If you had told me about a year ago that Ray Bradbury would become one of my favorite authors, that I would be devouring The Illustrated Man like it was a Whitman’s Sampler, and would look for more of the same, my response would have been something along the lines of “Do you know me?” For years, science fiction interested me not at all. Well, maybe that’s not exactly true: I did rather like The Twilight Zone (the original version with Rod Serling) and when I was assigned to read Jules Verne’s Twenty Thousand Leagues under the Sea in ninth grade, I didn’t dislike the book. But that was as far as my interest in science fiction extended, until I met Ray Bradbury.
In the winter of 2013, I read Fahrenheit 451. By that time, Mr. Bradbury had been dead for well over a year, but he still spoke to me powerfully through that novel, and especially through his essay “Coda” at the end. He said things I had never heard any author say—deep, true things that needed to be said—and in ways that I had never heard anyone speak. Since then, I’ve come to consider him a genius and one of my favorite writers. His stories, and his own words independent of his works, have made a believer out of me when it comes to science fiction. And while technology bores me and I still can’t fathom the vast legendarium that is Star Wars, I now realize how valuable science fiction can be.
It often seems that the craziest people are the ones who make the most sense. Such is the case with the authors of science fiction: their books seem too wild and outlandish to have any bearing on reality when they are actually more real and more true than any one would like to admit. These books are mirrors: they show us both who we are and who we are going to be. But, they do it under a fantastical guise, so as to make to medicine a little easier to swallow. Oscar Wilde once wrote (or at least, people claim that he wrote), “If you want to tell people the truth, make them laugh, otherwise they’ll kill you.” Science fiction authors don’t make their audience laugh, per se, but what is laughter? It’s a response to something unexpected. We humans hate monotony and like to break out of the mundane as much as we can. Science fiction helps us do that, while also giving us a clear, badly-needed reality check. By breaking out of reality, it helps us understand reality better.
So, as we begin another new year, you can be sure I’ll be reading a little more science fiction. Bradbury’s works are certainly high on my list, as well as the Space Trilogy by C. S. Lewis, and maybe even some George Orwell and Aldous Huxley. I can’t wait to see where this goes!