The Ignition Point of Ray Bradbury

Yesterday, my latest column for Kirkus Reviews went up online, something that I've been wanting to write about for a while now. Because my research into a couple of other authors has been bumped back while I search out materials, my look at Fahrenheit 451 has been bumped up. Given the holiday and the temperature lately, it seems appropriate.

A bit on methodology. While the column runs every two weeks, there is a constant state of research going on. I've started with a rough timeline of what I'd like to write about, scheduling an A and B post for each month. (C, when I can get one, such as with Jack Vance.) This timeline is put together alongside a couple of resources that I've got: a fantastic map of the history of science fiction (Which you can see / purchase here.) It helps me put things into context. In addition to that, I've reach Adam Robert's History of Science Fiction, which provides a broad structure of how SF history played out. Finally, I've been working to make the column self-reinforcing. The entire genre is a mess of personal connections: Ray Bradbury was friends with Leigh Brackett, who was friends with C.L. Moore and Henry Kuttner. Bradbury sold The Fireman to H.L. Gold, who also published Alfred Bester's novels, and so forth. In many ways, this sort of history shows the rich bonds and community in which the genre is known for, not just among professionals, which makes this a fairly unique case.

Once a subject is selected, I begin to find out what's written about them: wiki articles (as a jumping off point, not a source), biographies, autobiographies, scholarly works, references in SF-nonfiction. I'll order a handful of books from my local university library's inter-library loan program (or will find some on their shelves - The Kreitzburg Library has a fairly good collection of SF nonfiction.) before pulling all of the books of my shelf and going through the indexes, looking for references to my subject. I'll label them, and begin reading, taking notes and writing at the same time. Generally, this is where I find the theme and importance of an author (especially if I'm not overly familiar with them or their works), and over a draft or two, I'll improve it before doing a line by line edit, formatting titles and inserting hyperlinks to prior posts. Once that's done, off it goes to my editor!

I have to say, it's the best damn thing that I do for money right now.

Back to Fahrenheit 451. As noted in the column, this is one of my absolute favorite novels of all time, and I've been wanting to write about it for a long time. This is an interesting novel, because it doesn't conform to the usual: author sits down, writes story model that most follow. It started as one story, merged with another, got published, got expanded, had other things added onto it, and then onto bookshelves. It's an important work, and I've found that its backstory makes it even more so.

Go read The Ignition Point of Ray Bradbury over on Kirkus Reviews.

Sources used:

  • Conversations with Ray Bradbury, edited by Steven L. Aggelis. When it comes to sources, you can't get better than the author's own words, and this book of interviews is a bit of a rarity, because there's a lot of great information in it about this book.
  • Fahrenheit 451, Ray Bradbury. I used a 2001 edition of this novel, because it contains a particularly good forward from Bradbury that recounts some of the major influences that brought the story onto the page.
  • Survey of Science Fiction Literature, vol. 2, Frank Magill. This book contains a good critical review of Bradbury's novel, and it helped to put some of the influences into context.
  • Ray Bradbury, ISFDB. This entry in the Internet Science Fiction Database is an excellent bibliographical source that helped put some of the publication dates into order.