REVIEW SUMMARY: Thought-provoking classic SF


BRIEF SYNOPSIS: In the future, all books are outlawed and burned by firemen.


PROS: Some interesting concepts

CONS: Slow moving at times

BOTTOM LINE: An enjoyable classic. A good read.

Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 is an enjoyable classic of science fiction. According to the publishing notes in the copy I read, a shorter version appeared 3 years earlier than the official 1953 version. At 50 years old, the story may lack some of the punch of more modern stories, but it easily holds its own as a worthwhile read.

The plot depicts a futuristic society where happiness is achieved in shallow waters. Pleasure comes from wall-sized TV screens and meaningless conversation. Thinking is almost sinful and books, the vehicles of new and different ideas, are banned. To accomplish the eradication of these always-useless thoughts, society uses firemen to burn whatever books remain intact. Fahrenheit 451 follows Guy Montag, a fireman who begins to wonder why books are burned after meeting a carefree girl who has the gall to question whether people, and particularly Guy, are really happy. Eventually, Guy begins to rescue (that is, steal) books from the fires.

The story features some interesting elements. First is the portrayal of a mentally stagnant society. It’s hard to read a book about a world where books themselves are outlawed and not wonder what it would be like. Secondly is the foreignness of the idea that firemen start fires with kerosene instead of putting them out with water. This environment evokes a dark mood in the reader (the perfect backdrop for Montag’s loveless marriage). To me, the sign of a good book is when the print it contains can evoke a mood or feeling in the reader, as this one did. Also nicely done was showing the guilt that Guy feels after stealing the books. After all, can it be right if society deems it to be wrong?

There were a few slow points here and there. Maybe the original, shorter version moved faster? Bradbury’s writing style often contains long-winded sentences, on and on they run, staccato sometimes, going on forever, sometimes spewing their ideas in the cold blanket of the night, sometimes lasting longer than a…well…you get the idea. I’ve attempted one other Bradbury story a few years ago – Something Wicked This Way Comes. In that book, I could not get past the forced lyrical prose so I put it down after drudging through 60 pages or so. Fahrenheit 451 was significantly more palatable.

Overall, I would recommend this novel. I think it would even appeal to non-SF fans since it does not contain what non-SF fans usually think SF contains exclusively (spaceships and aliens and robots, oh my!). It’s a good read.

Filed under: Book Review

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