There Will Come Soft Rains, a Short Story by Ray Bradbury

You can read There Will Come Soft Rains here.


Ray Bradbury’s There Will Come Soft Rains hits hard and deep, leaving the reader with a profound, indescribable discomfort.

The story is about a house and the family that no longer resides in it. It’s 2026, and everything within sight has been obliterated in a nuclear attack. Everything, save for this one house.

It’s a futuristic home, with walls that talk and robots that do household chores. It’s almost a living thing in itself, carrying on with its schedule as if the family it once served were still alive and present. It cooks food, prepares baths, and even reads nightly poems.

Not a single human comes anywhere near the home, however. It’s not even clear if humans still exist.

The family’s dog still lives, though not for long. It wanders into the empty home, checking the doors in search of family and food. It finds neither and dies in the parlor. Within a hour, the robots hauls its remains and incinerates them.

During the house’s usual evening poem, a tree crashes through the kitchen window, shattering a bottle of flammable cleaning solution all over the stove. And despite its best efforts, the house fails to put out the flames.

By the story’s end, the house is gone, with the exception of a single wall that continues to speak as the sun rises again.

There Will Come Soft Rains is so masterfully written, to the point where it’s difficult to wrap one’s brain around. It has a poignant, sobering effect that hangs overhead for the rest of the day.

Yet it’s surprising because this story doesn’t tread over any unexplored roads. Countless other stories touch on the same ideas: the end of humanity, nuclear destruction, an apocalyptic wasteland, and a futuristic, automated home.

How is Bradbury able to take these almost cliche elements and produce such an unexpected and powerful effect?

I believe Bradbury is only able to pull this off because he takes a commonly explored setting and situation and zeroes in on aspects that most other writers would consider to be secondary. They would focus on explaining the events leading up to this apocalypse. They would make efforts to tell the story in human terms, perhaps by telling it through the eyes of a hardened survivor. They might create a sympathetic link by describing in detail the family that once lived in the home.

Instead, Bradbury omits all of those elements entirely. He clears everything out to give his story a sense of futile nothingness. There is nothing remotely human in the story. The only thing that comes close is the talking, automated home that carries on with its schedule as if nothing had happened, which is perhaps the least human reaction to the situation.

The reader can’t help but try and humanize this house. It’s hard not to. The house does talk, after all. This makes the story all the more disturbing because it’s akin to watching someone experience utter tragedy and go on futilely, denying reality to protect themselves.

It’s pathetic. Pitiful.

“It doesn’t matter,” the story seems to say. “You don’t matter. I don’t matter. Whether we live or not, we are all tiny and insignificant in the grand scheme of things.”

There Will Come Soft Rains is a dark one. It isn’t easy to digest. It leaves the reader in a dark mood, but does it in an almost enlightening way, as if exposing a part of the human heart that had long been forgotten.


There’s a lot to take away from this, in terms of writing/storytelling techniques. Two in particular stand out:

  1. Sometimes, the best way to capitalize on an interesting setting or situation is to explain nothing at all.
  2. No story exists in a vacuum. Within, without, before, and after every story is another story. It doesn’t matter how many of these stories the writer tells. It does matter that the writer conveys this sense of continuity.
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As Good as New, a Short Story by Charlie Jane Anders

You can read Charlie Jane Anders’ As Good as New here.


As Good as New is Anders’ unique combination of the ‘genie in a bottle’ scenario played out in a post-apocalyptic setting. The story follows Marisol, a premed student who has cast aside her dreams of being a playwright. She is in the middle of her part-time housecleaning job when global catastrophe hits. Conveniently enough, the owner of the house had a bunker prepared for just this sort of situation, and Marisol is able to duck in and lock herself into safety.

After spending several months watching reruns and eating frozen dinners, Marisol ventures out to find that the world had turned into a chilly wasteland covered in a white fungus responsible for taking out the human race. A corked bottle catches her eye, and upon uncorking it, she meets Richard Wolf, the theater critic turned genie.

