Posts Tagged With: Ray Bradbury

Instruments of Tyranny

In the November 1970 issue of National Geographic, an article entitled “Behold the Computer Revolution,” has Peter T. White breathlessly writing on the coming changes computers would bring.  Among them are paying your bills by computer, a “truly theft-proof” credit card, the impending arrival of home computer use, and many more examples how the computer would touch every corner of our lives. This was about a decade before computers started entering homes, and over two decades before the internet would morph into the world wide web. And then White shares this from a Professor Alan F. Westin:

Man has progressed over the centuries from the status of a subject ruler to that of a citizen in a constitutional state. We must be careful to avert a situation in which the press of government for systematic information and the powerful technology of computers reverse this historical process…making us ‘subjects’ again.

Perhaps what we need now is a kind of writ of ‘habeas data’ — commanding government and powerful private organizations to produce the data they have collected and are using to make judgements about an individual, and to justify their using it.

Now, forty-eight years later, we have fallen into the very scenario that Westin warns about. It happened little by little, yet largely out in the open. How many major data breeches at banks and retailers, how many shady government data collection schemes, or how many social media abuse revelations, must continue to happen before people realize that technology is no longer their tool to control?

How long until we realize that it is being used to control them? To spy on them? To shape their beliefs?

If you read my last post, you can’t help to agree that Distraction is our greatest downfall. It is what politicians have long used to cling to power and shape our world. Corporations and social movements use it to mold your thoughts. Be happy with who you are — only if that “who” is on the approved list. Do what you want — only if that “what” is on this other list. And computers have been used with frightening efficiency by social engineers and by those who subvert democratic processes.

In 1970, some warned that “the computer’s potential for good, and the danger inherent in its misuse, exceed our ability to imagine. Wouldn’t that be the worst it could do — to become an instrument of tyranny, propelling mankind into a new dark age?”

And decades before that, Orwell, Huxley and Bradbury warned us in their fiction. Some people have listened.

Many more have not.

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Orwell’s Revenge

After President Trump’s advisor, Kellyanne Conway, made an odd comment about “alternative facts,” others quickly noted the similarity to the concept of “newspeak” in George Orwell’s classic, dystopian novel 1984. Newspeak was the language used to control and shape the thoughts of people. To be fair, terms like “fake news” and “alt-right” are also Orwellian, as well as how many in the media and Washington (from both sides) try to manipulate people and thoughts. Thanks to all of this, Orwell’s book, along with similar classics like A Brave New World and Fahrenheit 451, went to the top of bestseller lists.

And that made me laugh.

These are books on how governments, politicians and the media manipulate, control and monitor (Big Brother) the thoughts, beliefs and actions of the people.

Do the politicians and media really want the people reading these books? Do they want you to realize, that on a daily basis, that they have become what the Orwells of the world warned us about?

They may just have opened Pandora’s Box and there’s no closing that.

P.S. I had wondered if people even read these books in school anymore; perhaps these sales show they have not. It is also amusing to see the media and politicians lecturing us on truth, such as Dan Rather, who got himself in trouble for pushing “fake but accurate” news (talk about Orwellian). The media and politics are riddled with truthtwisters – perhaps Orwell will help more people realize this.

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Warnings from Mars

Ray Bardbury’s classic dystopian tale, Fahrenheit 451, is well known as a cautionary tale on censorship and the suppressing of knowledge. It is not his only warning on this danger. In The Martian Chronicles, in the chapter “April 2005 – Usher II,” this scene unfolds:

How could I expect you to know blessed Mr. Poe? …All of his books were burned in the Great Fire…He and Lovecraft and Hawthorne and Ambrose Bierce and all the tales of terror and fantasy and horror and, for that matter, tales of the future were burned. They passed a law. Oh, it started very small…[like] a grain of sand. They began by controlling books of cartoons and then detective books and, of course, films, one way or another, one group or another…there was always a minority afraid of something, and a great majority afraid of the dark, afraid of the future, afraid of the past, afraid of the present, afraid of themselves and shadows of themselves.

These warnings, I think, must be taken seriously. Even now, I read of censorship on certain websites, politicians who openly call for suppression of certain views and venues, repeated attempts to control the internet. People who don’t think the suppression of their rights can occur in our age, need to wake up and listen to what Bradbury wrote decades ago.

