Evil Clown Commercial!

Ever wonder where Stephen King got the idea for the evil clown from IT? I’m betting it was watching commercials like this as a child. Perhaps his mother made the mistaken decision to hire one for his eight birthday… Who knows? Point is, I’m glad we don’t make our kids suffer through this kind of creepy crap anymore.

Clowns… shudder!

Via Anarchist Coloring Book

The Post-Apocalypse in Sci-Fi

Thanks to the announcement of “Revolution”, and my impending lawsuit against NBC, JJ Abrams and anyone else who ripped me off, I’ve been thinking a lot about post-apocalyptic stories. This is a very fertile area, and some friends here once again had the foresight to mention examples in advance which I was sure to include. I tell ya, the more time I spend with people, talking about creative stuff, the more we seem to be on the same wavelength… creepy!

I sense another story in the making, so I better patent it soon lest someone try to steal it. You hear that NBC? PATENT PENDING! You too Abrams!

Anyhoo, here is a list of all the post-apocalytpic tales I was able to find from over the years. As usual, this list is just a sampling of some of the ones I and other people have read, watched, and generally enjoyed. In truth, there are far too many examples to list. So, also as usual, any additional suggestions are welcome.

A Boy and His Dog:
This novella, and the 1974 movie which it inspired, takes place in an alternate timeline where JKF survived his assassination attempt and history followed a different course. For starters, instead of the space race, western society focused on the advancement of other technologies, such as household androids, ESP, telepathy, and even animal intelligence.

This new tech race intensified the Cold War, which resulted in WWIII breaking out. This war lasted for many years and was fought with conventional weapons, until a peace was brokered by the Vatican in 1983. After 25 years of uneasy truce and economic turmoil, WWIV broke out in 2007 and nuclear weapons were used, leaving the Earth desolated and scarred. As such, the story takes place in 2024, where the survivors are forced to forage and fight for survival and men outnumber women by a significant margin.

The main character is Vic, a young man who lost both parents in the war and never received any real education or upbringing. As such, his only real concern is gratifying his sexual urges. His companion is a wise-cracking telepathic dog named Blood, the result of genetic engineering in the previous century. While he depends on Vic for food, Vic depends on him for guidance and education, which he accepts only reluctantly.

The plot revolves around the couple’s discovery of a place that is known in myth as “Over the Hill” or “The Promised Land”, an underground colony that survived the nuclear war. Vic finds himself lured in because, in spite of their self-sufficiency, the colonists need sperm donors to keep their reproductive cycle going. He learns that a totalitarian council rules the place and maintains authority by “disappearing” anyone who resists them.

After meeting a young woman named Quilla, he becomes embroiled in a conspiracy to overthrow the council. She asks him, “Do you know what love is?”, something which he has never before pondered. The two have a short-lived affair, which seems to be out of necessity since she soon needs to escape when their conspiracy is foiled and her friends killed. They escape to the surface to find that Blood has nearly starved in his absence. In a twist ending, it is implied that Vic kills Quilla and cooks her flesh to save Blood. He contemplates the question she asked him, and concludes that “A boy loves his dog.”

Chock of full of dark humor, irony and a pretty low appraisal of human nature, a Boy and His Dog remains a cult-classic amongst cinema buffs and fans of the post-apocalyptic genre. Though it was by no means as commercially successful, amongst its fans it is right up there with films like Mad Max and other such classics.

The Hunger Games:
Following in the tradition of such greats as Brave New World and 1984, The Hunger Games presents us with the a world where apocalyptic evens have given rise to dystopia. Though it not fully specified what these events entailed, it seems relatively clear that it involved nuclear war or some kind of global fallout, possibly economic in nature. It is for this reason that a tyrannical government has taken over control of the 12 districts in the future, ruling the nation of Panem with an iron fist.

Naturally, this oppression involves both police action and forced deprivation, with people in “the capitol” enjoying a lavish, comfortable life while people in the districts live in varying degrees of poverty. However, the truest symbol of the capitol’s power comes in the form of the Hunger Games, a death-match style tournament where every district must send two “tributes” – young people who either teens or pre-teens – to compete for the prize.

The story focuses almost entirely on Katniss Everdeen’s trials as she is unleashed in the arena, trying to survive against the other competitors while at the same time outwitting the game masters. Through all of this, we are made aware of the relationship between the Games and Panem’s odd social structure, where favoritism is common and it is treated as entertainment. We also see how it is used to keep the population of Panem divided, in a state of fear, and otherwise distracted.