Seeing the desolation all around him, Richard seems more annoyed than anything else. “Not again,” he says, which Marisol catches and interprets to mean that the last owner of the bottle had inadvertently brought about humanity’s demise. In classic genie fashion, Richard neither confirms nor denies this.

The two become friends of a sort. Richard is wry as genies go, and Marisol, as a former playwright herself, is eager to win his approval. In between their banter and discussions of theater, Marisol tries to puzzle out what exactly had gone wrong with the previous wisher and how she could frame her wishes to undo the catastrophe without causing another.

Well, she succeeds, much to my surprise. It turns out that this is one genie story with a happy ending. With careful phrasing, she is able to put everything back as it once was and finds herself transported into a coffee shop with her friend Julia.

And that’s… it.

No twist, no lesson, no nothing. Marisol comes out of her apocalyptic experience unscathed and largely unchanged.

I’m struggling to find more to say about this story because there doesn’t seem to be much more to it than that. The setting is left unexplored and the events leading up to the story turn out to be inconsequential. The main character amazingly manages to avoid any sort of development as a human being through an experience that surely must have been quite harrowing. The genie, for all his insistence on remaining silent on the topic of how the apocalypse happens in the first place, turns out to have nothing up his sleeve at all. And Marisol manages to succeed in turning the world back to normal by simply phrasing her wishes in careful, and not particularly clever, manner.

My expectations may have been too high. After all, I found out about this story through a list of “6 Brain-Bending SF/F Stories You can Read on Your Lunch Break” on Barnes and Noble’s blog. If this was the list creator’s idea of “brain-bending,” then I hope for his sake he never watches something like LOST, since that’s sure to kill him.

As Good as New is not a horrible story. It just mixes two classic scenarios in an interesting way and then doesn’t go anywhere with it.


I don’t have to like a story to come away with lessons to carry on with me as a writer. What I’ve learned is this:

A story’s main assets are its setting, its plot, and its characters. If a story does not offer much in the way of those, it better deliver something else, otherwise the reader is bound to walk away empty handed.

 

The Feeling of Power, a Short Story by Isaac Asimov

You can read Isaac Asimov’s short story, The Feeling of Power, here.


What one man considers forward, another may consider backward.

When stated like that, the premise of Asimov’s The Feeling of Power, seems rather simple. And yet The Feeling of Power is anything but. In classic Asimov fashion, the story touches on big ideas, ideas already familiar to most people, but presents them in a way that exposes aspects we may have overlooked.

The story takes place in what they call New Pentagon during an unspecified time in the far off future. Humans have achieved a level of technology that makes much of what we today consider necessary, completely obsolete. This is, as said before, not a revolutionary idea. It is what Asimov does with the idea that is so fascinating.

Computers have become so powerful and ubiquitous, for example, that humans have lost the ability to do basic math. Arithmetic has all but become a lost art. That is, until the events of the story.

Jehan Shuman, a computer expert of the highest degree, introduces select members of the U.S. military and congress to a lowly technician by the name of Myron Aub. This man, Shuman claims, has made a revolutionary discovery. He sets Aub up to stand in front of these highly dignified men and show them his groundbreaking findings. He proceeds to multiply numbers on a piece of paper.

The reaction is nothing short of hilarious. These esteemed generals and politicians are dumbfounded, but also skeptical. But as Aub continues to perform miracles (simple arithmetic) with his pen and paper and they compare his answers to the calculations of their computers, they are completely blown away.

They speak excitedly about the possibilities, of teaching everyone how to perform these simple functions, of weaning the country off its dependence on computers, of going, as we would see it, backwards. And considering the perspective of the characters, is it not true that these developments would not be backward, but rather forward?

Asimov begins the story with this sort of lighthearted, humorous scenario, but abruptly reminds us that the story is in fact taking place in New Pentagon. The conversation immediately turns to arithmetic’s applications in war, of how much money they could save by relying so heavily on computers in their war efforts. They even speak of manning missiles with living men who would replace the computers and personally guide the missiles to their targets themselves.

After all, while computers are costly, humans are expendable.

After the conversation takes this dark turn, Aub realizes what he’s done, and he kills himself. Regardless, no one cares very much and they press forward.


