1. Thunder and Roses by Theodore Sturgeon (1947) – War/Conflict
2. There Will Come Soft Rains by Ray Bradbury (1950) – Apocalypse/Post-apocalypse
3. The Cage of Sand by J.G. Ballard (1962) – Apocalypse/Post-apocalypse
4. Speech Sounds by Octavia E. Butler (1983) – Apocalypse/Post-apocalypse
All of the stories that I chose were based solely on their focus on problems of the “inner space” as opposed to “outer space”. Each discusses a unique problem on earth, most prominent here is: disease and war in a apocalypse or post-apocalypse state. These challenge the rigid scientific dialogue presented in a lot of science fiction, that almost drives those narratives towards pseudoscience. These are very different in that they don’t create a kind of narrative that pretends to be entirely scientific to sound intellectual.
The timeline begins with Sturgeon’s Thunder and Roses (1947) which was published during the Cold War, adheres to that atmosphere of doom and fear. The story has a very noir feel to it and is character-driven. Just as a side note, all the stories that I’ve chosen have been published during the Cold War, which lasted from about 1947-1991 according to most sources I’ve looked up. Thunder and Roses relies on its characters to ask the big question of what would happen during or after a nuclear war? What would drive people to continue living if they knew they were doomed from the beginning? There is an air of indifference with the knowledge that they are going to die one way or another: “(Everybody around here always said “Why not?”)” (195). But this changes towards the end, when Pete Mawser interacts with Starr Anthim, he realizes that even the smallest chance that humanity may survive this is worth it. And even though he does end up killing Sonny, it is in the hope that he may have prevented alot of additional deaths. In other words, he does it for “the greater good” which I guess is a kind of trope that has existed and continues to exist in alot of SF work.
There Will Come Soft Rains by Bradbury (1950), takes a very non-character driven but full of personifications/poetic route. Bradbury’s take is more believable, and though it lacks real human figures, the house takes on a very human character of its own. The setting like Sturgeon is very dreary, and contains humor even amidst stark circumstances. However, it doesn’t offer up any future hope for humanity since there are no real humans present, nor does it give an idea of what the rest of the world is like. It feels almost empty, that only these mechanical structures have been left behind after a war-like period. It creates a world that seems devoid of human life, which is a very bleak future that alligns itself with the historical events of the Cold War and the thought that nuclear war could eradicate human life.
The Cage of Sand by Ballard (1962), brings its focus onto a trio in the midst of a desert on earth. The focus is very much on the effect of the space exploration on the people on earth. It does talk about the spread of a plant viral disease from Martian soil to the rest of the earth. It does give off a similar very empty feel like Bradbury’s There Will Come Soft Rains, with dilapidated buildings and loss of contact with the rest of the world, with a very beak ending for the individuals that have been isolated. In this story unlike the others, the rest of the world is normal and pretty much unaffected. This is an interesting shift from the prior stories that are although focused on a small setting, talk about the effects of a larger nuclear war.
Speech Sounds by Butler (1983) too is driven by a disease but one that is much more devastating, with the loss of speech or ability to read/write or both. It again brings us back to a global scale in terms of the spread of the disease. What is really different about this story is the hope that it carries through the devastation at the very end. The hope that there are children out there resistant to the disease, that will continue human existence.
Ballard, J. G. “The Cage of Sand.” In Evans et al., The Wesleyan Anthology of Science Fiction, 338–58.
Ballard, J. G. “Which Way To Inner Space?” In A User’s Guide to the Millennium: Essays and Reviews, 195–98. Online on Sakai.
Bradbury, Ray. “There Will Come Soft Rains.” In Evans et al., The Wesleyan Anthology of Science Fiction, 235–40.
Butler, Octavia E. “Speech Sounds.” In Evans et al., The Wesleyan Anthology of Science Fiction, 567–79.
Sturgeon, Theodore. “Thunder and Roses.” In Evans et al., The Wesleyan Anthology of Science Fiction, 190–210.
“US History Timeline: Cold War.” US History Timeline: Cold War. N.p., n.d. Web. 10 Dec. 2013. <http://faculty.washington.edu/qtaylor/a_us_history/cold_war_timeline.htm>