Combining gladiatorial combat with the concept of making the oppressed fight each other for the scraps from the head table, the games act as a form of dystopian social control and are also a very apt metaphor for teenage angst and coming of age! In the end, even those who survive are forever marked and must still fear for their lives, knowing that they are never entirely beyond the grasp of the capitol or the rulers who fear and oppress them.

Mad Max:
The franchise that made Mel Gibson’s career – may God have mercy on their souls! – Mad Max takes place in a post-apocalyptic Australia where law and order have broken down. As the franchise goes on, we learn that this was the result of a nuclear war which began after the world’s oil supplies ran out. As a result, gasoline is the most precious commodity of all, with roving bands of thugs and mercenaries fighting and raiding just so they can keep their vehicles running.

The story’s main character, Max Rockatansky, is part of the Main Force Patrol (MFP), a police force that is dedicated to maintaining order on the highways. After his family is murdered by gang members, he hijacks their fastest car and heads out on a personal mission of revenge. Having killed them all, he becomes a roamer, going from place to place in his V-8 Pursuit Special with only a dog as his companion.

In all subsequent movies, events focus on him becoming embroiled in adventures where he must help people in need, all the while looking out for himself as well. More often than not, his journeys take him to shantytowns that have been built around refineries, where small colonies of people are ruled by matriarchs, patriarchs, and are threatened by roaming hoards who want what they have.

In essence, Max’s journeys serve as a vehicle for the story which enable the audience to get a first hand look at what a post-apocalyptic landscape would look like. Key to this is the strange balance of modern and primitive, where gasoline engines, electrical appliances and guns co-exist with improvised weapons, brutal gangs, and lawlessness. All the while, you’ve got bands of people desperately seeking deliverance either in some fabled utopia or safe haven. In the end, the tone and feel of this movie set a new standard for apocalyptic movie making, one which has been imitated many times since.

On The Beach:
Next up is Nevil Shute’s classic tale of nuclear war and how Australia became the last remaining outpost of life and civilization. Published in 1957, during the height of the Cold War, this book was required reading when I was in school, and for good reason! Far from merely telling a tale of nuclear war and the fallout that resulted, it also delved into the psychology of the survivors, how they chose to live out their lives knowing that sooner or later, they would die like the rest.

Taking place in Australia, the story focuses on the lives of people and families who have relocated to the last safe place on Earth. This includes native Australians, ex-pats, and several American military officers who have fled south. Knowing that the Northern Hemisphere has been devastated and is now devoid of all life, the people initially resort to binge drinking and partying, but eventually turn to improving their lives through education, hobbies, and spending time with their families.

Things come to a head when a garbled Morse code reaches them from Seattle, prompting Towers (the American commander) and his fellow officers to mount a mission in their sub. When they arrive, they find that the signal, which is coming from an abandoned naval headquarters, is the result of a broken window sash swinging around and hitting a telegraph key. Their trip also determines that contrary to some hopes, radiation levels are not dissipating.

In the end, all services grind to a halt, people take their suicide pills, and Towers and his officers decide to sail their sub out to international waters and scuttle the ship. In the end, Towers chooses die still serving his country, and avoids having a romance with a woman (Moira) who loves him out of loyalty to his dead wife. The story ends with Moira watching from the beach, imagining him with her as she pops her suicide pill and dies.

What is most interesting about this story is not the plot per se, but the realistic tone it strikes. For starters, how the people of Australia and the government choose to confront the inevitability of death was told with a fair degree of understanding. Instead of looting, rioting, and generally resorting to barbarity, the people, by and large, choose to spend the time they have left enjoying themselves, being with family, and then ending it all painlessly. And the contrast between the people who chose to spend their time partying, versus the stalwart nature of Towers, was also a nice comparison, showing the range of reactions.

It is also interesting in how it speculates on how WWIII began. Rather than being the result of a stand-off between the US and the Soviets, the war began when second-parties, such as Albania and Italy, began bombing each other, forcing their allies to intervene. China and the Soviets even bombed each other when territorial disputes and the general chaos resulted in them invading one another. Thus, much like in WWI, we see a general state of war resulting from tangled alliances and arms races. Oh, the lessons of history…

Planet of the Apes:
Originally a novel that was published in 1963, this book went on to be adapted into film twice, first in 1968 and again in 2001. The story tells the tale of a group of explorers who go into deep space on an exploratory mission, but who end up finding a world where chimpanzees are capable of speech, build cities, wear clothing, and hunt humans for sport. In the end, the explorers flee back to Earth, only to discover that a similar fate has befallen it as well.

