Monday, June 11, 2012

Say it ain't so, Ray

Being a fairly well-read science fiction fan, i am familiar with and quite appreciative of Ray Bradbury's more famous works. The recent news of his death led me to skim his wikipedia page, which mentions his early fascination with some of the previous big names in scifi. I was expecting Jules Verne and H.G. Wells, sure, but i foolishly ignored the probability of the inclusion, among true masterpieces like, say possibly 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea or The Time Machine, of Burroughs' Mars/Barsoon books, one of the sleaziest collections of primitive, instinct-driven crowd-pleasing trash ever to masquerade as literature. You're telling me that the visionary responsible for Fahrenheit 451, the Martian Chronicles and the October Country was inspired by stories of a personality-challenged macho-man beating up giants with his bare fists to get at red-skinned nudist princesses?

Ok, fine, realistically i'm not entirely outraged. Bradbury was what, in his early teens, if that, when reading Burroughs' trash? I must admit it would've become a major influence in my life as well. For all their sleaze, Carter's adventures on Barsoom are still basically valid fantasy stories, and as someone who grew up idolizing Arnold Schwarzenegger as android or barbarian, i'm hardly entitled to moral high ground.

I wonder how damaging it is that our 'gateway drug' into speculative fiction is often this kind of sensationalistic tripe populated by sexual archetypes. I have no idea how it works with the female half of the species (i have no idea how anything compares with those alien creatures) but the peak of fascination with flashy laserguns and spaceships in boys seems to pretty securely coincide with prepubescent 'male curiosity' and the rush towards violence and machismo, so the stories which mix these elements acquire the gloss of nostalgia. I doubt whether we're capable of ever being sufficiently critical of these early influences, no matter how sophisticated our tastes become.

This is an interesting departure from normal human behavior. The basic setup is that as soon as it's socially advantageous, we apes all agree to belittle everything which appeals to the younger crowd, everything that's 'for babies' or 'kid stuff' and stick our noses way up into the lofty realms of action movies with machine guns instead of lasers and romance novels with explicit details instead of adolescent pining. Everyone else is willing to give their childhood the old Judas kiss in return for membership in the exclusive club of maturity. Is it only we scifi fans that still stick pointy plastic ears on our heads whether we're thirteen or thirty and fondly relive our fantasies of beating up four-armed, green-skinned giants?

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