s free!

 Sign up for my spamless newsletter!

H Time With Her Cousin, Much Removed

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cozy final coverI wasn’t going to do this. I swear, I wasn’t going to, but then somehow fellow A-to-Z Challenge blogger John Davis Frain came across last year’s H post, and it’s Saturday, and I have stuff to do, and the sun is shining for the first time in nearly a week, and I guess what I’m saying here is please enjoy my recycled post. It’s just good for the environment.

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Sorry folks. It had to be done. I know, I know, it’s all kinds of self-promotion-y, but sometimes you just have to do a little horn tooting, break out the old soapbox and wave your carnival cane. A carnival cane is a thing, right?

Anyway, with H we are talking about my cozy mystery, Her Cousin, Much Removedwhich is available for Kindle, and free to read with Kindle Unlimited or Amazon Prime.

What’s that you say, hypothetical reader? I seem to be doing the bulk of the talking? Point taken. Now please let me get on with flogging my wares.

Venetia Shipman only wanted her platter back, the one she lent her sorta cousin, Delenda. But now Delenda’s been murdered, and that’s only the beginning of Venetia’s problems. Yep, Delenda was up to some not-so-great stuff, and Venetia’s the one who’s paying for it.

See? Was that so terrible? What’s that, hypothetical reader? You can’t wait to read Her Cousin, Much Removed? It sounds like a fun, mysterious romp with twists, humor and, of course, platters? Oh, stop, hypothetical reader. You flatter me.

Check out  my full-length novels,  Her Cousin Much Removed,  The Great Paradox and the Innies and Outies of Time Management and Aunty Ida’s Full-Service Mental Institution (by Invitation Only), and the sequel, Aunty Ida’s Holey Amazing Sleeping Preparation (Not Doctor Recommended) which is now available!

Sign up for my spamless newsletter. And download Better Living Through GRAVY and Other Oddities, it’s free!

For F It’s Free!

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Self-promotion alert. Self-promotion alert. Warning. Self-promotion ahead. Delicious, fantastic self-promotion.

Still with me?

Cool.

So I said “free” in the headline, didn’t I? And free it is! If you’ve been enjoying my oddball sense of humor with the A to Z challenge, you can get more of it, conveniently packaged into bite-sized flash-fiction chunks in my my short story collection Better Living Through GRAVY and Other Oddities. Here it is:

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It’s a quick read of fun, humorous weirdness. Kinda like me. Oh, and did I mention it’s free?!

Check out  my full-length novels,  Her Cousin Much Removed,  The Great Paradox and the Innies and Outies of Time Management and Aunty Ida’s Full-Service Mental Institution (by Invitation Only), and the sequel, Aunty Ida’s Holey Amazing Sleeping Preparation (Not Doctor Recommended) which is now available!

Sign up for my spamless newsletter. And download Better Living Through GRAVY and Other Oddities, it’s free!

P is for Promotion (Self)

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I’ve decided to combine my laziness today with the undeniable urge to push my own work. Winning combination, no? No?

OK, fair point.

Nonetheless, today I am going to dangle a little Aunty Ida in front of you, though you might want to make sure you’re wearing your protective brain gear. On account of the likelihood that she wants to get her hands in your noggin.

Probably metaphorically speaking. Probably.

Anyway, in Aunty Ida’s Full-Service Mental Institution (by Invitation Only), Margaret really doesn’t have much of a choice. If she wants to keep her job as a judge after her tiny, minuscule little meltdown live on LawTV, she’s got to let Aunt Ida help her. It doesn’t matter, though, because Margaret knows none of it was her fault. She was set up, and she’s going to prove it.

Here’s the cover:

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Yes, Aunty Ida is weird. Yes, Aunty Ida is a weird book. But don’t we weirdos need a place to hang out, even if it’s only between pixelated pages? See, that’s what I thought.

And so ends our latest self-promotion bulletin. I hope that no sensibilities were injured in the making of this post.

Check out  my full-length novels,  Her Cousin Much Removed,  The Great Paradox and the Innies and Outies of Time Management and Aunty Ida’s Full-Service Mental Institution (by Invitation Only), and the sequel, Aunty Ida’s Holey Amazing Sleeping Preparation (Not Doctor Recommended) which is now available!

Sign up for my spamless newsletter. And download Better Living Through GRAVY and Other Oddities, it’s free!

H is for Her (Cousin, Much Removed)

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Sorry folks. It had to be done. I know, I know, it’s all kinds of self-promotion-y, but sometimes you just have to do a little horn tooting, break out the old soapbox and wave your carnival cane. A carnival cane is a thing, right?

Anyway, with H we are talking about my cozy mystery, Her Cousin, Much Removedwhich is available for Kindle, and free to read with Kindle Unlimited or Amazon Prime.

What’s that you say, hypothetical reader? I seem to be doing the bulk of the talking? Point taken. Now please let me get on with flogging my wares.

Venetia Shipman only wanted her platter back, the one she lent her sorta cousin, Delenda. But now Delenda’s been murdered, and that’s only the beginning of Venetia’s problems. Yep, Delenda was up to some not-so-great stuff, and Venetia’s the one who’s paying for it.

See? Was that so terrible? What’s that, hypothetical reader? You can’t wait to read Her Cousin, Much Removed? It sounds like a fun, mysterious romp with twists, humor and, of course, platters? Oh, stop, hypothetical reader. You flatter me.

Check out  my full-length novels,  Her Cousin Much Removed,  The Great Paradox and the Innies and Outies of Time Management and Aunty Ida’s Full-Service Mental Institution (by Invitation Only), and the sequel, Aunty Ida’s Holey Amazing Sleeping Preparation (Not Doctor Recommended) which is now available!

Sign up for my spamless newsletter. And download Better Living Through GRAVY and Other Oddities, it’s free!