Ultimately, the story is being told in a note left by the protagonist, which is uncovered by a young couple who are taking a vacation in their space ship. It is only at the very end that it is revealed that they are intelligent apes, and they conclude that no human could have written this note, as they are not believed to be intelligent enough.

Though different in terms of its overall plot, much of the original story survived the movie adaptation. Here, the explorers were scientists who entered cryogenic sleep, hoping to wake up in a future where mankind was more evolved. Instead, they wake up to find that they are (seemingly) marooned on a mysterious planet where humans live in a primitive state and intelligent apes rule.

When they are attacked, all of the protagonist’s (Taylor, played by Charlton Heston) friend are killed, leaving him alone in a compound where humans are experimented on. He finds an unlikely ally in an ape named Zira who seeks to prove that humans are intelligent and hence worthy of rights (echoes of animal rights activists). All the while, Dr. Zaius, a conservative scientists, expresses strong doubts, though it is clear he is trying to bury Zira’s evidence.

In time, Taylor escapes with the help of the two scientists – Zira and Cornelius – who sought to prove his intelligence, and they flee to the Forbidden Zone. This taboo area contains a cave where Cornelius claims to have found the remains of a non-simian civilization a year earlier. They are intercepted by Zaius and some soldiers, but they manage to convince him to enter the cave and see what lies within. There, they find a number of artifacts, including a set of dentures, a pair of glasses, a heart valve, and (the real prize of the collection!) a talking doll.

Zaius reveals that he already knew of this, and that the Forbidden ZOne was once a paradise that human beings turned into a wasteland. He lets Taylor and his new female companion go, but orders the cave be destroyed and Zira and Cornellius brought back to stand trial for treason. Taylor travels up the coast and eventually reaches the remains of the Statue of Liberty and realizes the awful truth. His party never left Earth at all, but has entered a future where human civilization fell, most likely after a nuclear war, and apes have evolved to take their place.

Between the novel and the film adaptations, the evolutionary allegory is clear. Due to its inherent barbarity, human civilization is destroyed, its people fall into decline, and nature is left selecting from its predecessors to fill the void. In a sense, Boulle and the film adaptations his book inspired were mocking the idea of humanity seeing itself as being at the top of the evolutionary pyramid. In another way, they were demonstrating that the very excesses that make humanity corruptible (i.e. vanity, anthropocentrism) are not reserved to them.

The Postman:
This science fiction novel, written in 1985 by David Brin, tells the story of a post-apocalyptic United States where warlords rule the countryside and terrorize the local people. Enter into this a drifter who stumbles across the uniform of an old US Postal Services letter carrier and begins using it and a letter bag to bring hope to a small community.

Initially, he trades the letters in his mail bag for supplies, not intending to take part in a forgery. However, the letters give people hope that there is a “Restored United States of America”, which eventually leads him to maintain the illusion. He then stumbles upon a facility in Oregon State University where scientists are apparently pretending that an AI they built is still working, as a means to maintain people’s hope that knowledge and science are being kept alive.

Together, they face off against a group of ultra-survivalists who are moving south through the region. The Postman and the scientists join forces to fight them, and in the end find that the survivalists are being beaten back from the south as well, by armies bearing the standard of the State of California. Apparently, the intersection of these symbols, the letter, the scientists, and the state flag, act as a synthesis to show the path towards rebuilding the shattered nation.

This book is not only a celebrated example of a post-apocalyptic tale of hope and redemption; it’s also a fitting commentary on politics and ideology in the modern age. Many times over, the super-survivalist Nathan Holn is parodied in the book, with the survivalists of the story being called Holnists. It is even suggested that it was the followers of Holn who destroyed the government in the not-too-distant future, not nuclear war, biological agents, or even economic fallout. So in the end,  we learn that the nation is wrecked by brutal and ignorant minds, and saved by a combination of true patriots, keepers of knowledge, and those motivated to help their fellow man.

The movie adaptation that was released in 1997 did very poorly, with many critics seeing it as the latest in a string of flops for Kevin Costner. Having not seen the movie, I can’t comment on its quality either way. All I know is, it’s a shame given the value of the source material.

Second Variety:
This short story by Philip K Dick, which was adapted into the movie “Screamers”, deals with the line between artifice and authenticity and is set in a post-apocalyptic world. Hence, much like Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep?, it is all about machines that can impersonate humans and what happens when technical progress gets away from us.

