No. 5: Fahrentheit 451
Back to the last of the Retro Hugos, today it's Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury. This is another that I have read previously at least once that I recall (but possibly two times; I'm an inveterate rereader of books).
Elevator Pitch Summary: Books are illegal but fireman Guy Montag gets distracted from burning them by his terrible marriage and slowly growing conscience.
Wow, that was inadequate.
What I Like: The first time I read this, I really did not follow the intricacies of the characters' relationships, but going through it again I really, really, really like the handling of Guy's marriage. I realize that this is a slightly iffy position to take (see below), but I find the trajectory of it, and the way Guy's feelings are handled, and the pacing of that whole arc, remarkably rewarding.
I love the prose, although I'm not sure why because it's not remarkable in any particular way. I'm not sure what it is except that Bradbury (I've seen this in his shorts) is a very disarming storyteller. He settles in and tells you the story in a way that feels strangely friendly. I also don't get the sense of authorial disdain for certain characters that one sometimes finds in fiction, and that's relaxing. Which is good, because so much of the story is not relaxing.
I also really like that the protagonist has a relationship with a female character that is not sexualized and does not threaten his marriage. I don't encounter that a lot and it's consequently rather interesting to me.
What I Don't Like: The worldbuilding is really, really patchy. I don't think that's a crippling weakness, but it is noticeable in places. This is not a book that relies on careful extrapolations as much as one really compelling set of ideas (although Bradbury was rather prescient in some ways wrt culture).
As much as I like the pacing on the story's central marriage, I think the relationship between Guy and Clarisse is weirdly paced. It rushes in spots, without adequate explanation for the rushing.
I mean, basically what I'm saying is that Bradbury is not consistently excellent here.
Extra Thoughts: This book is like a fist to the face, but in a good way. It has the intensity of a nightmare, and the pacing and logic of one as well. I think this is what makes it work despite whatever flaws it may have. Much like The Sword in the Stone, this is a book that rewards you best if you let it have its own way and just enjoy the ride.
My Recommendation: Why have you not read this book already?