Fahrenheit 451 ~ A Capsule Book Review

Fahrenheit 451 ~ A Capsule Book Review by Allen Kopp

Paper burns at a temperature of 451 degrees Fahrenheit. What more perfect title could Ray Bradbury have chosen for his 1953 novel about a “fireman” in a future society whose job it is to burn books? Yes, books have been declared subversive and dangerous in this future time and owning them—specifically reading them—is a crime for which you might pay with your life.

In this future society (no time is given), books are seen as giving people ideas and making them think. Thinking is dangerous and makes people unhappy. A bunch of people got together and decided to ban all books and, not only ban them, but make a public exhibition of destroying them while also destroying the homes and lives of anybody who might have the audacity to resist. “Firemen” don’t go around putting out fires to save lives and property; they carry flame throwers fueled with kerosene and set fire to books or to homes where books are kept, and they don’t mind setting fire to any book owners who get in their way.

Fireman Guy Montag, thirty years old, is the protagonist of Fahrenheit 451. He has a shallow, hideous wife name Mildred who is addicted to her “wall screens” (a future version of wide-screen TV) and her “parlor families” (TV characters). Guy and Mildred obviously don’t care for each other at all. Guy meets a seventeen-year-old girl named Clarisse McClellan in the neighborhood who is, in every way, the opposite of Mildred. She makes Guy see the world in a different way; she makes him see the shallowness and narrowness of his own life.

When the firemen go out on a call, Guy takes pity (something firemen should never do) on a defiant older woman who chooses to burn up with her books. He develops an unhealthy curiosity for books; if people are willing to die for books, they must be very powerful and compelling. On some of his professional calls, he begins stealing books, one or two at a time, and hiding them in an air conditioning vent in his house. His own wife, Mildred, reports him, and when the firemen show up to burn his house, headed by his boss, Captain Beatty, he is driven to extreme measures and desperate acts.

Guy Montag, the fireman in Fahrenheit 451, is similar to Winston Smith, the office worker in George Orwell’s 1949 novel, 1984. Both characters live in future, repressive societies. They both take a look at their lives, don’t like what they see, and rebel against the dehumanization and enforced conformity of their worlds. Both novels, Fahrenheit 451 and 1984, foreshadow present-day America. There are plenty of people, including some running for high political office, who would strip away our rights and freedoms, make us all the same, and make us forget how unique we are as individuals. We can’t let that happen. It’s a dangerous precedent when only one viewpoint is allowed and any opposing viewpoint is shouted down or not tolerated. That’s a violation of our Constitutional rights. It’s how tyrannical regimes get started.

Copyright © 2019 by Allen Kopp

The Martian Chronicles ~ A Capsule Book Review

The Martian Chronicles ~ A Capsule Book Review by Allen Kopp

The Martian Chronicles, by Ray Bradbury, was first published in 1950 and is set in a future time in the early 21st century, a time that we have now exceeded and passed. It is a collection of interrelated short stories that are almost but not quite a novel. The stories are all set on the planet Mars and are about earth people traveling to Mars, living on Mars and trying to survive on Mars. Mars may be the one planet in our solar system that is most like earth but, as the people in the book discover, living on Mars is not quite the same as living on earth.

In The Martian Chronicles, tens of thousands of people from earth are traveling to Mars because—you guessed it—mankind has defiled and annihilated earth and, for people to go on living, they must find a new planetary home. Mars, as we see it, is an eerie, lonely planet, with dried-up oceans, deserts and canals, and remnants of Martian cities that are thousands of years old.

Earth people on Mars, as you might imagine, are not good for Mars. They set about destroying Mars the same way they destroy earth and there’s nobody to stop them. The once-proud Martian race has all but died by the time the bulk of earth people arrive. There may be a few Martians still living, but they keep themselves hidden in the hills and are rarely seen.

The stories in The Martian Chronicles are divided into three parts. The first part is about the attempts of men from earth to reach Mars and the methods Martians use to keep them away. In the second part, humans from earth set about colonizing Mars, having all but wiped out the Martians with earth diseases, and are preoccupied with making Mars as much like earth as they can. However, as earth is about to be destroyed in a nuclear war, most of the earth colonists on Mars pack up and return home. The third part deals with the aftermath of the destructive war on earth and the few earth people still remaining who will become the new Martians because earth is gone and they have no place to return to.

