Ray Bradbury is a living legend of futurism, and short of Tolkein and Asimov, probably the most important writer of fantasy and science-fiction in the 20th Century. He’s also a feisty old technophobic grampaw who would rather smash an iPad into pieces with his walking stick than read a book on one. That’s just one reason why Bradbury’s most famous book, Fahrenheit 451, has never been available in e-book form up until now.
The other reason? The novel famously describes a future dystopia in which books are burned on sight by a totalitarian government, and Bradbury has long contented that the power of the premise goes away when you’re reading it on a medium besides paper.
Bradbury’s had to suck up his objections to iPhones and iPads, though. The 91-year-old author has finally lived to see Fahrenheit 451 comes to iBooks and Kindles.
First thing to keep in mind when reading this story is that Bradbury really hates technology. He’s sort of made a name for himself later in life for making bitter tirades against tech, especially smartphones, tablets and e-books.
For example, he has described e-books as “smelling like burned fuel,” which doesn’t even really make sense. He later told the New York Times that e-books were “meaningless” and “not real” and “in the air somewhere,” which isn’t really the sort of accurate description of e-reading technology that you’d expect from one of the greatest futurists of the 20th century.
It really can’t be labored enough how much Bradbury hates machines. In a denture-popping, stick-shaking tirade that would make any comic strip grandpa proud, Bradbury once said: “We have too many cellphones. We’ve got too many internets. We have got to get rid of those machines. We have too many machines now.” GET OFFA MY LAWN, YOU’M KIDS!
In other words, Bradbury has basically spent the last decade saying that his books (and particularly Fahrenheit 451 would never come out as an e-book. Yet if you go to iBooks right now, there it is, sitting pretty. What happened? Well, it was either let them come out as e-books or lose the publishing right.
Apparently, the publishing rights to Farenheit 451 were expiring, but when Bradbury’s agent went to publishers and tried to ink a new deal that left the novel off of iPads, Kindles and iPhones, they all laughed him out of the room. Nobody would publish the book without giving the option of an electronic edition. Eventually, even cantankerous Bradbury had no choice but budge, which is why you can read his most famous novel on your iPad today.
I have a lot of respect for Bradbury, but he’s one of those guys who should really shut his mouth about technology, because it really discredits a lot of his most important work. For example, back in 2007, Bradbury told L.A. Weekly that Fahrenheit 451 wasn’t against government censorship of art, it was just about how television was bad for you, and should be censored by the government. Not hard to imagine how he’d feel about iPads.
What’s so weird about Bradbury’s stance against e-books — and particularly this e-book — is that Fahrenheit 451 has finally been put up for sale in a format that can never be burned or fully eradicated. After all, the burning temperature of an iPhone or iPad is a hell of a lot higher than four hundred and fifty degrees. Perhaps he just doesn’t want to change the title.