Science fiction writer Bradbury wrong to scorn Internet

February 2, 1997
Elisabeth Sherwin -- gizmo@

Is it possible? Science fiction writer Ray Bradbury - a man said to be in love with the future - is less than enthusiastic about some of the technology that supposedly is taking us there. Mainly, the Internet.

Last week, according to the Associated Press, the science-fiction writer gave a Silicon Valley audience some advice about the Internet: "Forget it. Stay away from it," he said.

I have to disagree with Bradbury. There's much more to the Internet than self-serving Web pages and commercial accounts. But he is right to issue a warning. The Internet is becoming cluttered with junk and people who care about it should work to make sure the Internet offers information for everyone.

I like to use the Internet as an electronic library but when I recently tried to do some research on mystery writer Lawrence Block, I came up with very little other than commercial book reviews. However, I also found Block's e-mail address so I can talk to him directly if necessary. All in all, I favor the Internet and encourage people who care about it to stay involved. Come back to us, Bradbury.

But he says the increasingly popular global computer network doesn't offer the same intimacy as books or the leisured atmosphere of discovery of a library, and that's true. But what we sacrifice in intimacy we make up for in equality of distribution.

Bradbury, one of the most popular and influential writers of science fiction and fantasy, spoke to about 1,200 people last week in an appearance to benefit San Jose's Tech Museum of Innovation.

The audience, in the capital of high-tech, applauded and laughed at Bradbury's remarks about the Internet, including his jab about its much-praised ability to let people in different parts of the world communicate.

"Who do you want to talk to? All those morons who are living across the world somewhere?" he said. "You don't even want to talk to them at home."

Ouch! I have to disagree with Bradbury about this, too. E-mail is the greatest thing about the Internet. I regularly talk to friends in China and England. I've also rediscovered friends I went to college with years ago. I keep in touch with family. I meet new people from all over the country. Electronic mail is incredibly valuable. But maybe Bradbury is besieged with silly mail from fans. I hope he returns a year from now to tell us what he likes about the Internet.

Bradbury, 76, has written more than 50 books but is best known for "The Martian Chronicles." The 1950 book is a series of vignettes depicting the destruction of the red planet by greedy, disease-carrying Earthmen.

The book, which set a new standard for the genre, has been published in 30 languages, was made into a television miniseries and a year ago inspired a computer game.

Another classic was "Fahrenheit 451," a grim vision of the future in which books are forbidden and firemen set them ablaze. It was filmed in the 1960s by Francois Truffaut, and Bradbury is working on a script for a remake, which will be directed by and star Mel Gibson.

Bradbury considers the book his only science-fiction novel; he regards "The Martian Chronicles" a work of fantasy. His work also encompasses poetry, screenplays, mysteries and such mainstream novels as "Dandelion Wine," a lyrical evocation of youth.

Nonetheless, Bradbury is considered one of the most important writers of science fiction, thanks to his creativity and the high quality of his writing, said Pat Murphy, an award-winning science fiction writer.

"He was, in the '60s, one of the people who sort of bridged the gap between science fiction and literary writing," she said. "His work is accepted in both camps."

Murphy believes Bradbury excels in making science fiction a literature of ideas, using the future or technology as a new way of looking at our own world.

Bradbury wittily reminisced about his career and the influences that shaped him: books, movies, archaeology, magic, early science fiction and dinosaurs. He recalled how when he was 9, the Buck Rogers comic strip made him fall "completely in love with the future." He collected the strips for a couple of months until, ashamed by the criticism of his friends, he tore them up. But upset that he had "killed the future," the youngster decided to ignore his so-called friends and resumed collecting the strips.

"I've never listened to another damn fool since," Bradbury said.

Everyone, he said, should listen only to his own esthetic sense, be faithful to his own mad loves.

"The message I have for the world is go on being nuts, go on with your dreams. Do all the things you intended to do and never do," Bradbury said. "Tonight's the night to look at the ceiling and say, `OK, tomorrow I'm going to do it.' "

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