In a move that will out once and for all everyone in your Twitter feed who never bothered to learn the actual definition of irony, Simon & Schuster has announced that it will publish the first ebook edition of Ray Bradbury’s seminal dystopian sci-fi novel Fahrenheit 451. The book is the first of Bradbury’s (many, many, many) works to make the leap to digital, and, yes, let’s just get all the jokes about the temperature at which ereaders burn out of the way up front, as well as all the insinuations about the sinister undertones of giving products that have led to the decline of print names like ‘Kindle’ and ‘Fire’.
Bradbury has, as anyone familiar with Fahrenheit 451 might expect, so far resisted digitisation. In fact, as his 2009 interview with the New York Times made clear, he’s resisted the internet entirely, labelling it ‘distracting’ and responding to an offer from Yahoo to put his work online with a terse ‘to hell with you and to hell with the internet’, which in many ways makes him the Prince of genre fiction, only less purple, probably.
In that same interview he claims responsibility for Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Hollywood career, talks of his desire to spend more time with Bo Derek and describes his memories of being born. Mr. Bradbury is 91 years old and none of this, of course, has anything to do with what we’re talking about here.
Bradbury’s agent, Michael Congdon, talks of presenting the situation to his client in stark terms: ‘we explained the situation to him that a new contract wouldn’t be possible without ebook rights. He understood and gave us the right to go ahead.’
The deal, reputedly in the millions of dollars, sees Schuster hold all print and digital rights for Fahrenheit 451, as well as The Illustrated Man and The Martian Chronicles. Harper Collins is trying to work out a deal with Bradbury for UK distribution.
Print devotees will no doubt see this as a particularly grim step on the road to an all-digital future: if the concept of a book printed on paper becomes completely alien to future generations, and takes with it the concept of book burning, this may prove to be a rare case of the medium destroying the intended message of the text it carries. Or maybe that won’t matter since, in Bradbury’s own words, the book won’t be real, just ‘in the air somewhere’.