Monday, January 3, 2011

Decades 2010 Challenge: Fahrenheit 451

In contrast to some science fiction books that have aged poorly (case in point), this work remains fresh and astounding. In fact, the publication date of 1953 makes it supremely impressive. It's older than I am, for goodness' sake, and a whole lot more cutting edge.

Guy Montag is a fireman, whose job description has been turned on its head by the government's prohibition of reading material. When a private library is discovered, Guy races to the scene with all the urgency and verve of the firefighter we know today, but for the sole purpose of destroying the books with his kerosene-spewing firehose as quickly and spectacularly as possible. But of course, once Guy learns more about the forbidden books he's dedicated to destroying, and the kind of lives people used to live when anyone could own books and read them, you can see what's likely to happen next . . . .

I found the technological details of this future world extremely convincing and simultaneously terrifying. Being a pedestrian in Guy's world is practically an act of civil disobedience, and the black "beetles" that travel the highways are speedy and anonymous. Guy's wife is numbly devoted to her television parlor "family" and the "seashells" that hum in her ears at all hours, even while she sleeps (can you hear me, reality television and iPod?). Lawbreakers are hunted down and executed on live television by a mechanical Hound that never fails. These details imagined more than 50 years ago are terrifyingly, eerily accurate. At least the Hound isn't real. Yet.

The writing is also first-rate, staccato or lyrical, realistic or impressionistic, simple or complex, with tonal shifts where the action requires them. It has stayed with me even though I finished this book a while ago. Beyond the shimmering prose, however, what makes this novel a classic is the author's power of invention and imagination, still exciting after all these years.

Excerpt:

A great nuzzling gout of fire leapt out to lap at the books and knock them against the wall. He stepped into the bedroom and fired twice and the twin beds went up in a great simmering whisper, with more heat and passion and light than he would have supposed them to contain. He burnt the bedroom walls and the cosmetics chest because he wanted to change everything, the chairs, the tables, and in the dining room the silverware and plastic dishes, everything that showed that he had lived here in this empty house with a strange woman who would forget him tomorrow, who had gone and quite forgotten him already, listing to her Seashell Radio pour in on her and in on her as she rode across town, alone. And as before, it was good to burn, he felt himself gush out in the fire, snatch, rend, rip in half with flame, and put away the senseless problem. If there was no solution, well then now there was no problem, either. Fire was best for everything!

1 comment:

  1. I can't believe I have no read this book! Great review:)

    ReplyDelete

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