(2009) Tim Hamilton, Harper Voyager, £10.99, pbk, viii + 149 pp, ISBN 978-0-007-730473-8
This is a faithful graphic novel adaptation of the Ray Bradbury classic novella Fahrenheit 451 (1953). 451 degrees Fahrenheit is the temperature at which paper begins to burn at standard oxygen pressure. The classic novel concerns a fireman called Montag in a near future state that controls its citizens in part through dissuading them from having any creative thought. Consequently books are banned. Firemen in this future exist not to put out fires – modern apartments are in any case fireproof – but to burn any books discovered. Though the future society is not as bleak as in Orwell's 1984 -- in fact the society is remarkably similar to our own – the story does have the Orwellian elements of societal surveillance, propaganda and the threat of war.
The plot concerns Montag one day deciding to read one of the books he should have burned and then being turned on by its content. He begins to question what he and his firemen colleagues are doing and the way society is. His wife becomes scared and does not want to incur the wrath of the state being only too content to participate in the interactive TV soaps produced to satiate the population. Inevitably Montag's book reading runs the risk of being discovered by the authorities…
Now in addition to my recommending graphic novel readers to get this book (as after all it is an adaptation of one of SF's classics and Bradbury's only SF novel), SF book readers should get it too irrespective of whether they normally indulge in comic strip books. The reason is quite simply this: this particular graphic novel does delightfully subvert the art form. In the novel (and indeed the graphic novel) books are banned but instead graphic novel comic strips are encouraged! And here we have a graphic novel (that would in Montag's world be allowed) replacing a conventional book that the real-world novella, Fahrenheit 451, champions. The irony is inescapable and delightful.
There are other reasons why conventional SF book readers might want to seek out this graphic novel. Yes, it is faithful with passages of dialogue taken straight from the original novella. But in addition to this very worthy reason, there is an introduction by Ray Bradbury himself explaining the original story's origins and how only recently he has come to realise that for many years he had mis-remembered how it actually came to be conceived. Ray Bradbury also extols us to choose a book we would wish to memorise against the coming book burning so that we can discuss with fellow Fahrenheit 451 readers the reasons for our respective choices. Of course this is a cruelly, near-impossible task for the SF book readers I know whose collections come to nigh on a thousand or more titles and who cherish every one.
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