One of Ray Bradbury’s most famous short stories, “All Summer in a Day,” is about a classroom of nine-year-old children who live on Venus. Brought there by “rocket men and women,” these children can’t remember the sun; it rains on Venus for seven years at a time, thousands of days of drumlike rainfall that crushes a thousand forests at a time. They were two the last time they saw the sun, but their classmate Margot was four. She was brought to Venus later than the rest of them, and her classmates hate her; she misses things, she dreams about the sun, she’s weird. One day they lock her in the closet because she annoys them, and then all of a sudden the rain stops–”it was as if, in the midst of a film concerning an avalanche, a tornado, a hurricane, a volcanic eruption… something had gone wrong with the sound apparatus, and then ripped the film from the projector and inserted in its place a beautiful tropical slide that did not move or tremor”–and the sun comes out. The children play in the sun like wild things, shouting, running, and at the end of two hours the sky darkens to midnight and the rain falls in tons once again. They remember–Margot is still in the closet.
I recently picked up The Golden Apples of the Sun, an old collection of Ray Bradbury stories, and found that nearly every story in it is this good. Like Kurt Vonnegut, Bradbury writes science fiction about nothing more complicated than the little ironic, bittersweet, horrible aspects of human nature. The stories in this book, which were all written in the forties and fifties, all seem to touch on the relationship between domesticity and wonder; the possibility of establishing security and comfort amidst total unknowns, the fact that new worlds don’t mean new desires. While reading I was reminded of the extremely obvious fact that America at that time was so different than it is today–and the book’s combination of innocence, straightforward inventiveness, aggression, fear and hope is a really wonderful reflection of this state of things.
Here are some of the stories. One where a company pioneers time-travel tourism and allows you to go back and kill dinosaurs, but only the ones that were determined to have died no more than ten minutes later, and only if you stay on the hover path, or else you might set a chain in motion that would ruin the world. One where a girl is exposed to radiation and doesn’t die, but finds sex and religion and happiness in her blood for the first time. A dozen different ones about people building suburbs on Mars, building rockets in their garages, loving people who are far away and might never come back.
It’s a great book.