Asimov very artfully pulled off the same technique I saw Ursula Le Guin use in The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas: contrast in tone. Asimov prefaced his intended tone with the polar opposite and allowed it to carry on long enough for the reader to grow comfortable. And then he pivots, hitting the reader with the story’s true colors. The effect as I see it is that the story’s theme and tone becomes amplified.

There’s more to it than that, though. It’s not just a matter of swapping tones. The final tone has to make sense. While it is important that it is shocking, it is even more important that the reader can go back however many pages and see the clues that explain it before it happens. Thus, when the reader gets to the intended tone of the story they can see that it isn’t new – it was always there, had they been reading carefully enough.


While it feels almost criminal to assign any story a score, I will do so just to give it a place among all the other stories I have and will read. I give The Feeling of Power by Isaac Asimov 8.5/10. It’s a short story I would recommend to everyone, friend or foe.

The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas, a Short Story by Ursula Le Guin

You can read The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas here.


If you could only be happy at the expense of others, would you?

This is the question that lies at the heart of Ursula Le Guin’s philosophical allegory, The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas.

Omelas is a city in an unnamed land during an unspecified time. Le Guin reveals very little by way of the particulars – in fact, she’s rather blatant about how little she herself knows of the city. At first glance, her self-professed ambiguity seems downright lazy. She writes of Omelas as if she had no part in its conception. The first half of the story reads like a sort of rough draft, where she’s etching out the details as she goes. For certain aspects of Omelas, she even invites the reader to decide for themselves how they wish to imagine the place.

I admit, it took me a while to understand what she was getting at, and I was tempted to find something else to read. An embarrassing number of pages later, it dawned on me that this seemingly lackadaisical approach was her way of driving home the point that this is a story about ideas and questions, not plot points and details.

There’s one thing she does establish though: the people of Omelas are happy. So happy, in fact, that we could barely conceptualize them. These are a people with no laws, no wars, no greed. And most of all, no guilt.

Despite all this, Le Guin insists that these are not a simple people. They are no less intelligent or passionate or productive than we are. They are exactly as we are, except that they have attained a level of contentment beyond our dreams.

How did they achieve this? Well, there’s a room, Le Guin explains, in which things are quite different. In this room lives a child, and this child is malnourished of food, love, and anything resembling human decency. The people of Omelas know that this child exists. They know where it is and how terrible its conditions are. They sometimes even visit, and when they do, they are generally as cruel as its life is horrific.

They do this because they all understand the condition to their continual happiness. In this reality, they could only go on being happy for as long as this child is miserable. Everything that makes Omelas unique, from its prosperity to its freedom from guilt, would vanish the instant this child experienced joy.

So, most people in Omelas learn this terrible truth and learn to live with it until it passes from their minds entirely. But every once in a while, someone decides to leave. They can’t continue living in Omelas while this child exists, and they silently disappear, never to return.

Are these few in the right? Is it immoral for the people of Omelas to tolerate the utter misery that this child must endure?

Le Guin never explicitly takes a stance on the matter.

As for myself, well… I find that this story has forced me to reexamine my own views on happiness and that this reflection has been fruitless in producing any answers to my questions.

Is my happiness as free of cost as I assume?

Or is there some unnamed person paying dearly for it?

Have I learned to turn a blind eye to the suffering all around me, as the people of Omelas do?

Is it fair to assume that this suffering is inevitable and ultimately out of my hands?

Is it wrong to enjoy what happiness comes out of this suffering?

Is it any better to cast that happiness aside, when either way, the suffering will continue?

I don’t have the answers to these questions. What I do know, though, is that these questions need to be asked, and for that, I cannot praise The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas enough. While it isn’t the most riveting piece I’ve read so far, it is certainly one of the most impactful.

This one is a story to remember.


On the technical side of things, there are a few lessons I have learned from this story.

  1. Contrast is a powerful tool, and sometimes it’s better to throw subtlety out the window. Le Guin goes from 0 to 100 in the span of a sentence. To emphasize the horror of a situation, she began with its polar opposite.
  2. The central questions of a story are often best left unanswered. An author should resist the urge to project their own views on the reader. Let the reader carry these questions with them as they go about their days. The answer they come to on their own will be infinitely more powerful than anything they read in the text.
  3. A story can have neither plots nor characters and still be powerful.

