This commemorative audiobook edition came as a surprise. Review by S.K. Slevinski
This audiobook on CD from HarperCollins is a well-done product that should please fans of the classic dystopian novel, and prove accessible to newcomers seeking to explore the roots of science fiction.
Fahrenheit 451 follows protagonist Guy Montag, a fireman on a future earth. Houses have become fireproof by this time, and so the job of fireman is something else entirely—it is the task of the firehouse to burn vestigial collections of books where they are found. Montag meets a peculiar young woman at the opening of this novel. She does not give him a book, but she asks questions about life and about the world, questions that Montag doesn't realize he hasn't been asking. The culminating question is whether Montag is truly happy. For the first time in his life, he realizes that he isn't. In this dystopia, it isn't a government mandate that originally banned books and condemned them to burning. Rather, public sentiment has moved away from all media of entertainment that challenge audiences to think, to question and confront unpleasantness in life. Book are only the worst offenders—television and film have survived, but only in sanitized and cheery form. When Montag starts stealing books from his burnings, he finds what he is looking for, but also finds himself a fugitive of society.
This novel is not my favorite of the science fiction classics, but it's not my least favorite either. It offers a more believable dystopian set-up where dissidents have an active, if oppressed community, but it's also one of the heaviest-handed examples of authors soap-boxing for the value of books—though I appreciate Bradbury's care to mention that other media can be just as artistic and thought-provoking amid the lengthy extolling of the virtues of books. My own opinions aside, this book has an established reputation, and boasts an excellent conversion to audiobook. I am wary, in general, of audiobooks read by authors, but Ray Bradbury does quite a fine job in his performance—a performance that should be as accessible to audiobook listeners who are used to actor-read productions. This audiobook has a few extras, as well, including the original 1953 cover and an interview with the author on the sixth disc of the collection (the book itself is read over 5 discs).
This audiobook provides enough incentive for fans of this classic to revisit one of their science fiction favorites, as well as an excellent production for introducing audiobook readers to one of the foundational dystopias of science fiction.
S.K. Slevinski is senior editor for ARWZ Literary Magazine and a long time reader of alternative reality fiction. She is currently a graduate student, specializing in folklore.