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In Grim Twist of Fate, Work of Ray Bradbury Thrown on the (Kindle) Fire

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’.

Chris Ward

Chris Ward

Chris Ward writes and says things about books and music and films and what have you, even when no one is reading or listening.
He was chief hack and music editor of webzine Brazen from 2006 to 2010, and hosted Left of the Dial on Subcity Radio from 2008 to 2011.
He can be heard semi-regularly on the podcast of Scottish cultural blog Scots Whay Hae ('20th best website in Scotland!' - The List), and in 2011 founded Seen Your Video, a film and music podcast and blog based in Glasgow. He has a Masters degree in Scottish Literature from the University of Glasgow that will never have any practical application. You are on a hiding to nothing if you follow him on Twitter expecting any kind of hot publishing scoop.


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