Though the movie was set on a distant world, the original story takes place on Earth, where World War III has taken place and Soviet forces occupy much of the US. This has prompted the US to develop a race of self-replicating robots that tunnel underground and pop up to slice the enemy to pieces. After many years of death and brutality, where the machines have turned the entire countryside into a mess, the US government has relocated to the moon, leaving what forces they have left on the ground in a series of bunkers.

The story begins when a unexpected message arrives in the US camp from the other side, asking for a ceasefire. The commander heads out to the enemy bunker to speak with the soldiers, who claim that new breeds of robots that can imitate humans have infiltrated them. Apparently, the underground facility that is making the machines has been producing all kinds of upgrades, consistent with its autonomous nature and aim to create better killing machines.

Suspicion soon turns everyone against each other, and eventually only the commander and a lone woman make it back to his bunker. There, he finds that humanoid-machines have taken over the base. They fight their way free, and the commander determines that they must fly to the Moon base and alert the government that the machines are threatening to take over Earth. When they make it to an emergency craft, the commander finds that it has only one seat and gives it to the woman. Shortly after she flies away, he is attacked by a group of robots, many of which look exactly like her…

Basically, this story tells the tale of how desperation led to the creation of a technology that was so effective, it threatened to completely destroy humanity, friend and foe alike. Much like nuclear devices and biological weapons, the “varieties” of killing machines proved to be a breed of weapon that was designed to fight a war, but eventually turned and consumed its own makers.

The Stand:
Stephen King’s classic tale of mankind’s fall and redemption, all taking place against the backdrop of the American countryside. Written in 1978, this story is based on the now classic concept of a government super-virus that got out and wreaked havoc on society, and those survivors who were left to pick up the pieces. Adding to this the theme of the Rapture and a post-apocalyptic war between good and evil, this book was steeped in metaphor and was a fitting allegory about good and evil and the eventual redemption of humankind.

The story begins when a government facility suffers a fatal accident with the release of an influenza virus, a strain of super flu that is 99% infectious and fatal. Once it gets out, society begins to fall to pieces as everyone, including the government agents responsible for containment, become infected and die. Those who are left behind begin to be contacted in their dreams by one of two people, an old lady and a strange man, each telling them to make their way to one of two places.

The old lady, named Mother Abagail, clearly represents good and is inviting people to form a commune in Boulder, Colorado. The man, named Randall Flagg (who clearly represents the Devil) is bringing people to Las Vegas, where they are arming for an eventual war. In time, the two sides come together after a terrorist attack leaves several dead and Mother Abagail suffers a heart attack and dies. She asks that the main characters walk to Las Vegas to confront the evil there. They do, and become prisoners upon their arrival.

However, things come to a head when the Trashman, one of Flagg’s minions, shows up in the city with an atomic bomb. Obsessed with fire and having suffered a psychotic break, he seems intent to detonate the bomb. The heroes experience a vision where a hand composed of white light and the voice of Mother Abagail appears to them, telling them they will be delivered. The bomb detonates, and Las Vegas and all of Flagg’s followers are killed.

The story ends with the surviving heroes bringing the first post-apocalyptic baby into the world, a baby which is apparently immune to the super flu. With evil vanquished and the knowledge that subsequent generations will survive the plague, humanity’s future seems safe at last.

And that’s the first installment. Tune in again soon for part II, featuring more examples of post-apocalyptic tales. As I said, suggestions are welcome. Get em in before its too late!

Dystopia and Deathmatches in Sci-Fi

Battle Royale:
This controversial story, also adapted into a film, takes place in an alternate universe where Japan is a member region of a totalitarian state named the Republic of Greater East Asia. Alluding to the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere of WWII, it is clear that this a world in which Japan won the Second World War and continued on the path of fascist Imperialism.

In any case, the story revolves around what is called “The Program”. Under the guise of a “study trip”, a group of junior high school students from a fictional town are gassed on a bus. They awaken in the school of an isolated, evacuated island and learn that they have been placed in an event where they must battle each other to the death, or all will die.

Officially a military research project, it is a means of terrorizing the population, of creating such paranoia as to make organized insurgency impossible. Every year, fifty classes are selected to participate where students from a single class are isolated and are required to fight the other members. It ends when only one student remains, with that student being declared the winner.

Their movements are tracked by metal collars, which contain tracking and listening devices; if any student should attempt to escape the Program, or enter declared forbidden zones, a bomb will be detonated in the collar. If no one dies within any 24-hour period, all collars will be detonated simultaneously and there will be no winner.

