In this case, we will analyze two very different “end-of-the-world” stories: Asimov’s “Nightfall,” and Bradbury’s “August 2026: There Will Come Soft Rains.” (Click on the URLs, Background Info page.) Both stories are worth reading just for the fun of it, but as we read, we’ll be thinking of them in terms of a particular analytic framework.Write a 3- to 5-page essay containing the following elements.
A very short (one-paragraph) summary of each story. This is not a recap, but rather an aid to remembering the story’s main points.
In what sense are they both “end-of-the-world” stories?
What makes them SF stories, as opposed to conventional short fiction?
On the Home Page, we listed some features of a good story. Choose the feature on which you think the two stories are most dissimilar. For example, you may think one of the stories has a particularly strong opening, while the other is more difficult “to get into.” Compare the two stories in detail, with respect to that particular feature.
Which story did you find to be the most entertaining? The most memorable? Why?
Be sure to use appropriate citations and references.
Asimov, I. (1941). Nightfall. Retrieved on 1 Oct 2012 from http://www.uni.edu/morgans/astro/course/nightfall.pdf
Bradbury, R. (1950). August 2026: There will come soft rains. Retrieved from https://archive.org/stream/RayBradbury-SoftRains/There%20Will%20Come%20Soft%20Rains%20-%20Ray%20Bradbury_djvu.txt
In this final Module, we’ll be reading short fiction by two modern masters; Isaac Asimov (1920-1992) and Ray Bradbury (1920-2012). Both were prolific in the genre known as Science Fiction, or Speculative Fiction (SF), although Asimov also gained prominence as a writer of non-fiction. Wikipedia has a good biographical article on each. (Wikipedia is not an authoritative source for any topic that’s in the least bit controversial, but it’s useable for locating facts of public record. See also HarperCollins (2001) and Seiler (n.d.), which are websites dedicated to the authors.)
SF has been defined in many ways, by many people (e.g., Treitel, 2006). The first examples of the genre date from the 2nd century (e.g., Franklin, n.d.) but one can argue that it only achieved wide public recognition following the invention of motion pictures. The first “serious” science fiction film, which combined metaphysical speculation with a plausible, near-future spaceflight technology, was Stanley Kubrick’s “2001: A Space Odyssey” (1968), with a screenplay written by SF luminary Arthur C. Clarke.
We will be reading four SF short stories. Here are the “TV Guide” summaries.
Nightfall (Asimov): A planet with humanoid inhabitants only experiences “night” once every 2000 years. It’s not a Good Thing.
August 2026: There Will Come Soft Rains (Bradbury): A “smart” house begins its day, but finds there’s something’s missing.
The Final Question (Asimov): A computer finally answers The Big One.
A Sound of Thunder (Bradbury): A hunting trip into the past goes horribly wrong. (This short story was the basis of a 2005 film by the same name. The critics hated it.)
We’ll be reading these SF stories with the goal of understanding and appreciating the unique features of SF. But in addition, we’ll be using them as examples of short stories in general. Here are the parts of a short story, and some criteria for evaluating each. (Adapted from Paine, 2012, and Clark, 2012).
Opening: What “grabs you,” and makes you want to keep reading?
Background: Is it clear where and when the story is taking place? Is there enough detail to you to visualize the world? Is the point of view clear — that is, do we know through whose eyes are we seeing the story unfold?
Conflict: What is creating the tension? Where’s the conflict; between characters, ideas, characters and nature, characters and dinosaurs, or what?
Development: Is there a clear feeling that something’s about to happen? Do you want to keep reading? Why?
Climax: Is there a point at which things are resolved? Do the characters experience some sort of revelation? Is this the high point of the story? Does it work?
End: Are all the loose ends tied up? Are things explained, over-explained, or left unclear? Are the main questions posed by the story answered? Are you, the reader, left feeling satisfied?
You’ll be using these criteria as part of your Case Assignment.
TWO MODERN MASTERS: ASIMOV AND BRADBURY
JEAN-JACQUES ROUSSEAU began his famous Confessions by a vehement appeal to the Deity: “I have shown myself as I was; contemptible and vile when I was so; good, generous, sublime when I was so; I have unveiled my interior such as Thou thyself hast seen it, Eternal Father! Collect about me the innumerable swarm of my fellows; let them hear my confessions; let them groan at my unworthiness; let them blush at my meannesses! Let each of them discover his heart in his turn at the foot of thy throne with the same sincerity; and then let any one of them tell thee if he dares: ‘I was a better man!’ ”
Jean Jacques was a very great educator in the manner of the eighteenth century, and has been commonly thought to have had more influence than any other teacher of his time; but his peculiar method of improving human nature has not been universally admired. Most educators of the nineteenth century have declined to show themselves before their scholars as objects more vile or contemptible than necessary, and even the humblest teacher hides, if possible, the faults with which nature has generously embellished us all, as it did Jean Jacques, thinking, as most religious minds are apt to do, that the Eternal Father himself may not feel unmixed pleasure at our thrusting under his eyes chiefly the least agreeable details of his creation.
As an unfortunate result the twentieth century finds few recent guides to avoid, or to follow. American literature offers scarcely one working model for high education. The student must go back, beyond Jean Jacques, to Benjamin Franklin, to find a model even of self-teaching. Except in the abandoned sphere of the dead languages, no one has discussed what part of education has, in his personal experience, turned out to be useful, and what not. This volume attempts to discuss it.
As educator, Jean Jacques was, in one respect, easily first; he erected a monument of warning against the Ego. Since his time, and largely thanks to him, the Ego has steadily tended to efface itself, and, for purposes of model, to become a manikin on which the toilet of education is to be draped in order to show the fit or misit of the clothes. The object of study is the garment, not the figure. The tailor adapts the manikin as well as the clothes to his patron’s wants. The tailor’s object, in this volume, is to fit young men, in universities or elsewhere, to be men of the world, equipped for any emergency; and the garment offered to them is meant to show the faults of the patchwork fitted on their fathers.
At the utmost, the active-minded young man should ask of his teacher only mastery of his tools. The young man himself, the subject of education, is a certain form of energy; the object to be gained is economy of his force; the training is partly the clearing away of obstacles, partly the direct application of effort. Once acquired, the tools and models may be thrown away.
The manikin, therefore, has the same value as any other geometrical figure of three or more dimensions, which is used for the study of relation. For that purpose it cannot be spared; it is the only measure of motion, of proportion, of human condition; it must have the air of reality; must be taken for real; must be treated as though it had life. Who knows? Possibly it had!