It all can begin small. Like a grain of sand.

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Revolt Against Captivity

I have occasionally examined the appeal of speculative fiction such as sci-fi and fantasy. Here is what astronomer Fred Hoyle, in the Introduction to the 1963 edition of Ray Bradbury’s The Martian Chronicles, wrote on the subject:

…the potentiality for the highest form of writing lies also in science fiction…When most men had little chance to travel, distant lands on Earth still gave a setting for stories that could be exotic, mysterious and exciting. Nowadays our lives resemble one another perhaps too much…Man as a person has never materially had it so good. Yet the technical world that makes us affluent also holds us captive. Our existence is ruled by the clocks, whose ticks subdivide the days into dull monotony. We revolt against this pattern of existence. The storyteller is here, and those who listen escape to new horizons.

So now, 53 years later, has our captivity decreased, or exponentially multiplied?

Fiction reminds us to wake up before it’s too late.

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If a Book Doesn’t Make You Think, What Good is it?

Controversial quotes from controversial books. Why would some see them disappear? Because they encourage people to think and question. They seek to remind people to not to blindly follow those who self-appointed greatness. And they tell us to pay attention who is behind the curtain.

All Quiet On The Western Front on cautioning us on what reasons we use to go to war:

At the next war let all the Kaisers, presidents and generals and diplomats go into a big field and fight it out first among themselves. That will satisfy us and keep us at home.

You still think it’s beautiful to die for your country. The first bombardment taught us better. When it comes to dying for country, it’s better not to die at all.

1984 on blindly giving away power and letting them win:

He who controls the past controls the future. He who controls the present controls the past.

The choice for mankind lies between freedom and happiness and for the great bulk of mankind, happiness is better.

Fahrenheit 451 on being engaged in the world and freedom of access to knowledge:

We need not to be let alone. We need to be really bothered once in a while. How long is it since you were really bothered? About something important, about something real?

A book is a loaded gun in the house next door. Who knows who might be the target of the well-read man.

Atlas Shrugged on finding your Role in the Story of this life:

Do not let the hero in your soul parish, in lonely frustration, for the life you deserved but never have been able to reach. Check your road and the nature of your battle. The world you desired can be won. It exists, it is real, it is possible, it is yours.

Fighting Slave of Gor (Book 14 of the Counter Earth Saga) on people allowing others define who they are and how to think:

Earthings…are manipulated organisms, helpless in the flow of social forces, slobbering to slogans and rhetoric. They will be the first to celebrate their own downfall. They will not discover what has been done to them until it is too late.

“A sexist is a sexist,” she said. “That is the logical truth,” I said. “An apple is an apple. This argument is not much advanced…[it] is a ‘signal word,’ a word selected for its emotive connotation, not its cognitive meaning. It is to be used as a slander tool to discourage questioning and discourage questioning and enforce verbal agreement…One of the great utilities of these words, long since evacuated of most of their cognitive content, is that they make thought unnecessary…”

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Breathing in Autumn

Fall is hard to appreciate when you are younger because it always meant going back to school. Now it is the time of harvests, festivals, and the changing of the leaves if your region is so lucky. Dreadfully short, autumn is that transitional season that must be experienced before winter sets in. A few months ago I wrote how Dandelion Wine was a quintessential book of summer. Do any books do the same for autumn?

Sleepy Hollow comes to mind. Maybe partly because stories like this also preface the coming of Halloween, which is nearly smack in the middle of the season (and retailers have been reminding us of its coming since August). Hollow and those of Edgar Allan Poe are very different than what often passes as “horror” these days. Where the modern genre often tries to shock and scare, back in the day it was more psychological and creepy. Rather than being something you soon forgot, they were something to long ponder.

Perhaps the uniqueness of fall is meant to do the same: Remind us to slow down and stop and take look around us. Ponder and prepare.

See what is all around us for the very first time.

P.S. Perhaps you aren’t ready to say goodbye to summer yet. Check out Bradbury’s Farewell Summer.

