Recruiting New Exiles For Mars

Fahrenheit 451

Fahrenheit 451 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Ray Bradbury was ordinary flesh and blood, but he had a magic mind and there were certain similarities between his life and my own. Born in Illinois to a telephone lineman and his Swedish immigrant wife, Bradbury grew up in Tucson and Los Angeles. His corporeal life was mundane, but his intellectual life was quite otherwise, thanks to the eclectic power of the public library. The occasion of the death of this giant of literature this week caused me to look up his page on Wikipedia and I was struck by this remarkable quote of his:

Libraries raised me. I don’t believe in colleges and universities. I believe in libraries because most students don’t have any money. When I graduated from high school, it was during the Depression and we had no money. I couldn’t go to college, so I went to the library three days a week for 10 years.

He was an autodidact, a person who was a self-taught learning addict, and as such he joins in my memory other of my literary heroes like William Manchester, Winston Churchill, Jack London and Joseph Conrad. It was in the library at UCLA that Bradbury wrote on a rented typewriter the novel that would become Fahrenheit 451, the novel that would make him famous.

Like the immortal Isaac Asimov, Bradbury was a compulsive writer, having committed to writing something every day of his life beginning as a teenager! The New York Times obituary called him “the writer most responsible for bringing modern science fiction into the literary mainstream”, something that he would dispute. Except for Fahrenheit 451, he said that he wrote fantasy.  Now I imagine him a new resident exile on the Mars of his imagination, alongside his literary mentor Poe and all the others.

In my own literary adventures as a kid exploring the Andrew Carnegie library in a small mid-western town, a place redolent of dust, glue and adventure like no other in my memory, I found that Bradbury’s works contained enough elements of science and imagination to make me a solid fan. His and other works of speculative fiction were part and parcel of a magical world that was almost too good to be true, building on the new realities of atomic fission and


burgeoning technology. There were not only anthologies of science fiction stories, but novels, novellas, and perhaps most interesting of all, pulp magazines, covers emblazoned with sexy babes and bug-eyed monsters. The literature within those covers was, Astoundingly (pun intended), of generally high technical as well as literary quality due to the fact that many of the authors in this Golden Age were real scientists and engineers who knew what they were talking about and based their themes accordingly.

I recall reading with interest a story by Robert A. Heinlein about “waldo’s”, an early description of servo-mechanisms for remote manipulation. Later, when I was being grilled on naval knowledge as a plebe at the Naval Academy, an upperclassman was surprised when I displayed knowledge of servo’s, something he as a senior was just learning about.

Most kids don’t have Bradbury’s self-starting motivation for               learning, but most do have surprising potential, if it can be started. I was powerfully reminded of this by a segment the other day on ABC News about the Harlem Village Academies, charter schools founded on the principle of giving teachers complete control of curricula and reading material, even controversial and imaginative material! What a concept! The only thing preventing the development of myriad new Ray Bradbury’s is the divisive politics that insist we continue boring lock-step, uninspired, ethnically-driven curricula. As a culture we need to get our heads out of the political sand and divorce education from politics. IMHO.

About Jim Wheeler

U. S. Naval Academy, BS, Engineering, 1959; Naval line officer and submariner, 1959 -1981, Commander, USN; The George Washington U., MSA, Management Eng.; Aerospace Engineer, 1981-1999; Resident Gadfly, 1999 - present. Political affiliation: Democratic.
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5 Responses to Recruiting New Exiles For Mars

  1. PiedType says:

    You’ve reminded me of the endless hours I spent in the library when I was growing up. Of course, in those days it didn’t hurt that the downtown public library was one of the first buildings to be air conditioned. A/C, huge leather lounge chairs, and an endless supply of books. Heaven!

    These days I’m the grandmother who always gives the grandchildren books for birthdays and Christmas, not only to promote their love of reading but to make sure they learn to appreciate beautiful, hardcover printed books. I want them to remember that e-books and paperbacks weren’t always the only books we had.


  2. hlgaskins says:

    As a child and later a young man I was a voracious reader of Bradbury, Heinlein, Asimov, E. E. “Doc” Smith, HG Wells, Edgar Rice Burroughs, and many many more. There was a poetic quality to Bradbury’s writing that captured the readers imagination, and for a short time imprisoned it in a literary cage. No matter how farfetched his ideas were, you were compelled to suspend disbelief, just long enough to immerse yourself into his unique and colorfully drawn fantasies. He will be missed but not mourned because he lived a long and meaningful life.


  3. ansonburlingame says:

    Today, our time of the Information Age, our library is the “world” with the click of a few buttons on a keyboard. Yet, we are becoming a “dumber” society as we graduate broken students year by year.

    I learned the joy of reading at an early age as well, through first of all comic books!! Later it was “The Hardy Boys”, Tarzan books, and the progression continued into my adult life. “Curling up with a good book” was first of all entertainment and over time an axquisition of knowledge. Today I always have one or two books on hand to read, each and every day as well.

    Last Christmas we gave four grandkids a Kindle Fire reader. They are ages 18, 16, 14 and 11. Six months later it is hard to get them “out of their Kindles”. Great gift and they are making great use of the “readers”.



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