In the history of socially conscious fiction, the shift from the realism of Uncle Tom’s Cabin and Hard Times to the speculation of 1984 and Fahrenheit 451 reflects the growing difficulty of the moral imagination to keep pace with techno-political advances. This acceleration is dramatically evident in the debate over human cloning, which could now—if made legal—be accomplished through a relatively uncomplicated medical procedure. Could the manufacture of a cloned person ever be politically (if not ethically) sanctioned? If so, could cloning be undertaken through governmental control? These questions are no longer the stuff of science fiction, but the substance of academic debate. Political implementation never lurks far behind.
And so, Steven Polansky’s fable of a man who meets his own clone—a creature processed under a classified U.S. government cloning program for the purposes of organ harvesting (for those citizens who can afford to pay for it)—may be projected as vintage 2071, but there is no reason why the unnerving scenario could not happen in our own lifetime, as so much else has.
The title of The Bradbury Report is a tribute to the author of 451. “Ray Bradbury” is the pseudonym of the narrator, an old, disappointed and dying man, through whom Polansky plays an age-old literary trick: The teller has no muse inspiring him to speak, but only an absolute necessity to bear witness to the horror he has experienced (behold the Ancient Mariner).
Artless as the narrator pretends to be, there are passages here that stand unsurpassed in the catalogue of speculative fiction for pure, shattering pathos. The existential quandary of Samuel Beckett’s characters cannot hold a candle to the cosmic despair of Alan, the clone, when he discovers who—or rather, what—he is. Just as in Beecher Stowe, Dickens, Orwell—and yes, Bradbury—Polansky’s outrage against human arrogance and cruelty is overwhelming, all the more so because the suffering human being in this case has no existence at all, apart from that which human arrogance and cruelty have bestowed upon him. The Bradbury Report shows us supremely well that to be human is to weep, and to weep is to be drawn in the first place from the womb, and no place else.