Ray Bradbury’s FBI file is not newly uncovered—it first appeared online in 2012 at Muckrock—but it’s been making the rounds this week. And as Slate’s Future Tense points out, it seems particularly timely given all of the debates over politics in science fiction.
The FBI actually investigated Bradbury twice, with more than a decade between the two investigations. One of them seems to have been spurred by informants claiming that Bradbury had Communist sympathies and that the Martian Chronicles author had criticized the House UnAmerican Activities Committee hearings. There was also suspicion that Bradbury planned to visit Cuba illegally for a cultural congress.
But most of all, in 1959, informants (including the notorious anti-Communist stooge Martin Berkeley) were warning the FBI that Bradbury and other science fiction writers might be a sort of Fifth Column, performing psychological warfare to soften the American people up for World War III. From the FBI file:
Informant observed that Communists have found fertile opportunities for development; for spreading distrust and lack of confidence in America [sic] institutions in the area of science fiction writing. Informant declared that a number of science fiction writers have created illusions with regard to the impossibility continuing world affairs in an organized manner now or in the future through the medium of futuristic stories concerned with the potentialities of science.
Informant advised that individuals such as Ray Bradbury are in a position to spread poison concerning political institutions in general and American institutions in particular. He noted that individuals such as Bradbury have reached a large audience through their writings which are generally published in paper backed volumes in large quantities. Informant stated that the general aim of these science fiction writers is to frighten the people into a state of paralysis or psychological incompetence bordering on hysteria which would make it very possible to conduct a Third World War in which the American people would seriously believe could not be won since their morale had been seriously destroyed.
The informant observed that this appeal taken by the science fiction writers sympathetic to Communist ideology, is similar to the approach taken by a small number of scientists who hold that it is impossible to conceive of war without threatening the isolation of the Universe.
At the same time, the FBI decided not to interview Bradbury himself, because he probably didn’t actually have any useful info about Communism. (And they note in the file that “The Fireman,” the story that became Fahrenheit 451, was banned in Russia.) In the late 1960s, the FBI finally deemed Bradbury not a serious threat.
But as Slate’s Future Tense blog points out, this concern that Bradbury and other science fiction authors of the 1950s and 1960s were too subversive helps to prove that science fiction has always been controversial. And the Sad/Rabid Puppies, the reactionary crusaders against diversity and “message fiction,” aren’t responding to anything new. As Slate’s Jacob Brogan writes:
Bradbury’s FBI file contradicts the still-yipping proponents of Puppygate. It serves as a pointed reminder that science fiction, even popular science fiction, was never just about entertaining. Much as they might whine to the contrary, the Puppies aren’t angry about what science fiction has become—they’re uncomfortable with what it has always been. Science fiction has always made us imagine the world differently. No one knew this better than Bradbury himself, Bradbury whose books—as the FBI notes—sold hundreds of thousands of copies. As he would write in his short story “No News, or What Killed the Dog?” from Quicker Than the Eye, “That’s all science fiction was ever about. Hating the way things are, wanting to make things different.”