[Reading Room] There Will Come Soft Rains by Ray Bradbury

A house stands alone in a post-nuclear-strike landscape. It is one of those Tomorrowland kind of houses that people dreamed of in the 1950s: the stove is cooking eggs and bacon, the mice-robots are scurrying out to clean, the automatic systems are trying to entertain the absent occupants. Absent? Yes, and we find out what happened to those occupants in a shocking moment that is less shocking nowadays, because we’ve seen it before. But Bradbury was writing when these ideas and fears were new.

The story continues without a single human in it and yet it we come to know the former occupants of the house, their culture and also the character of the house.

Dig Deep And Find Your Unique Voice

Ray Bradbury’s writing is deeply poetic and thoroughly unique. It is a wonderful example of how you can find your voice only be being unapologetically yourself. Written by anyone else, this kind of lyrical writing would be overblown and possibly embarrassing. In Bradbury’s handling, it is just….well, Bradbury.

How To Write A Story Without A Human Protagonist

It’s also a wonderful example of how you can write a story without a traditional protagonist and yet still have a character.

In this story the house is definitely the protagonist, if a protagonist’s job is to guide us through a story and show us a new world in a new way. The house in this story is very much that protagonist. It tells us about the world that humanity has created for itself. It tells us what we have done to ourselves and points out the folly of the story’s human race: concentrating all its creative energies on making gadgets to make life comfortable instead of on solving the looming nuclear threat.

The story has secondary characters too: the family that lived in the house and the former household pet (who play the classic ‘secondary character role’ by being referenced in the story only when they contribute something to our understanding of the protagonist — in this case, the house).

Read the story online here.

[Reading Room] The Fog Horn by Ray Bradbury

I came a little late to the stories of Ray Bradbury and that’s probably a good thing. I was much too literal as a teenager and probably wouldn’t have known what to make of his fantastic, thought-provoking, stories with their lyrical language.

When I did discover his writing, of course, I had my mind blown in little controlled explosions by stories like “A Sound of Thunder”, “The Rocket Man” and “The Fog Horn”.

But I hadn’t read any of his stories for years. Now, getting ready to introduce them to my own children, I picked up a collection of his early stories and sat down to read.

The very first story in the collection was “The Fog Horn”, one of my very favorites.

As I started to read, I was a little worried that I had over-romanticized Bradbury’s stories in my memory. Here were two lighthouse-keepers oiling the lamp and chatting in a fairly mundane way about their job. Maybe I wasn’t going to be as transported, at this age, as I was a decade or more ago.

Then the older lighthouse keeper tells the younger a theory he has about how the fog horn was invented.

“One day many years ago a man walked along and stood in the sound of the ocean on a cold sunless shore and said, ‘We need a voice to call across the water, to warn ships. I’ll make a voice like all of time and all of the fog that ever was. I’ll make a voice that is like an empty bed beside you all night long, and like an empty house when you open the door, and like trees in autumn with no leaves. A sound like the birds flying south, crying, and a sound like November wind and the sea on the hard, cold shore. I’ll make a sound that’s so alone that no one can miss it, that whoever hears it will weep in their souls, and hearths will seem warmer, an being inside will seem better to all who hear it in the distant towns. I’ll made me a sound and an apparatus and they’ll call it a Fog Horn and whoever hears it will know the sadness of eternity and the briefness of life.'”
The Fog Horn blew.

And that’s just for starters.

The ideas in Bradbury’s stories are wonderful and the worlds are fantastic or sometimes mundane and all of the experiences are deep and human, and the language..ah the language.

You might not love his stories the way I do, but I would recommend reading a few of them if only to see in practice this truth: you should not be afraid to write in your own voice.

Bradbury is often referred to as a science fiction writer because his most famous stories deal with rockets, and Mars and time-travel. Bradbury was writing during the ‘Golden Age’ of speculative fiction and that’s where his stories were being published – in Sci-fi magazines. But he doesn’t try to sound like his peers, nor does he limit himself to descriptions of the cold depths of space, spaceships or alien planets. He writes in an inimitable, poetic style about ideas that fascinate him in words that could only come together in that order, out of his Bradbury brain.

Go you, and do likewise.