Banned in many countries (the novel and the film) because of its controversial and graphic nature, Battle Royale has gone on to inspire such books as The Hunger Games.  Combining a Lord of the Flies-style appraisal of human psychology with a indictment of reality TV, this story remains one of the most effective pieces of modern dystopian literature featuring death matches.

Dune:
Fans of Dune will remember the lovely scene in the novel where Count Fenrig travels to Geidi Prime to speak with the Baron. Once he arrived, and in honor of Feyd Rathau’s birthday, he was treated to a gladiator match between Feyd and a slave gladiator. This is a common feature on Geidi Prime where death matches are considered public entertainment and every major city has its own arena.

And what better place for this kind of entertainment than Geidi Prime, a world run by ruthless overlords and characterized by harsh, perverse brutality? And that was the point after all. The Harkonnen’s were the bad guys in this tale and everything about them, their appearances, ethics, and homeworld was designed to match.

Robot Jox:
Taking place in a post-apocalyptic world where conventional warfare is forbidden between nations, Robot Jox tells the tale of a gladiator-style sport where giant mechs do battle in open arenas. This is how the two super-nations – the American-influenced Western Market and the Russian Confederation – work out their differences.

Of course, espionage and betrayal remain an integral part of the games, mirroring the Cold War. What’s more, the games often rigged to ensure that one bloc can get a leg up on the other. And in the end, the entertainment factor is also a driving force behind the games. In a post-apocalyptic world, the masses need some form of entertainment to distract them from the shock and horror of their daily lives.

The Hunger Games:
Following in the same vein as Battle Royale and Lord of the Flies, The Hunger Games tells the tale of a not-too-distant future where the United States has degenerated into a tyrannical government ruled from a political seat known only as “The Capitol”. Every year, the rulers of this city force all the outlying districts to send two young people – one boy and one girl – to compete in a free-for-all known as the Hunger Games.

The purpose of these games is simple, to keep all districts in a state of awe and fear so they won’t be able to contemplate another uprising. Years back, it is said that the 13 districts committed to one such uprising, the result being that District 13 was destroyed. The remaining twelve now send their competitors and try to exploit the incentives, which just happen to be rations.

Throughout the book, several things are made clear about the games which highlight its satirical nature. Satirizing reality TV shows, we learn that the games are televised, incentives are offered to keep the games going, and contestants draw sponsors based on their popularity. In addition, extra elements like romances and collaborations are encouraged to ensure that the games remain interesting and dramatic.

In the end, the games serve the purpose of keeping people down but also exploiting their destitute nature by offering them a shot at something better. When the games are over and only one person remains, they will receive enough rations to last them a lifetime. Many times over, it is also shown how life in the capitol is opulent and comfortable, whereas the outlying districts are malnourished and must do things like hunt illegally for food. And of course, the farther the district from the capitol, the more difficult life is, another aspect which the capitol exploits to ensure its continued survival.

The Running Man:
Written by Stephen King under the pen name Richard Bachman, The Running Man is also a near-future dystopian tale set in 2025 where the US has become a totalitarian state because of economic fallout and wide-scale starvation. For a population dogged by hunger and martial law, the only real source of enjoyment is a televised TV show where convicts are forced to engage in gladiator-style combat against seasoned “hunters”.

Aptly named “The Running Man”, the show begins when a series of “enemies of the state” – i.e. convicts – are released into a massive arena where they are pursued by a group of network-employed hitmen. For every hour they remain alive, they earns 100 dollars, plus a bonus for every Hunter they kill. If they survive 30 days, they earn a total of 1 billion “New Dollars” and a full pardon. Or so they say…

Though the novel and the movie differ in terms of plot and resolution, the basic elements are the same. In a future where the vast majority of the population is indigent and desperate, brutal spectator sports are seen as the only outlet. In both versions, much is made of how popular the games are and how important they are to both the network and the government, hence why every attempt is made to ensure that the Hitmen always win.

This serves to reinforce the notion that enemies of the state will always lose when faced with the governments brand of justice, which in this respect is similar to a show trial. It also ensures that the most profitable business in that day and age, since the show grosses billions of dollars in sponsorship and betting on convicts is also a big side-business, stays up and running. So in addition to serving as a source of social control, the games are also an example of corporatism, where the government has a lucrative arrangement with its biggest corporations.

Unreal Tournament:
Don’t laugh! Yes, this may have been a glorified (and gory) first-person shooter in it’s time, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t also inspired. Though gamers cared little for the storyline, the fact remains that Unreal Tournament actually had a dystopian theme that drew from several classical sources. Set in a future where the Earth government creates a no-holds-barred arena deathmatch game to settle disputes between deep space miners.

