Ray Bradbury passed away yesterday at age 91.
For anyone who has had any interest in science fiction, fantasy, and indeed fiction from the mid-20th century onward, Bradbury had an effect on them.
Beyond Fahrenheit 451, probably his best known work, Bradbury crafted some of the greatest sci-fi short stories and novellas. I spent so many afternoon reading and reading October Country and The Illustrated Man, marveling over The Martian Chronicles. “A Sound of Thunder”showed the shocking ramifications of time travel, all by stepping on a butterfly. “The Small Assassin” played at every mother’s greatest fears and clearly must have been stuck in Seth Macfarlane’s subconscious when he created Stewie Griffin. “There Will Come Soft Rains” tells of the world continuing to function after humanity has utterly destroyed itself.
But my favorite short story of Bradbury’s was “All Summer in a Day.” After seven years of rain, the sun will come out for just one hour and all the children are excited. Now on Venus, instead of Earth, the sun is an unknown commodity to them. But one girl, Margot, remembers it from when she was very very young and before they moved. In her class, before the day the sun is to shine, they are told to write poems, Margot’s brought upon her the wrath of her classmates:
I think the sun is a flower;
That blooms for just one hour
No one believed that she really remembered the sun and some even doubted its existence. She is shoved into a closet and left there for the duration of the sun’s visit. Bradbury’s prose as he describes the moment the sun appears is remarkable:
The rain slackened still more.
They crowded to the huge door.
The rain stopped.
It was as if, in the midst of a film, concerning an avalanche, a tornado, a hurricane, a volcanic eruption, something had, first, gone wrong with the sound apparatus, thus muffling and finally cutting off all noise, all of the blasts and repercussions and thunders, and then, second, ripped the film from the projector and inserted in its place a peaceful tropical slide which did not move or tremor. The world ground to a standstill. The silence was so immense and unbelievable that you felt your ears had been stuffed or you had lost your hearing altogether. The children put their hands to their ears. They stood apart. The door slid back and the smell of the silent, waiting world came in to them.
The sun came out.
It was the color of flaming bronze and it was very large. And the sky around it was a blazing blue tile color. And the jungle burned with sunlight as the children, released from their spell, rushed out, yelling, into the springtime.
But Margot missed this. Due to the inevitable existence of children’s short sighted cruelty, she missed this glorious celebration of light and warmth. The children come back after the rain has started and silently let her out of the closet. And there the story ends, the rest – the regret, the sorrow, the pain – is left up to us.
This isn’t a long story, but one that has stayed with me since my childhood.
For Bradbury the future held promise and danger…but it was always full of new ideas and wonders. The world’s imagination is now a little poorer.