Death and What Comes Next by Terry Pratchett

Death and What Comes Next (you can find it here) is a short story in his Discworld series. To give you some context, Pratchett wrote this story in 2002 for an online puzzle came called TimeHunt. And apparently (according to Wikipedia, at least) there’s some sort of word puzzle hidden in the text of the story that provides a code word for the game. I’m not familiar with the game myself, but alas, it’s gone. As intrigued as I am, it looks like I’ll never know this code word.

Regardless, Death and What Comes Next stands on its own as an amusing, clever story. It takes place somewhere near the brink of a man’s death. The man, as it happens, is a philosopher, and when Death himself shows up, the man naturally attempts to talk his way out of dying.

Much to Death’s annoyance (he’s been through this before), the man gives an impressively concise explanation of quantum theory, triggering a back-and-forth that had me grinning the entire time.

For such a short short story, it’s impressive how likable its characters are. Granted, there are only two. It’s a shame Death and the philosopher couldn’t have met under different circumstances. Their banter is hilarious.

Here’s a bit that forced a particularly hard exhalation from my nose.

ASTONISHING, said Death. REALLY ASTONISHING. LET ME PUT FORWARD ANOTHER SUGGESTION: THAT YOU ARE NOTHING MORE THAN A LUCKY SPECIES OF APE THAT IS TRYING TO UNDERSTAND THE COMPLEXITIES OF CREATION VIA A LANGUAGE THAT EVOLVED IN ORDER TO TELL ONE ANOTHER WHERE THE RIPE FRUIT WAS?

Fighting for breath, the philosopher managed to say: “Don’t be silly.”

THE REMARK WAS NOT INTENDED AS DEROGATORY, said Death. UNDER THE CIRCUMSTANCES, YOU HAVE ACHIEVED A GREAT DEAL.

I haven’t read much of Pratchett’s work, but now I’m wishing I had. I know I’ll be reading a lot more of his stories in the days to come. I’m giving this one a 7/10. It’s a good one, and if you’ve got five minutes to spare (seriously, it’s short), I highly recommend it.


For my own purposes, I’d like to continue writing about specific things I can take away from what I read. Techniques, pretty phrases, lessons learned… things of that nature. Sometimes, though, nothing particularly pops out. And that’s not to say that whatever I’ve read is worse off because of it. It’s one of those “It’s not you, it’s me” scenarios.

So, when I can, I’ll do more than simply review what I read and include a more thorough write-up on that aspect of my reading experience. Both for myself as a writer with lots of room to grow and for anyone else with an interest in developing their craft.

In the past few days, I haven’t written on this as much as I would have liked, and I think that’s inevitable. I’m not some fortune cookie dispenser finding wisdom behind every word. And I think that’s fine. I don’t want to force myself. After all, I’m out of school (and thank god for that), and doing so would only make it feel like I have homework again.

All that being said, I do have one lesson learned from my reading of Death and What Comes Next. This story, comprised entirely of dialogue, reminded me of how, well, underwhelming my dialogue often is. Scratch that. This story slapped me in the face with that fact with its every word. By the end of it, I was practically in tears screaming, “WHY CAN’T I WRITE DIALOGUE LIKE THIS?”

Of course, if shouting was the way to get the answers we needed, it would be a lot harder to concentrate. And while I didn’t get one, I did have an interesting thought that I’ll be testing out myself. From now on, whenever I write a significant exchange between characters, I’m going to ask myself this:

If I cut out everything but the dialogue, could I make a short story out of what remains?

And while I think it may be unrealistic to expect that yes, every exchange between characters can stand on its own as a story, I do believe that making this a habit will help me catch the particularly boring conversations.

Next Door by Kurt Vonnegut

A purple emotion flooded Paul’s being. Childhood dropped away, and he hung, dizzy, on the brink of life, rich, violent, rewarding.