However, when it became clear just how profitable and popular the games were, the games expanded to become an interstellar affair where anyone could fight and the prizes were astronomical. In turn, the corporate responsible for creating the games also became incredibly powerful and used every tool in its crooked arsenal to make sure that competitors were in good supply and things always worked in their favor.

Any player who survived long enough to make it to the end would square off against the companies own cyborg. If they were fortunate enough to kill him too, they received the grand prize and rank of Tournament Champion! All of this, though it took the form of a first-person shooter, calls to mind all the previously mentioned examples of dystopian science fiction and psychological realism. By pitting the desperate, the brutal and the avaricious against each other, a company was able to make an obscene amount of money and keep people blind to the true abuses of power in their universe.

Final Thoughts:
In the end, all of these examples have one thing in common. Whether the setting is a post-apocalyptic world or just a destitute nation dealing with economic downturn, the element of social control is always there. By throwing the powerless, hungry and greedy into an arena and ordering them to kill or be killed, a government ensures that it not eliminates potential threats but channels discontent into something truly atavistic and brutal. Though this is in many ways inspired by the Roman example, modern developments seem to be the true inspiration.

Like all dystopian literature, it seems that developments within the late 19th and early 20th century were the crucial factor. It was here that writers and social commentators truly came face to face with humanity’s abundant capacity for distraction, atavistic behavior, and indifference to suffering. That is another thing that all these pieces of literature have in common. Whether it is the brutal cynicism of those who profit from the games, or the uncaring nature of those who enjoy them, a disgusting lack of empathy runs through them all like a vein.

For what is worse than exploiting misery for the sake of entertainment? It’s one thing to persecute people directly, but making the oppressed and exploited fight each other for the scraps off your own table? That’s a real dick move!

Speaking of which, stay tuned for my review of The Hunger Games. I’ve finally gotten to the end of the book and will sharing my long-promised thoughts on them real soon! Thank you all, and remember: don’t let the bastards pit you against each other! FIGHT THE POWER!

Remembering Ray Bradbury (1920 – 2012)

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

Yesterday, one of the greatest sci-fi minds of the 20th center, Ray Bradbury, died at the age of 91 after a lengthy illness. His publisher, HarperCollins, were apparently the ones to break the news to the world. Best known for his seminal dystopian novel Fahrenheit 451, Bradbury quickly joined the ranks of authors like Orwell, Huxley, Clarke, and Asimov, in that he was a speculative author who’s predictions rapidly came true.

Amongst such things were the emergence of ATMs, wall-sized televisions, interactive entertainment, and live broadcasts of fugitive car chases. In addition to Fahrenheit 451, he also penned the Martian Chronicles, The Illustrated Man, and Something Wicked this Way Comes, and over 600 other works of fiction, articles and essays. As such, his influence and legacy are truly immeasurable.

So, in honor of this sci-fi great, whom I waited a very long time to read, I shall delve into his best known works and try to explain exactly why they were so enduring and influential. Let’s start with the book that earned him his reputation in the first place:

Fahrenheit 451 (1953):
This dystopian piece of speculative fiction takes place in the late 20th century, when American culture has degenerated into a form of brutal escapism. Nuclear war looms on the horizon, books have been banned, and for the majority of people, cocooning in their homes in front of their wall-sized monitors seems like the perfect distraction.

The story takes place from the point of view of a Fireman named Guy Montag, who’s job consists of located offenders and burning their books. This is the role of firemen in the future, who instead of fighting fires are responsible for starting them. Montag is unhappy with his life and suffering from a deep sense of disquiet.

Until one night when a young woman named Clarisse shakes up his worldview. Whereas most people in Montag’s world seemed numbed and dead, she is vital and alive, and questions just about everything. Shortly thereafter, she dies in a tragic accident, which shakes Montag’s world up even more.

He too begins questioning the rules, he steals books from jobs he is meant to pull, and begins reading them. Realizing he is now in violation of the law, he seeks out other offenders for answers. This brings him into contact with Faber, a former English professor that Montag knows can help. In time, Faber is convinced to bring him into this confidence and reveals that he is part of a circle that is dedicated to the preservation of written knowledge.

Eventually, Montag is found out and must flee. His boss, it seems, has known for quite for some time what he is up to but extended him some courtesy because he knows what he’s going through. More enlightened than the average person, Montag’s boss explains to him why books have been banned and why they must destroy them. Rather than the result of forced censorship, the process was entirely voluntary. People chose mindless entertainment, distraction and fast cars over reading, reflection and learning.

