5) Fahrenheit 451, by Ray Bradbury
Having read Asimov a few days back, I thought I would continue picking through the chronology of Hugo winners that a) I haven’t yet written about on-line and b) are on my shelves. It is therefore entirely by coincidence that I read this just after George Soros’ book, which has extraordinary resonances with Bradbury’s chilling vision of a future America addicted to interactive yet completely brainless television shows, fighting pointless yet very violent and highy visible wars, and rejecting intellectualism as a crime against the state; where firemen are the burners of books, not the savers of lives.
“Is it true that long ago firemen put fires out instead of going to start them?”
“No. Houses have always been fireproof, take my word for it.”
“Strange. I heard once that a long time ago houses used to burn by accident and they needed firemen to stop the flames.”
Bradbury’s brilliance is that once you swallow the (rather huge) premise, the plot works very well as a thriller. Montag is the classical sfnal hero rebelling against all he has been taught (and what a great role model – to rebel in favour of reading great literature!), and at every turn the bad guys, his own former comrades, seem about to catch up with him. The character of Clarisse, at the very beginning, is interesting too – partly that it is rather neat to put a teenage girl as the person who opens the central character’s eyes, partly also because her ambigous demise sets the tone for much of what is to follow. (I take it that we are meant to understand that her uncle is the protagonist of Bradbury’s short story, “The Pedestrian”.) But Beatty, the fire captain, is also a more interesting character than I had remembered as well – Montag’s flash of revelation (after murdering him of course) is that his boss “actually wanted to die“, that his own belief in the burning of books was in the end not strong enough to sustain him.
Anyway, a great book, well worth the re-read.