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Under the Moons of Mars

Mars has always weighed heavy on man’s imagination. Since ancient times, the red planet has hung in the sky taunting us. Before space probes revealed it to be a dead world, it was where many authors set their adventures. Even afterwords, it has still lured writers there. First Burroughs and Bradbury explored the races among the red canyons and hills of the dying world. Even much later, Ben Bova’s manned mission to Mars found hints of a lost civilization.

John CarterBradburyBova

Perhaps the allure of Mars stays strong, in spite of being empty of cities and canals, because it still is seen as the most livable planet after Earth. That’s not saying much, considering how quickly one would die on its surface. But as planets go, it has resources that can be converted to fuels and supplies. And even better, perhaps it can be terraformed into a livable planet as outlined in Kim Stanley Robinson’s epic Mars Trilogy (starting with Red Mars). Robert Zubrin, in his The Case for Mars, describes how we can get there and why we should.

RobinsonZubrin

Recent years have seen a growing armada of robots to Mars. It is obvious that its ancient hold on us has not gone away. While many people can’t break away from their televisions, the distant red sands still call on that part remaining inside of many humans that wants to explore and push our race forward out of the mud. Yes, there are those alien enthusiasts who get excited every time a rock looks like a “bone” or something and then conspiracy theories come out of the woodwork. Sorry, as much as we would like otherwise, Mars has not been hospitable to complex life even in the best of times. In fact, the universe is likely very barren. Most people look out at all the stars and think, “There must be millions of worlds out there teeming with life!” Yet, even statistics must yield to physics. The requirements for life are so specific and narrow, there are few places out there that could harbor others like us (or unlike us).

Rare EarthTGHCosmos

Some think it depressing we may be all alone. Others still think advanced aliens are flying here in little ships that buzz cars in remote locations and crash a lot. Then perhaps, as many have suggested, maybe because we are here against impossible odds, we are special after all?

Even after all these centuries, Mars still calls on us to find our place and purpose in the universe. That is why writers will still explore the red sands until others finally set foot where water once flowed.

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Of Martians and Details

Have you ever read a book where you feel like you are bogged down in a swamp? The author wants to tell you every little detail of his or her world. The color of every last button, the exact feel of every object, every inch of every person in vivid color. It’s as if they are afraid the reader will perceive something, anything, different from what was imagined in the author’s mind.

It’s true that too little detail is boring. Just as certain is that not allowing a story to breathe, to capture the reader and bring them in, is just as boring. It doesn’t take a lot of detail to paint a picture in the mind. A perception. A feeling. An immersive book doesn’t have to be 200,000 words long. Fewer and purposefully chosen words can ignite the reader’s imagination, draw them inside and propel them forward.

One of my favorite books is Ray Bradbury’s Martian Chronicles. Relatively short, it’s a collection of short stories, mostly connected only by the Martian setting. But Bradbury’s descriptions of the ancient, dead (or dying) Martian world leave an impression in one’s mind, one that stays with you long after. Maybe each reader’s image in their mind’s eye of the red planet is a little different in reading these stories. Yet long after they forget every exact word, character and event, the mere mention of the book brings up imagery and feeling like a memory of place actually walked.

And that is one of the traits that distinguishes remembered books from those forgotten.

Martian Chronicles

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Summer is Close….

For many, this weekend marks the unofficial start of summer. For us purists, we have until mid-June for the real deal. In either case, summers unearth years of memories from everyone’s past. All differ a bit, but so many are the same: Summer vacation, blue skies, swimming, friends, beaches…

One of the best books to capture the essence of summer is Ray Bradbury’s Dandelion Wine. It’s one of the few times he left sci-fi and horror, yet is still quintessential Bradbury. Set in the Midwest in (now) distant 1928, 12-year-old Douglas Spaulding’s summer adventures will remind everyone of those July and August days long thought forgotten. A must for your reading list in the coming weeks of Sun as you sip on lemonade or dandelion wine under the shade of a towering oak…

Dandelion Wine

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Ray Bradbury, Legendary Writer, Dies

Few authors write for as long or as much. Fewer still become legends in their lifetime and see their works regarded as classics.

Ray Bradbury, author of the classic Fahrenheit 451, unforgettable stories like The Martian Chronicles and Dandelion Wine and thousands of short stories, died yesterday at age 91.

In an era where many authors come and go, an American Original has been lost.

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