Montag’s escape from his house and the police becomes the subject of the evening news. He manages to elude the authorities and meets up with the reading circle down by the river. Interestingly enough, he flees the city just in time to witness being destroyed from a nuclear attack. It seems the build-up to Armageddon has finally ended and nuclear war has come. Montag leaves with the group, who’s mission now has become one of preserving civilization as well as literature.

What was enduringly brilliant about this book was not so much the predictions about technology or the emergence of book banning, but the reasons for it. Capturing the zeitgeist of his age, Bradbury essentially felt that a shocked and fearful society would seek escape by the most convenient means available to them. And whereas most dystopian novels involve ignorance and illiteracy being forced by a brutal regime, Bradbury believed that the process would be entirely voluntary. In this respect, he captured the same essence as Huxley, another dystopian critic who believed man’s appetite for distraction would be it’s undoing.

The Martian Chronicles (1950):
Though written before Fahrenheit 451, the MC gained notoriety more slowly, but eventually became recognized as one of the great works of science fiction. A collection of loosely based stories rather than a single novel, the book follows the future history of colonization on Mars, dealing with all kinds of speculative, existential and scientific questions.

The overall structure of the book comes in three parts, punctuated by two catastrophes. The first is the near-extinction of the Martians, while the second is the parallel near-extinction of the human race. In first part of the book takes place at the end of the 20th century and details mankind’s efforts to reach Mars, and the various ways in which the Martian natives keep them from returning. However, towards the end (in the story “—And the Moon be Still as Bright”) it is revealed the majority of the Martians have died as a result of a plague brought from Earth.

This opens Act II, taking place in the early 21st century, where humans begin colonizing the Red Planet. On occasion, they have the opportunity to make contact with the surviving Martians, but mainly are concerned with building a second Earth. However, many settlers begin to pack up and leave as looming nuclear war on Earth causes them to want to get back and be with their families. The outbreak of this war signals the end of Act II and the opening of the third act.

In the third and final act of the book, all contact has been lost with Earth when the nuclear war takes place. As the war passes, those humans who have survived on Mars have began building a distinct civilization and having children who have only known life on the Red Planet, effectively becoming Martian themselves. This prospect allows the book to return to its beginning, as it is suggested that new waves of colonists will soon be coming and conflicts are likely to emerge as a result.

This book was not only brilliant in that it addressed a great deal of scientific and existential questions that are sure to come when actual colonization begins (if ever). It also managed to capture a sense of timeless truth and lessons which come from real history, or the “Age of Discovery” as its known. These included the destruction of native inhabitants, the push-pull factors which lead to colonization, severance from the homeland, and eventual adaptation as new people begin to embrace the new environment as their home.

Much like KSR’s Mars Series, this book should be required reading if ever any Ares missions get underway!

The Illustrated Man (1951):
Much like the Martian Chronicles, this book is a collection of short stories linked by a common theme. Through its exploration of humankind, the recurring theme is one of conflict between cold mechanics and technology and the basic nature of human beings. Many of these stories have been adapted into film over the years and been used in schools as educational tools. Some examples include:

“The Veldt” – in this story, we see a family who’s children have become terribly attached to the houses’ high tech nursery. Like a holodeck from Star Trek, the children use this to create virtual environments – in this case, the predatory environment of the African veldt. When the parents threaten to take it away, the children lock them inside and they are apparently consumed by the lions. thought it is not outright said, it is implied that the children have reprogrammed the unit to become real and have been “feeding” people to it for some time.

“The Other Foot” – in this exercise in turnabout, we learn that Mars has been colonized solely by people of African descent. When they learn that a rocket is coming from Earth with white travelers, they decide to institute a system of racial segregation similar to that of the Jim Crow Laws of the American South, in retaliation for the wrongs of history. However, when the rocket lands the traveler tells them that most of the Earth has been destroyed in a nuclear war and the people realize that discrimination is harmful in all its forms. They rescind their discriminatory laws and welcome the new crew as equals.

“The Man” – A group of space explorers land on a planet to find the population living in a healthy state of bliss. Upon investigation, they discover that an enigmatic visitor came to them, who they eventually conclude was Jesus (or some other religious persona since He was never named). Some decide to spend the rest of their days rejoicing with the natives, while another decides to continue on in his spaceship in the hopes of catching up with this person. While he spends the rest of his days in hot pursuit, always one step behind and never quite catching up to him, the other learn that “he” is still on the planet with them. Hello metaphor!

