I first saw the film version of Fahrenheit 451, which was curiously the subject of my previous post written a week before today’s bad news, in the early 90s on a Turkish network. I must have been 13-14 years old.
Wholly uncharacteristically sandwiched in between less intellectually stimulating (Yet good in their own way) films Car Wash and Saturday Night Fever, it was a revelation for me.
Who knew that science-fiction could be informative, thought provoking, and even critical of our current society? All I’ve known until then was watching the original Star Wars trilogy over and over again. I once was witness to my dad and his friends watching 2001 when I was 6-7 years old but of course it was way over my head (Still is in many ways, that’s why I love it so).
I remember watching the film with my dad, who has passed away for over ten years now, alongside his commentary about the story’s origins and subtext. He said it was adapted by a writer named Ray Bradbury and was considered to be one of the best novels ever written. He didn’t say one of the best sci-fi novels, but one of the best novels, period. For some reason, watching this movie is one of the most enduring memories I have about my dad.
Soon after I watched the film, I sought out to find the book. I could buy the Turkish translation from many book stores, of course, but I wanted to read the original text, in English. Even though I was studying French at the time, I was trying really hard to improve upon the English I learned from grade school as an act of defiance against bettering my hold on French, a pompous language I hate even today.
So after months of searching, I scored a copy of Fahrenheit 451 for about five times the price of a regular book in Turkish. It wasn’t as thick as I thought it would be. I immediately went home and read the foreword by Ray Bradbury, whose recounting of the book’s adventure in being published was almost as interesting as the book itself. Especially finding out that Playboy, a magazine I used to nick from dad and constantly work on sticking the pages together, was essential in publishing one of the best novels ever written left me flabbergasted.
In many ways, Fahrenheit 451 became my doorway into adult and intelligent science-fiction that not only delivered entertaining and imaginative stories about future worlds, but managed to satirize our current world much more bitterly than a “legitimate” novel ever could. Being a huge science-fiction fan did curse me to spend high school and college pretty much dateless, but I can’t blame Mr. Bradbury for that.
Along the way while eating up as much Philip K. Dick, Isaac Asimov, Arthur C. Clarke, Harlan Ellison etc… as I could, I always made sure to check back with Ray Bradbury with such short story compilation classics like The Martian Chronicles and The Illustrated Man, which are still some of my favorite books.
I remember a story in The Illustrated Man that I still find to be very moving. It’s a very short story about two astronauts who drift away from each other in space after their ship explodes. It basically captures their last conversation before their radio becomes off-range, the last conversation each of them will ever have with another human being before they die.
It still remains to me one of the most honest and touching depictions of the precious moments before death. The story is called Kaleidoscope.
Sadly, Ray Bradbury died this morning at the age of 91. After the passing of Dick, Asimov, Clarke and now Bradbury, who do we have left? Harlan Ellison frothing at the mouth and Neil Gaiman’s fantasy musings? He will be missed for sure.