In Sunday’s post I had a quote from Ray Bradbury. His work isn’t much in fashion right now, though so many of his stories and ideas have become imbedded in our culture. Bradbury let his imagination play, particularly in the possibilities of our collective future. But one of the things I like most about his work is its ability to evoke empathy.
I love to listen to old radio dramas, and recently Husband downloaded a number of Dimension X episodes. It didn’t run for very long, but it gave voice to science fiction writers–many of whom would be called pulp writers–and helped them reach a much wider audience. It began early in 1950, but ended about 18 months later. One of the stories we listened to in the car this weekend was There Will Come Soft Rains, Bradbury’s story of an automated house dying in the aftermath of a nuclear holocaust.
In the radio drama, the story uses a frame of people buying the house in the year 1980, but in the written version, the holocaust has already happened at the story’s opening. Thus the story is a solely about the house. The fictional house was built to do everything for the family: it woke them and put them to sleep, cooked and served the food, cleaned up the dishes, predicted the weather, read to them, entertained them. But with the people gone, the house continues its routines until it also finally dies from nuclear fallout. In this wonderful 30-minute interview with Bradbury, he says that it’s perhaps his favorite story, and that it works well as a post-apocalyptic tale because it takes the humans out, and makes the house a metaphor for the family.
What a remarkable idea. Though I don’t get the impression that he was thinking this as he wrote the story, but came to that thought over thirty-some years. Personally, I think that when writers set out to write a story with a big, fat, obvious metaphor, the story hardly ever works. It’s dull. A story has to have a life of its own. It has to help shape itself.
Anthropomorphizing automatically evokes empathy (or dislike) for animals and objects. We can relate to a dog that has needs and desires, we can understand a house that–having spent years taking care of people–appears to want to desperately survive when the end comes. We see ourselves in things. Our imaginations come alive. (Remember Saturday’s story on the intelligence of people who anthropomorphize things?)
I weary of over-the-top apocalypse stories. I’m sure there are theories on why people are attracted to zombie tales. Prosaic details in fictional stories of survival–even when survival doesn’t happen–are way more effective in making me think deeply about what might happen at the end of civilization as we know it.
If you have some time, I highly recommend listening to both the radio drama (linked in the story title above) and Leonard Nimoy’s recording of it (Youtube link below). And don’t forget the interview.
One more thing: Did you ever watch the series Life After People? Fascinating.
[There’s supposed to be an auto-play link to the Nimoy recording below. Embedding is not my forte, obviously. Here’s a link.]
April 9th Words
Journal: 0 words
Long fiction: (Rewrote 1 chapter, edited 1 chapter, grammar and spelling check.)
Short fiction: 0 words
Non-fiction: 0 words
Blogging: 527 words
Exercise: Was gone this weekend. Back on the pony Monday!