I have never read Ray Bradbury, but after this Slate essay about why he still matters, I’m planning to stop off at the bookstore on the way home, buy some of his stuff, take it home to read with my oldest son. Excerpt:
Science fiction dates as quickly as any genre, and Bradbury is not entirely immune to this. The futuristic rocket ships he wrote about in 1950 look a lot like the first-generation NASA rockets; the music of the future is Rachmaninoff and Duke Ellington; and in the terrifying “Mars is Heaven,” the planet bears an eerie resemblance to Green Bluff, Ill., right down to Victorian houses “covered with scrolls and rococo.” But the reason Bradbury’s stories still sing on the page is that, despite all his humanoid robots, automated houses, and rocket men, his interest is not in future technologies but in people as they live now–and how the proliferation of convenient technology alters the way we think and the way we treat each other.
This is especially vivid in “The Murderer,” in which a man is locked in an insane asylum for destroying “machines that yak-yak-yak.” “If you’re wondering why it’s so quiet here,” the madman tells his psychiatrist, “I just kicked the radio to death.” The story, as might be expected, reveals the patient to be the only sane person in a world indentured to electronic stimuli. But Bradbury’s skill is in evoking exactly how soul-annihilating that world is. After the psychiatrist leaves the madman’s cell, he returns to his office to busy himself with his work. The terminology might be antiquated, but the mania is not:
Three phones rang. A duplicate wrist radio in his desk drawer buzzed like a wounded grasshopper. The intercom flashed a pink light and click-clicked. Three phones rang. The drawer buzzed. … The psychiatrist, humming quietly, fitted the new wrist radio to his wrist, flipped the intercom, talked a moment, picked up one telephone, talked, picked up another telephone, talked, picked up the third telephone, talked, touched the wrist-radio button, talked calmly and quietly, his face cool and serene, in the middle of the music and the lights flashing, the phones ringing again …
Hey! I resemble that!