02/11/10 — Science fiction author begins Wayne County Reads event

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Science fiction author begins Wayne County Reads event

By Dennis Hill
Published in News on February 11, 2010 1:46 PM

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Science fiction author John Kessel holds up his copy of "Fahrenheit 451," showing a photo of its author, Ray Bradbury. Kessel, a two-time winner of the Nebula Award, spoke Wednesday during the WCR kickoff lecture.

The real danger of censorship doesn't come from the government but from ourselves, said the speaker at one of Wayne County Reads major events.

John Kessel, co-director of the creative writing program at North Carolina State University, delivered the Rotary Club kickoff lecture to a gathering of about 100 people in Moffatt Auditorium at Wayne Community College. The event had been delayed by recent bad weather.

Kessel, a noted science fiction writer himself, talked about the meaning of this year's Wayne Reads selection, the science fiction classic "Fahrenheit 451."

In the book, the hero is a man hired by a futuristic government to burn books. By the end of the story, he learns to appreciate them and the knowledge they contain.

The usual message associated with the book is the imposition of censorship by a too-powerful government, Kessel said. But the real message of "Fahrenheit 451" is that a government doesn't have to destroy books to keep its populace in the dark, the people themselves can accomplish that by simply not using their own powers of thought.

He pointed to one passage in which the hero's boss tells him that there really is no need for professional book burners anymore, that the people don't read anyway.

"It's not something the government takes away, it's something we give away," Kessel said. "It's a result of people not caring anymore."

The book, written by science fiction legend Ray Bradbury, was written in the 1950s, when communist fears created a national atmosphere of fear and censorship.

"Science fiction tells you as much about the year it was written as it does the year in which it was set," Kessel said.

Kessel is a two-time winner of the Nebula Award, given to the best science fiction of the year by the Science Fiction Writers of America. He won his second one just last year with the novelette "Pride and Prometheus." His first win was early in his career with "Another Orphan."

Kessler said science fiction has become mainstream nowadays, with young people reading more tales of fantasy than ever and with more movies being made about science fiction subjects.

He said he became interested in science fiction at an early age and admitted to being something of a "geek," who convinced the local librarian to let him check out more books then were technically allowed.

Science fiction is especially appealing to teenagers who are beginning to become adults and are looking for ways to break the bounds of childhood, he said.

But he said science fiction writers are "not prophets." They are usually wrong in their predictions, Kessel said. What they say is important because of what their work says about the universal human experience, not because it might predict an event or an invention, he said.

Kessel said he hopes printed books will survive in the future, but he said that no matter what form stories take, there always will be stories. Every culture in human history has had its stories and that will continue, he said, no matter what form the stories come out in.

"Even if novels disappear, stories will still be told," he said.

The Internet actually proves that theory, he said, noting the great number of people who want to have their own page, to tell their own life's story.

As long as people can communicate what they think and feel, there will be freedom of thought, Kessel said.

"You can't burn an idea," he said.

Another Wayne Reads event will be held this weekend when the movie "Gattaca" will be shown Sunday at 2 p.m. in the Gertrude Weil Auditorium at the Wayne County Public Library on Ash Street.

For more information, visit www.waynereads.com.