The Exiles” – taking a page (no pun!) from Fahrenheit 451, this story revolves around the concept of burning books and the immeasurable nature of knowledge being lost forever. It begins with stating that numerous works of literature have been banned and burned on Earth. The fictional characters of these books are portrayed as real-life entities who live in a refuge on Mars. These characters are vulnerable however since once all the books on a character are destroyed, that character vanishes permanently. When the group of characters learn that some people are coming for them, they stage a counterattack, but are foiled by the astronauts who burn the last remaining books from Earth, unknowingly annihilating the entire colony.

“Marionettes, Inc.” – A man attempts to escape his marriage by replacing himself with a robot to fool his wife into thinking he hasn’t left and tells a friend about it. The man comes back and tells the robot to go back into the box, and the robot disobeys him saying he has fallen in love with the wife. The robot then proceeds to put the man in the box and replaces him for real. Sound familiar?

“The Illustrated Man” – The namesake of the book, this story involves an overweight carnival worker is given a second chance as a Tattooed Man, and visits a strange woman who applies skin illustrations over his entire body. She covers two special areas, claiming they will show the future. When the first is revealed, it’s an illustration of the man strangling his wife. Shortly after this comes to pass, the carnival workers run the man down, beat him, and look at the second area, which shows an illustration of the same beating they are doing. Can you say self-fulfilling prophecy?

Most of these stories would probably sound familiar in one way or anther, but that’s because they’ve been adapted, copied and referenced by countless pop culture sources. I myself recall watching “The Veldt” in school and being chilled by its eerie and dystopian tone. “Marionettes Inc.” has been adapted into comedy format numerous times, and the theme of prophecy and fulfillment in “The Illustrated Man” has inspired countless stories, not the least of which are The Butterfly Effect and perhaps even PKD’s Minority Report.

Something Wicked This Way Comes (1962):
A somewhat off-beat work for Bradbury, who’s works consist mainly of speculative sci-fi, this fantasy/horror novel has nevertheless become a household name for fans of the dark and weird. Set in modern a day Midwestern town, the story revolves around a visiting carnival and its mysterious director, Mr. Black.

Enter into this the story’s protagonists, two 13 year old boys, Jim Nightshade and William Halloway, who witness the arrival of the carnival and become immediately enthralled with it. They quickly realize that everyone who works there has been lured into Mr. Dark’s service through the promise of being able to live out their fantasies. For most people, these involve become younger, a gift he confers on several characters through his “magic” carousel.

In time, they come to realize that Mr. Dark holds these people under his sway and has a tatoo of each of them on his body, a symbol of his control. Charles Holloway, William’s father, looks into Mr. Dark’s past and realizes he can be defeated through love. It is unclear what this entails, but after the boy’s are kidnapped, he comes to the carnival and begins destroying it’s structures and Dark’s protectors by expressing laughter and joy. He and his son use the same tactic to eventually bring down Mr. Dark and bring Jim back from death, who was stuck on the carousel and rapidly aging.

Though different from most of his other works in terms of genre, this story did contain many elements which were present in his other stories. For example, the concept of the carnival and the tattooed man was the basis of “The Illustrated Man”. The nostalgic feel of the story was also to be found in his novel Dandelion Wine, and is often paired with this novel as presenting both the lighter and darker sides of childhood. And of course, the novels resolution, where good prevails through purity of heart, is to be found in many of Bradbury’s works.

Because of its focus on good versus evil, childhood, and coming of age, this story was to have a profound effect on several authors, the most notable of which is Stephen King. Citing Something Wicked as his inspiration, King attributed a debt to Bradbury for helping to write It and Dreamcatcher.

Final Thoughts:
In the end, Bradbury was known for many things: originality, depth, vision and genius. But the thing that sticks with the most about him was his views on the preciousness of literature and knowledge. Basically, he expressed several times over how when something is lost, it’s lost forever. I can only assume then that he would take great comfort in knowing that he left the literary legacy that he did. Though he may no longer be with us, his works will live on and serve to inspire many generations to come.

I think this is a lesson we could all draw from. Though our time on this Earth may be short, we have the ability to leave our mark and ensure that some trace of us stays behind. So make those footprints people, write those manuscripts, and most importantly, tell the people you love how you feel. Do not leave things unsaid or undone, because someday, we will be gone…

So than you, Mr. Bradbury, for your many, many contributions. You did it right, and now you go on to join the other greats of your time. Rest In Peace.