Ray Bradbury’s ‘Metal Book’

I fell in love with Ray Bradbury’s beautiful poetic prose and his sharp psychological and socialogical insight when I picked up Faranheit 451.  Although known as a science fiction writer, it seems to me that the alternate worlds he creates in order to render his discourse and express his love and fear for humanity are predominately settings/landscapes in which to explore his philosophies as another writer might use New York, Africa, a particular historical period. Having said that. science fiction creates the ultimate ‘what if’ scenario that allows writers like Bradbury and Margaret Atwood (who is seen to write both literary and science fiction) to extend the possible scenarios in which characters must grapple with challenging and unique psychological, physical and philosophical conundrums.

Now reading Bradbury’s Martian Chronicles, it is a delight to explore with him a series of scenarios that bring into focus questions about topics including the nature of reality, religious belief, cultural imperialism and self serving biases. Above all it is told convincingly but with a sense of wonder and as I have said with this gorgeous prose, particularly in the opening chapters, the scenes and emotions of which have already made a lasting impression. I’m purposely not discussing the subject matter apart from the fact that the book charts a series of expeditions from Earth to Mars but does it from the viewpoints of both the explorers and explored.

What particularly struck me is that the prose and manner of storytelling is absolutely modern, told in succinct bursts – each a short story in itself but informing the larger whole, the tale of what happened in humanity’s attempt to colonise Mars. But what is also remarkable is the prescience shown by Bradbury in a book that was published 60 years ago, in 1951. True the concerns are human and political ones, ever enduring down the ages and are absolutely relevant today.

But is was a specific prescient detail that stopped me in my tracks in the early pages of the book.  We move through a Martian house to a close up of it’s owner Mr K by himself in his room reading from a metal book. Immediately the Kindle sprang to mind! While the Kindle has E-ink to render it more apparently tactile, this one had ‘raised hieroglyphs over which he brushed his hand, as one might play a harp’. Bradbury goes on to describe that a voice sang stories as the fingers brushed over. Perhaps not an e-reader then but an audio book, extraordinary and other worldly but rooted in the physical. Still the initial impression of the ‘metal book’ displays the extent of Bradbury’s imagination, his prose and intelligence testimony to all the possibilities (both creative and destructive) of humanity.

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6 comments

  1. I have just bought Bradbury’s Something Wicked This Way Comes because I too loved Fahrenheit 451 so much. Now you have made me want to go read The Martian Chronicles again – it’s been so long since I read them first time around. And I’ll be looking out for the metal book.

  2. Oh brilliant, Nettie, great to find another admirer. One thing I forgot to say in the post is that I’m so delighted that he’s been a prolific writer, so much more to enjoy in the future!

  3. I love this book. I also loved the TV series and the soundtrack when I first saw it during the mid 80’s. Your right, Mr K’s metal book is like the Kindle, good analogy to use, I will have to rewatch it on DVD to see if it resembles it, although from what I remember it *does*, both in its literal description and visual portrayal.

    I found the series of stories that made up the Silver Locusts analogous to what happened to the Native Indians after Spain had colonised from 1492 – the same thing happened to the Martians, who all die from chicken pox caused by the infections that the explorers bring.

    Good review.

  4. I’ve never experienced a Bradbury novel that felt modern. His shorts were decidedly polished for broad audiences, but the books always seemed stilted towards his artistic intentions. I should give this a try.

  5. Ray Bradbury seemed to always be there, ready to take me by surprise (ambush). First, aged about 11, I encountered the TV adaptation of The Martian Chronicles, which still haunts me now. Next, aged about 13, it was his short story The Pedestrian, dystopian future police state. Then The Illustrated Man…and later, Fahrenheit 451. Took me years to realise the reason the 1956 (approx) screenplay for John Huston’s adaptation of Moby Dick was so powerful because Ray Bradbury worked on it. His biography is very interesting too. When the actual ereaders came along though, he famously wasn’t a fan, saying they smelled of “burning fuel” and no-one would want to use them (but nobody’s entirely perfect!) (And maybe the first ereader he encountered DID smell like that!)

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