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Happy birthday, Ray Bradbury!

August 22, 2009 | 12:01 am

Raybradbury_2000

It's hard not to think of Ray Bradbury as a true Angeleno: He's lived here for a full three-quarters of a century. But in fact the author of "Fahrenheit 451," "The Martian Chronicles" and "Something Wicked This Way Comes" was born in Illinois, 89 years ago today. Happy birthday, Mr. Bradbury!

Bradbury has won a fleet of awards and worked with everyone from Walt Disney to NASA. He is a supporter of libraries, trains and independent bookstores, and is an active member of the Los Angeles literary community. We count him (sorry, Illinois) as one of our stars.

In 1953, the L.A. Times reviewed Bradbury's then-newest book, "Fahrenheit 451n" under the headline, "Storyteller of the Future Also a Social Critic":

"Ray Bradbury does not like the civilization in which we exist. But he differs from the regular science-fiction writer in his approach to life, today and in a tenuously possible tomorrow. He is a social critic, and a storyteller such as America has not seen in many long years.

"He is original without being robot-like in his imagination. His people and their backgrounds hold compelling conviction and warmth even where the story takes place in the future or amongst metaphysical contemporary events. 'Fahrenheit 451' is another of Bradbury's logical surprises....

"Readers of Bradbury's 'Martian Chronicles,' 'The Illustrated Man' and 'The Golden Apples of the Sun' do not have to be told what quality to expect. But Bradbury fans and new readers alike never know just what this remarkable writer is going to do next.

"In his fireman fantasy, Bradbury has taken today's fear of dangerous thoughts and words offensive to groups, organizations, minorities and he has projected this fear into the near future, when book-burning is a profession.

"People no longer want to read, anyhow. They have 'parlors' on whose walls TV programs are projected; they have tiny receiving sets for radio, placed in their ears. Books, to these folk, are frightening or boring.

The 1953 review of "Fahrenheit 451," written by Don Guzman, continues:

"Fahrenheit 451 is the temperature at which book-paper catches fire and burns. Houses are built of fireproof material, and there is no longer any need for firemen; yet there are fire stations, fire trucks, sirens, and midnight runs. The fireman's job is not to put out fires, but to set them! 

"Montag has been a fireman for 10 years, a job inherited from his father and grandfather. He knows only the pleasure of burning books, when an informer sends in an alarm. He delights in the smell of kerosene.

"And then, one night, he encounters an old lady who refuses to leave her house so that they may burn her books. He has also met a girl who knows something of the past, a closed book to Montag.

"That is the beginning of Montag's doubt in himself and the world he lives in. It leads him on into a new kid of inferno, internal as well as external. And here the reader must follow him, for the reviewer has already betrayed far too much of Bradbury's magnificent conception.

"Bradbury has more than ideas, and that is what sets him apart from most writers who try to be original. He is fantastic, and human. He never looks at anything with a jaded eye; he is a storyteller every  minute of the time, and he is definitely his own kind of storyteller.

As some of Bradbury's vision of the future materializes around us -- in the form of tiny radios and projected television programs -- he makes sure that another aspect doesn't. To Bradbury, books are still essential -- he published a collection of short pieces, "We'll Always Have Paris," earlier this year.

-- Carolyn Kellogg

Photo: Ray Bradbury in 2000. Credit: Kirk McKoy / Los Angeles Times

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