Next Door is a short story in Kurt Vonnegut’s anthology, Welcome to the Monkey House. And it reminds me why I love reading Vonnegut so much.

My favorite thing about Vonnegut is how free of pretension his writing is. His stories are just so accessible, not only in content but in language as well. You’d be hard pressed to find a confusing Vonnegut story.

And that’s not to say that his stories are simple. His plots are interesting, and there’s usually a lot to unpack. Unlike a lot of authors, though, he doesn’t wall that content off with big words and convoluted sentences.

Next Door is another example of this. It’s a story about a duplex. On one side live the Leonards and on the other, the Hargers. Between them is a wall. A very thin one. The reader enters the story as Mr. and Mrs. Leonard argue in hushed voices over whether or not their son Paul is old enough to be left home alone while they go to the cinema. In classic dad fashion, Mr. Leonard insists that she’s smothering him while Mrs. Leonard, in classic mom fashion, insists that her smothering is perfectly justified.

Mr. Leonard wins out, leaving Paul to his own devices for the night. From then on, it’s just Paul, the wall, the Hargers, and an unexpected plus one. I’ll leave you to figure out the details yourself.

This is a quick read that’ll have you beaming from beginning to end. I would absolutely recommend it. And I’m going to do something I haven’t done before. I’m going to start scoring the stories I read, just to give you all a better sense of how much I like what I read.

I’ll be giving Next Door 7.5/10. Now go read it!

Strawberry Spring by Stephen King

Strawberry Spring is a short story I found in King’s collection of horror stories titled Night Shift. It’s a gruesome tale where murder, mystery, and supernatural forces coalesce at New Sharon Teachers’ College in New England during the winter of 1968. Springheel Jack, they called him, the killer who comes and goes with the fog leaving mutilated bodies in his wake. Like most of King’s work, this story is not for the faint of heart. If you’re feeling bold, however, by all means carry on: this is Stephen King doing what he does best.

The most remarkable thing about Strawberry Spring isn’t the shock value. It’s not the visceral description or the characterization either. It’s the fact that many readers could likely predict the ending a page or two into the story, but still be horrified when their fears are confirmed. There’s a lesson in this story, and it’s this: you don’t need to shock your reader to scare the fuck out of them.

So if it isn’t shock value that gets the job done, how does King do it? How does he instill fear in a reader who can sense where the story is going? Well, I have a theory, but I can’t really give you my thoughts without revealing more than I’d like about the ending. In consideration of all who plan on reading this story, I’ll be writing out these next thoughts in white, so you can either highlight the next few lines or come back to this later. It seems to me that we often place more value in the what of a story than in the why, when really, they’re equally significant. I believe that the horror of Strawberry Spring doesn’t arise from the events that transpire, but in the explanation for them. Or rather, the lack of one. I think — and I’m certainly guilty of this myself — that writers sometimes get caught up in the events that drive our story and assume that these events need to make sense for the reader to buy them, when in truth, the story can have more impact when there is nothing for the reader to buy. 

Before I get to whether or not this story is worth your time, I want to note a passage as I usually do. 

Twilight came and the fog with it, drifting up the tree-lined avenues slowly, almost thoughtfully, blotting out the buildings one by one. It was soft, insubstantial stuff, but somehow implacable and frightening. Springheel Jack was a man, no one seemed to doubt that, but the fog was his accomplice and it was female…or so it seemed to me. It was as if our little school was caught between them, squeezed in some crazy lovers’ embrace, part of a marriage that had been consummated in blood (King 277).

I have no reason for picking this paragraph apart from the fact that I think it’s pretty, simple as that.

Anyways, would I recommend Strawberry Spring? I wouldn’t consider it a new favorite of mine, but I do think it’ll be worth the ten to fifteen minutes of your time that it’ll take. It won’t leave you with any startling revelations about life, no deep questions to ponder, but it’s a thrilling piece and there’s a lot here to unpack if you’re hoping to learn horror storytelling from a master.

Good Boys Deserve Favors by Neil Gaiman

It’s day 2 of the Ray Bradbury Challenge, and I’m mixing things up with a little bit of Gaiman. I found this short story in his anthology, Fragile ThingsI’ll be honest: I’ve read this story before and remember enjoying it, but I could not for the life of me remember what it was about. My initial thought was that it must not have been a very good story then.

