August 22nd 2002
A Tribute to Ray Bradbury
Ray Bradbury Online
The famed science fiction writer is 82 years old today, and still writing and lecturing. What a trooper.
Anyway my distinct memory of Ray's, if I can call him that, work, was Farenheit 451's presence on my junior high assigned reading list circa 1993. It is the ONLY book I read that year that I can even recall the title of, let alone the fact that I enjoyed it. In the depths of a dismal fen populated by petty bickerer Jane Austen (probably), ethno-bait Gabriel Garcia Marquez (I assume), and William "Subtitles Please" Shakespeare (its highly probable), F451's hardcore dystopian political message was joyful solid ground.
Today though I'm not solely going to lump indiscriminate praise on good old Ray. He did after all write a SCIENCE fiction book, and thus it is assumed that entries in that genre have some basis in science, established or speculative. I'm not going to bother with jet packed storm troopers or mechanical guard dogs, we see those everyday, and they're fairly peripheral to the plot. Guy Montag could have been chased by SS motorcycles or Bengal tigers and it wouldn't have made much difference from a feasibility standpoint. However, the titular assertion of the book is critical and open to testing. And thus on Ray Bradbury Tribute Day I present the findings of my experiment that will MAKE OR BREAK Ray's reputation as an author!
Do Books Really Burn at 451 Degrees Farenheit? A Tale of Impatience and Smoke Inhalation in the Name of Science and Literary Humor!
Figure 1. The Test Subject: Kontakte Arbeitsbuch. The German workbook I used last semester, agonizingly boring and now quite useless.
Figure 2. The Test Chamber: A standard residential oven.
Figure 3. After the 5 minute mark. I was expecting a roaring blaze at this point, or at least some healthy smoldering. Perhaps I was thwarted by hardy German engineering as applied to the book binding industry. Phase 2: burn a Mexican book for comparison.
Figure 4. An automatic monitoring system I devised on the spot to optimize the researcher's time.
Figure 5. The final product after an uneventful 1:24:00. There were actually small flames licking the edges that were not captured by the camera. The thick smoke production negated the possibility of waiting for more impressive flame development.
Set up: Oven preheated to aproximately 451 degrees for 10 minutes. Kontakte Arbeitsbuch placed in oven.
5 minutes: Glue binding has mostly melted away. See figure 3.
10 min: Oven smells like a table saw after heavy use
15 min: Test subject has turned a lovely golden brown
20 min: Textbook no longer suitable for resale to university bookstore
25 min: Edges have blackened. The end is near?
30 min: No apparent progress. Periodic checks abandoned in favor of smoke detector. See figure 4.
1 hour: Text no longer legible anywhere in book
1 hr 24min: Ignition! barely. Copious smoke produced. Experiment ended prematurely. See figure 5.
While technically it has been revealed to be true that books eventually ignite at 451 degrees, I must emphasize 'eventually'. Cripes almost an hour and a half? Who would wait that long just to burn a book? Why didn't he chuck out a more daring number like:
"Farenheit 451 Million: The Temperature Where Books Disintegrate Instantly Into Their Constituent Atomic Particles!"
And better yet it would be impossible for smart asses like me to prove him wrong.
Seriously though, I salute Mr. Bradbury's achievments and hope we veer off from our path to the Dark Age he so poetically predicts.