“The Fireman” by Ray Bradbury (1951) – New Suns
The full text of “The Fireman” by Ray Bradbury is available here.
Starting from idealistic and sometimes juvenile stories of new technologies and fantastic adventures in science fiction magazines such as Amazing stories and Astonishing, the post-war period saw the emergence of a new type of SF: social science fiction. The atrocities of Nazism and the dropping of nuclear bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki during World War II are poignant evidence of the abuse of science. Blindly equating scientific discoveries with social progress has become improbable, even dishonest.
In his 1953 article “Social Science Fiction”, Isaac Asimov proposed that there are three types of sci-fi plot: gadget, adventure, and social science fiction. Unlike hard science fiction, that is, sci-fi which contains elaborate details of real or fictional scientific elements for the sake of accuracy, social science fiction is more concerned with the philosophical and ethical implications. of science and technology on our human condition. Nonetheless, Asimov argues that even social science fiction must retain the scientific spirit of SF. Logical speculations about the effects of technology on our daily lives must come from current innovations.
As postwar economic prosperity and Cold War paranoia converged in developed Western societies, social science fiction responded by offering critiques of consumerism, mass media manipulation, and conformity in the workplace of companies and the way of life in the suburbs. Galaxy Science-Fiction First published in 1950, was a leading magazine specializing in socially conscious SF news. One of his frequent contributors was Ray Bradbury, author of “There Will Come Soft Rains” and Fahrenheit 451 presented by our instructor Stéphanie Studzinski here.
Before Bradbury Released His Seminal Classic Fahrenheit 451, he developed the basic premises of the novel in a short story “The Fireman”. While the story refers to the ignominious tradition of the burning of books in human history, it takes place in a future where books are banned and burnt because they contradict instead of conforming to the ideals of mainstream society. If we put the news in the context of 1950s America, we could read the story as a courageous rebuke of the xenophobia and bigotry stoked by ambitious and hawkish politicians such as Senator Joseph McCarthy. The story is also a reflection on the future of art and culture, as mass media entertainment overwhelms our senses.
As SF was seen as a niche in the 1950s, it served as an important bulwark against censorship. Ray Bradbury said: “I have tried not to predict, but to protect and prevent.” Science fiction remains a frontier for stories that offer us premonitory warnings about the lack of freedom in the homogeneity that is too often already in place.