So with low expectations, I gave it another read, and about five minutes later (it’s quite a short one), I remembered why I liked it. This is a very different sort of story from The Euphio Question by Kurt Vonnegut, which I read yesterday. It seems to me that they offer entirely different things. In The Euphio Question, Vonnegut had something he wanted impress upon the reader. He put forth a perspective on the nature of happiness and left the reader to puzzle over philosophical matters, like whether or not happiness can ever be excessive. Good Boys Deserve Favors, on the other hand, doesn’t probe into any such matters. It’s quick and light and inconsequential. It doesn’t say as much, and the substance of the story doesn’t make as strong an impact on me as a reader, but in giving those things up, Gaiman gives it this pleasant mixture of authenticity and realism. It feels less like a story one might find in a book and more like an amusing experience one friend might recount to another over a few beers.

I’m going to skip the summary this time. It’s such a quick read that any concrete details I share will just ruin the fun for you. I’m still figuring out how exactly I’d like to structure these posts. Or if I want any sort of consistent structure at all. We’ll see.

Here’s a passage that I want to share:

“He had never married. Good double bass players, he told me, were men who made poor husbands. He had many such observations. There were no great male cellists – that’s one I remember. And his opinion of viola players, of either sex, was scarcely repeatable” (Gaiman 128).

It sounds simple now that I’m writing it, but it occurs to me that a reader can learn a lot, very quickly, about a character through the advice that he or she gives. Just the same, a storyteller can share a great deal of information about a character in their reaction to that advice. This is particularly useful to me because I tend to be rather hamfisted with the way I describe my characters to my readers. It’s a good way to characterize people without telegraphing to the reader that you’re, well, characterizing people.

Aside from that, if there’s one thing I’d like to take away from this read, it would be this: a story doesn’t need to have profound messages or complex plots to be worth the reader’s time. Sometimes, a story without much substance to it can stand on the merits of its voice. To me, that’s just as impressive.

Anyways, would I recommend this story? Absolutely. It’ll take you 5 minutes and while it won’t leave you with any meaty questions to ponder over for the rest of the day, it’ll definitely leave you with a smile.

The Euphio Question by Kurt Vonnegut

Vonnegut’s The Euphio Question is a short story I found in his anthology entitled Welcome to the Monkey House. It’s funny, but in perfect Vonnegut fashion it’s also profound in its take on human happiness. The story is told in the form of the unnamed narrator’s testimony to the Federal Communications Commission. He, along with Lew Harrison and Dr. Fred Bockman (a radio announcer and physicist respectively), inadvertently invent a gadget that induces a peace of mind the likes of which man has never known. It is essentially a radio transmitter that amplifies and broadcasts signals from far off heavenly bodies. Anyone within range, they soon learn, gets hit with an irresistible wave of contentedness. They decide to test it out on themselves and their families (great idea, right?), and the rest, I shall leave to you to find out.

A Notable Quote

There’s one phrase that stuck out as particularly funny: “…the rest of us lay draped around the room, whimpering about hunger, cold, and thirst…” (Vonnegut 202). I just love the use of the word “draped”. I had never thought to describe people the way one might describe a soggy curtain. The imagery is fucking hilarious.

A Trick for My Writer’s Toolkit

There’s something Vonnegut did that I’m going to experiment with myself. I’m hoping you take the time to read this short story, so I’ll leave out the details. Essentially, Vonnegut would open a scene by establishing something that a character does not want. And then he’d show us a situation in which the same character concedes that very thing. It’s a simple, but effective way of highlighting the influence of the particular situation they are in.

My Verdict

I’d say I’m starting this challenge right. Of course, Vonnegut is a rather safe pick. I don’t remember ever not enjoying something he wrote. (Well, I wasn’t the biggest fan of Galapagos, but even then, I had to admit it was well written). The Euphio Question is absolutely worth your time. It’s a short read, but it’s full of laughs and it still manages to give the reader something to think about.