Thursday, December 16, 2010

You know, the science fiction writer...

How many times must it be said? Yes, Ray Bradbury has written some science fiction, but he has also written some horror, some fantasy, some crime fiction, some realist fiction, some essays, some plays, some poems and some film scripts.

So why do people persist in calling him a science fiction writer? Or worse still, a sci-fi writer?

The answer, I suppose, is that his first book from a mainstream publisher was The Martian Chronicles in 1950. Said publisher slapped a "science fiction" label on the book. Bradbury protested, but was evidently unable to shake off the description, and has continued to fail to shake it off ever since.

Bradbury rightly points out that Chronicles isn't even science fiction: it's out and out fantasy. The difference - in Bradbury's view, and in my own view - is that fantasy is impossible, whereas science fiction is at least vaguely possible. Bradbury claims his only true science fiction book is Fahrenheit 451, and he is probably right.

There are other ways of looking at it, though. The label attached to writer will often be influenced by the circles s/he moves in. It is true that Bradbury closely associated himself with the science fiction field at certain times in his career, and for a number of years much of his short story output was focused on the science fiction pulps. However, this was way back in the 1940s, and you might think that he might have escaped from that field in the sixty-odd years that have elapsed since.

The reason I bring this up is an otherwise interesting summary of one small reading group's reaction to Something Wicked This Way Comes. This book, you may be aware, is a fantasy story set around an evil carnival that arrives in a small American town in the 1920s. It is not science fiction, not even by the hugest stretch of the imagination. And yet the Journal Standard reports that some readers struggled with the book. Because. They. Don't. Like... Sci.Fi.

Amazing! Read all about it here.

A rather odd piece of video has appeared on DailyMotion. Recorded in Bergamo, Italy in 2000 it captures an interview with the writer Robert Sheckley and a video conference call by Ray Bradbury. Unfortunately, the sound is very poor. I find it almost impossible to hear anything Bradbury says.

In the frame grab (left), Bradbury is on the big screen while Sheckley sits on stage on the right hand side. Bradbury first appears around 39 minutes in. You can see the whole thing here.

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