June 2012

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Ray Douglas Bradbury (August 22, 1920 – June 5, 2012)

On June 5, acclaimed author Ray Bradbury passed away. I can’t say I have been much affected by the loss. My relationships with most authors typically begin and end within the pages of their books. I find that delving into writers’ and actors’ lives — specifically the components of their political beliefs — is often a disappointing venture to complete. Yet it still saddens me that our world is no longer graced by the man’s presence.

It is interesting that he descended from Mary Bradbury, a woman who was convicted and sentenced to hang in the 1600s during the infamous Salem witch trials. After such brutalities were imposed on the family, I can’t tell if it’s nature or nurture that Ray grew up to be skeptical of the way things were. Among Mary’s other descendents is Ralph Waldo Emerson, the world-renowned individualist writer who grew up to say, “The less government we have the better.” I found out a few years ago that one of my great-great-great-great- ad infinitum grandmothers, too, was prosecuted as a witch during the Puritans’ wicked trials. I can take this only as a fantastic compliment and hope that my antistate relatives were fighting the good fight with the Bradbury family, leading to the libertarian ideals I now cherish so deeply.

Bradbury’s first original book, Fahrenheit 451, is a fiery testament against the censorship of opposing ideas. He maintained repeatedly that the people — not the state — were the book’s antagonists, but the real enemy, more than the actual individuals in question, was their obsession with political correctness, which led to the shredding and burning of old literature in the first place. And as anyone will tell you, we libertarians typically have little patience for political correctness. It does nothing except dilute the true meaning of words and stupefies the population into apathy.

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Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

In light of Ray Bradbury’s recent passing, it may be apropos to revisit an old episode of Jeff Riggenbach’s Libertarian Tradition podcast from 2010 in which he discusses why we should revisit Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 45.

You can also read the transcript below:

Ray Bradbury celebrated his 90th birthday this past Sunday. He was born August 22, 1920 in Waukegan, Illinois, a medium-sized town of around 20,000 people about midway between Chicago and Milwaukee on the western shore of Lake Michigan. Bradbury has depicted Waukegan fondly, even idyllically, in his fiction, most notably in his 1957 novel Dandelion Wine — even though the Waukegan conjured up in that book, which is set in 1928, is a bit larger than the Waukegan Bradbury was born into in 1920. The town’s population grew by more than 50 percent during the ’20s. By the beginning of the Great Depression, there were more than 33,000 people who called Waukegan home. The Bradbury family was not to be among these people for much longer, however.

They had already spent a year in Tucson, Arizona in the ’20s, for reasons having to do with Ray’s father’s employment. Tucson was where Ray attended first grade. And in school year 1932/33, when Ray was 12, they were back in Tucson again. Then, after a few months cleaning up loose ends in Waukegan, not long before Ray’s 14th birthday, they moved to Los Angeles, where they remained. Ray Bradbury himself is there to this day. It was in Los Angeles that he went through high school and in Los Angeles that he launched his extremely successful career as a fiction writer.

It is common to hear Ray Bradbury described as a “science-fiction writer,” but this is misleading at best. Only a minority of Bradbury’s total production is science fiction by any normal standard, and at least half of it is straightforward realistic fiction like Dandelion Wine. The fact is, however, that Bradbury’s second, third, and fourth books, his first three books to come to widespread attention —The Martian Chronicles (1950), The Illustrated Man (1951), and Fahrenheit 451 (1953) — were works of science fiction, or, at least, were widely believed to be. Bradbury was typecast early, you might say. He came to fame as a “science-fiction writer,” and a “science-fiction writer” he will therefore forever remain.

For our purposes here, on the other hand, Bradbury’s most important book is undeniably the third of those titles I just listed: Fahrenheit 451, his short novel about censorship, one of the most influential libertarian novels of the 20th century, first published nearly 60 years ago. And of all Ray Bradbury’s books, Fahrenheit 451 is probably the one most entitled to be called “science fiction.”

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One cannot help but notice that, cinematically speaking, director Ridley Scott’s best days seem to be behind him. They were glorious days, though short lived; nothing after Blade Runner could compare to his second and third films. One might also note that he left his best days behind at precisely the time when he left behind science fiction. It is understandable, then, if one supposes that a return to the genre that made him might also be a return to form. Alas, it is not so. Scott’s latest feature, Prometheus, is a disappointment even for one whose expectations were not that lofty.

Prometheus returns us to the universe of Alien, that sublime work of sci-fi horror that remade an entire genre. This time, it is the late twenty-first century, a few decades before Ripley, Dallas, Parker, and the rest will land on LV426. Cave paintings all over the world, and from many different millennia, have been found to depict a giant gesturing to the stars as smaller, human forms worship him. Through means not satisfactorily explained, two scientists, Charlie Holloway (Logan Marshall-Green) and Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace), determine that this is an invitation from a race that created our kind. Not only that, but they are able to pinpoint the star system to which we have been beckoned. The infamous Weyland-Yutani corporation bankrolls a scientific expedition to the system and danger ensues.

A strange approach to the movie is taken, one which is a peculiar fit for a prequel to Alien. Whereas the original started when the story started, introduced us to believable characters whom we slowly came to know only by how they acted and interacted, and got down to the business of slowly creeping us out before scaring us senseless, Prometheus attempts a good deal more. It begins with an ill-advised prologue in which we see one of the mysterious beings, instead of discovering them for the first time with the crew later in the movie. After the prologue we see the prelude to the expedition, the scientists discovering one of the cave paintings, something rendered entirely unnecessary when they explain it all to the crew anyway after coming out of hypersleep. They even spend some time with character back story.

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In the Shadow of Ares by Thomas L. James and Carl C. Carlsson

In the Shadow of Ares by Thomas L. James and Carl C. Carlsson

In the Shadow of Ares is a tale with a marvelous setting and a great central idea that, as it unfolds, wraps the reader up and will not let go. It is also a minarchist libertarian tale, in that the dangerous, punitive, and stupid aspects of government are laid bare while the readers are urged to hold government in check to allow the market to better flourish. There is a lot here to like, but there are also a number of defects that mar the work, though nothing to such a degree and of such a nature as to make one pessimistic about better future prospects for the first-time authors. They have shown that they can design and fashion a stirring tale; let us hope that they polish the next one.

Amber Jacobsen is the First Kid on Mars, the first child born there to parents who were among the earliest colonists. It is thought that Mars is too dangerous for children, and Amber’s parents have been chided for deciding to remain and have a child there. Even in her teenage years, she remains the only child ever to be born on Mars.

Having homesteaded some land where they live in an airtight “hab,” sheltered from the lethal conditions on the Martian surface, Amber’s parents, Aaron and Lindsey, have earned the ire of the Mars Development Authority, a quasi-governmental organization that no one will stand up to and that wishes to extend its power and control over every colonist on the red planet. In addition to the effrontery of daring to live free, Aaron Jacobsen has also made enemies with one of the officials at the MDA. When the MDA secretly sabotage the Jacobsen residence, they are forced to find another place to live.

They make their way to The Green, a relatively large settlement that figures to be of central importance in the new Martian society as soon as their land claim vests. This the MDA does not want to see happen, because it means they will lose all authority over them, both the authority spelled out in The Charter — analogous to the US Constitution — and any authority that the MDA has helped itself to.

Amber finds herself unwanted because of her age, though she yearns to be taken seriously. While trying to prove herself to the people of The Green, she also becomes deeply invested in the mystery of the Ares III mission, which disappeared a couple decades before under perplexing circumstances. She starts to suspect that someone who knows more than she is trying to prevent her from making any headway in her search and is willing to take criminal measures if necessary.

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