Author: Ray Bradbury
Appears in: The Martian Chronicles . You can read it online here.
Premise: In the year 2026, in the aftermath of nuclear devastation, an automated house in Allendale, California continues to perform its duties for residents that will never return.
Thoughts: It’s totally hypocritical for a guy who grew up reading superhero comics to chide and roll his eyes at science fiction for being pulpy in its narration, but those are still the moments that rang false to me here, despite thinking the story was great overall.
I’ve finally managed to develop the habit of looking at narration and asking myself and taking note of ‘who owns this?’ Who’s speaking it? Bradbury’s working in a third-person “omniscient” style here, directing the narrative like a crane shot on a film camera, working through the house room by room as it performs its duties according to time of day. The world he builds in so few pages is identifiable, a reader can grasp the situation and the environment immediately [the first running theme in these stories]. Even though it appears in a collection of interconnected stories that fully flesh out an overarching story, it doesn’t matter for the purposes of ‘Soft Rains.’
What I like most about the story is Bradbury’s attention to detail, or maybe better put, his preparation. He knew every detail of that house before he wrote the first word. He knew every inch of the floor plan and every function of every imagined automated feature of the house, from the mice who clean tracked-in leaves and dirt, to the animated jungle scene that plays out in the nursery.
But there’s this flash of emotion that comes during the story’s climax that gave the story a sort of pulpy hysteria I didn’t think matched the rest of the work. Probably by design, but it still struck me as off. It didn’t do anything to diminish my enjoyment of the story, though. Bradbury begins the story’s final sequence with a brutally casual statement of fact that actually made me gasp [though I might have still been reeling from tonight’s episode of The Walking Dead]. When the ultimate finish becomes clear, all you can do as a reader is watch, despairing, though you don’t know why, as all the living people in the story are long dead.
Lesson: Visualize your setting and your characters in their entirety, even if you don’t plan on ever using it. A reader can see through it if you try to half-ass it.
Favourite Line[s]: The entire west face of the house was black, save for five places. Here the silhouette in paint of a man mowing a lawn. Here,as in a photograph, a woman bent to pick flowers. Still farther over, their images burned on wood in one titanic instant, a small boy, hands flung into the air; higher up, the image of a thrown ball, and opposite him a girl, ands raised to catch a ball which never came down.