The Martian Chronicles is intelligent, inventive and engaging, with just a touch of creepiness to enlighten the proceedings, as when an inventor, whose wife and children have died on Mars, makes look-alike robots to replace them, or when the Martians eliminate one of the expeditions from earth by using telepathy to make the men of the expedition think their long-dead relatives are alive and well on Mars. It’s classic sci-fi fantasy as only Ray Bradbury can do it.

Copyright © 2019 by Allen Kopp

Something Wicked This Way Comes ~ A Capsule Book Review

Something Wicked This Way Comes ~ A Capsule Book Review by Allen Kopp

A carnival comes to a small Illinois town in October. Carnivals don’t usually come after Labor Day, but this carnival is different. It’s Cooger & Dark’s Pandemonium Shadow Show. It’s been in business for hundreds of years, traveling around from place to place, feeding on people’s sorrow, despair and tears. It makes empty promises and gets unhappy, sorrowful people to give up their souls. And what do these people get in exchange for their souls? They get NOTHING! You’d be surprised how easy it is to get some people to give up everything for nothing.

Mr. Dark is also known as the Illustrated Man. He’s the driving force behind the carnival. Every inch of his body is covered with tattoos of sinister creatures that move (or seem to move). Mr. Cooger, the other owner of the carnival, doesn’t have much to say. He has ridden on the carousel that makes people younger as it goes backward and older as it goes forward. When we see him, he might be a tiny child or he might be over two hundred years old. But, wait a minute! Isn’t Mr. Cooger also Mr. Electrico, the man who has been cooked in the electric chair as part of the show? One never seems to know about Mr. Cooger.

There’s a Mirror Maze in the carnival that, when people enter, sucks the souls right out of them. Once you enter the mirror maze, you may never be the same again, or you might not come out at all. There are freaks whose distorted bodies reflect their sins; a calliope that plays music backwards; big tents, sideshows, cotton candy and everything else you’d expect from a carnival.

Jim Nightshade and Will Halloway are inseparable friends living next door to each other. They are not quite fourteen, one of them having been born one minute before midnight on Halloween and the other one minute after. They are very much alike except that Jim’s personality is “dark” and Will’s is “light.” They are drawn to the unusual carnival and right away they know, or think they know, its sinister intentions.

Will’s father, Charles Halloway, is an old man, fifty-four, janitor at the library. He likes working nights at the library when nobody is there. He is an unusual kind of father, philosophical and understanding. He reads some books on the subject of evil when he is alone at night in the library and uncovers information about carnivals such as Cooger & Dark’s Pandemonium Shadow Show. He realizes that Jim and Will, and other people in the town, are in danger. Mr. Dark wants their souls. The carnival loves all things “dark,” but if there’s anything it hates it’s laughter and happiness: a simple thing that might be enough to make the carnival move on. You can’t have any souls in this town. Of course, laughter and happiness won’t put the carnival out of business; all it has to be is move someplace else where laughter and happiness don’t exist.

Something Wicked This Way Comes, by Ray Bradbury, was first published in 1962. Its language is nearly poetic, a little overblown at times, with a sometimes tiresome stream of metaphors, as shown in this passage where Jim and Will first encounter Mr. Dark: This second man was tall as a lamp post. His pale face, lunar pockmarks denting it, cast light on those who stood below. His vest was the color of fresh blood. His eyebrows, his hair, his suit were licorice black, and the sun-yellow gem which stared from the tie pin thrust in his cravat was the same unblinking shade and bright crystal as his eyes.

Something Wicked This Way Comes is a story of good versus evil, dark versus light, happiness versus sadness, one of the seminal works of dark fantasy that has influenced a whole generation of writers. So, if you are the kind of person who can always find something to be unhappy about (I’ve known a few of these), you are making yourself more susceptible to evil, and the boogeyman (or Mr. Dark) might just come and snatch away your soul.

Copyright © 2018 by Allen Kopp