I think the short story and Science Fiction are perfect for each other. Nothing against long form science fiction; I have read the Dune Saga multiple times and I love Asimov's foundation series. But there is something about the short story that helps reinforce the timelessness of science fiction.
The best sci-fi stories that I've ever read use the technology as a vehicle to explore the human condition. Isaac Asimov thought about how we would interact with robots. Frank Herbert asked how we would develop if the human species purposefully limited the reach of certain kinds of technology.
And Ray Bradbury asked - how would we interact with another intelligent species that would naturally have vastly different cultural perspectives?
The obvious answer is "not terribly well given our history" and that would be an accurate prediction of what Bradbury writes. Earth men are not the "good guys" of this story but Bradbury doesn't harp on our failures and doesn't attempt to scold his readers. He isn't attempting to clutch pearls about the barbarity of mankind. Bradbury spoke out against trying to make a story that serves as a lecture:
"[Trying to write a cautionary story] is fatal. You must never do that. A lot of lousy novels come from people who want to do good." (1)
The Martians have a kind of animist culture that is influenced by their inherent telepathic capabilities. There is little personal privacy within the culture of Mars since everyone can read other people's minds and Martians are even capable of projecting images from their minds eye into the brains of other Martians. These vast differences lead to misunderstandings between the first Earth men and the Martians. Misunderstandings lead to death on both sides.
Bradbury deftly takes the general history of the colonization of the United States and our expansion into the "wild west" as the model for his short stories. Over time Earth expands its territory throughout Mars. Martian cities start as mining towns, and then the poor and desperate come for work, which leads to crime, which leads to death.
Science Fiction fans are more than familiar with using the West as a metaphor for space exploration from shows like Firefly but Bradbury seems to have originated this concept when he wrote the Martian Chronicles in 1950. The juxtaposition of traveling millions of miles to Mars but using simple technology like letters doesn't jar you out of believing the reality of the stories because the technology is mostly a metaphor for how familiar we would still interact even when mankind colonizes a strange new world.
In the Martian Chronicles Bradbury didn't make the humans comically evil and the Martians stereotypical noble and bright like so many stories we have today that inadvertently make various groups of people into one dimensional characters. Bradbury would vehemently reject any attempt at making the "message" of the story be more important than the "story" of the story.
Bradbury as a teacher
Bradbury has a lot of wonderful quotes about how to become a decent writer that are worth sharing with everyone.
It is clear to me that Bradbury would have been a phenomenal teacher if that had been his life path. As it is he did become a teacher just not in the traditional sense.
Bradbury on quantity over quality
"The best hygiene for beginning writers or intermediate writers is to write a hell of a lot of short stories. If you can write one short story a week—it doesn’t matter what the quality is to start, but at least you’re practicing, and at the end of the year you have 52 short stories, and I defy you to write 52 bad ones. Can’t be done. At the end of 30 weeks or 40 weeks or at the end of the year, all of a sudden a story will come that’s just wonderful."
This idea that quantity produces quality is something that I am only now really beginning to understand. I think we have all been conditioned to give up if we don't get something with two or three tries. In reality we need to try something at least 30 or 40 times before we are out of the "terrible" zone. It is sad that we don't allow ourselves the luxury of this.
I like the goal that he challenges us to set. I think that is a goal that would be worthwhile for me to pursue but at this point I can't set another goal. I will put "write a short story a week" on my list of future goals to accomplish. I don't want to risk putting my Shakespeare goal on the backburner in pursuit of that shiny new goal.
My favorite Bradbury Quote:
“Just write every day of your life. Read intensely. Then see what happens. Most of my friends who are put on that diet have very pleasant careers.”
This is my overarching goal and a big part of why I am keeping this blog. I had the "reading intensely" part down for quite some time now (although I have gotten much more intense in the past year) but the writing part has definitely been a challenge. Part of it was having the friction of not having a space to write and losing motivation from not being able to share what I am writing about. Having a blog has solved both of those problems in theory. I have tons of drafts that I haven't shared but I can access my writing easy enough on any computer. And knowing that some small group of people is reading my work helps keep me motivated to continue in a way that I simply didn't have for the past several years of fits and starts of writing.
This keynote speech titled "telling the truth" given by Bradbury is well worth the time it takes to watch. It is crystal clear that this man loved what he was doing. I hope that some day I can have as much enthusiasm as he has.
- Ray Bradbury’s Greatest Writing Advice: https://lithub.com/ray-bradburys-greatest-writing-advice/