Mark Cantrell, Author

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BLOG: R.I.P. Ray Bradbury 1920-2012

Posted by Mark Cantrell on June 7, 2012 at 3:05 PM

Every burned book enlightens the world

Following the death of author Ray Bradbury at the age of 91, Mark Cantrell laments that he won't be around for the publication of a novel that pays tribute to his best-known work, Fahrenheit 451

ONE might say that my tribute to the author Ray Bradbury make its appearance later this year, when my novel Silas Morlock is published, a good few months after the author passed away.


Okay, so my timing sucks but as they say - it's the thought that counts. The news broke yesterday, reported in the sci-fi news website Io9 that the author had died at the ripe-old-age of 91, and it was widely picked up across the media. So, he won't be available for the launch party...


Bradbury leaves behind a powerful legacy of published works, not least among them the novel Fahrenheit 451 (the temperature at which book paper begins to burn), first published in 1953. The novel depicts a world where books are banned and firemen are employed not to put out fires - but to burn books, and alongside The Martian Chronicles it is by far his best-known work.


Many people likely came to Fahrenheit 451 via the Francois Truffaut movie, released in 1966, starring Julie Christie and Oskar Werner. Certainly, that was my introduction.


I have to say, as a book lover, the movie - and subsequently the novel - struck a chord with its portrayal of a world without books, where ignorance and shallowness dominate life and culture. Maybe that sounds familiar, if so that's for another post sometime, but what especially stuck in the mind after watching Fahrenheit 451 was the underground movement of people dedicated to preserving our literary culture.


It was a painstaking process, each person memorising a novel in its entirety, effectively becoming the book in mind, as I wrote myself much later: "To keep the book alive, they needed to retain each one as a neurological will 'o the wisp." No easy task, even in the best of circumstances.


I wasn't writing a critical treatise on Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451, but in a sense I guess I was writing my tribute to his work. This was my novel, Silas Morlock, and it touched upon very similar themes to Bradbury, such that I felt compelled to make more than a passing reference to the novel. About time too, no doubt, that I sought out a copy of the novel and sat down to read. It was the film and so much more, as you might expect, layered and multi-dimensioned in a way that film can so seldom be (said without any intent of detracting from Truffaut's screen rendition, I must add).


Now, I wouldn't presume to cast myself in Bradbury's light, nor rank myself within the range of his status in science fiction and literature, but I would - and will - offer my novel for future discourse on the nature and value of literature. No Bradbury am I, and no Fahrenheit 451 is it, but it has something to say, and I am gratified that it will have its shot at being heard in the forum of reader appraisal later this year, when it is released by Inspired Quill.


For now, partake a little of the tribute inherent in my novel, with this brief extract: "In Bradbury's world, as in his own, the book had been condemned to die, and not for entirely dissimilar reasons, he gathered from Caxton's half-remembered talk. But there was more, much more to the death of books in this reality...


"In that universe, the world of Montag and Faber and the Salamanders, the preservationists remembered the book. Word for word, they committed each precious volume to the fickle database of solitary human memory.


"They had no choice. To keep the book alive, they needed to retain each one as a neurological will 'o the wisp. In this reality, the world of the Gestalt, he knew that the book must be preserved in its physical form. The fight was to retain its tangible qualities, its three-dimensionality. Trust not to fickle memory, he knew, for they lived in a world of sensual gratification and instant experience where memory struggled to stay alive."


As for the novel itself, of its multi-layered themes, if you consider the saying "a room without books is like a body without a soul" (Cicero), then think of that room, that body, being a whole world and you have a taste of Silas Morlock. When humanity ceases to narrate its own story, what waits in the shadows ready to fill the narrative void? Well, you'll find out.


Quite where my novel fits within the spectrum of genre is neither here nor there, consider it science fiction, call it a dark urban fantasy with an overture of horror - I do - but whatever it is, for all that it pays tribute to Fahrenheit 451, Silas Morlock clearly ploughs a different furrow.


Well, it's a different book after all, gestated in a different mind, born of more recent times and concerns, and it mines a more metaphysical, allegorical seam, but it remains a defiant proponent of literature, of the power of the human spirit, as encapsulated within our literary culture. Much the same, I would argue, as does Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451.


Now here's the thing, in light of all this - egotistical fantasy it might be - but I had fondly imagined that someday Bradbury might pick up a copy of Silas Morlock and read it, even appreciate the passing tribute it makes to his best-known work. At the very least, I dared to hope he might have got to hear mention of the novel and raised a curious eyebrow.


Alas, for that is no longer to be. Still, the tribute to his work remains, and it's a grateful author here that I can stand on the shoulders of this literary giant to pay him homage and tout my own work.


R.I.P. Ray. Shame you'll miss the book launch, but I'll take along a copy of Fahrenheit 451 - so you can be there in spirit.


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