Wednesday, September 20, 2023

Casual Shorts & the ISFdb Top Short Fiction # 27: Kaleidoscope by Ray Bradbury

Bradbury, Ray. "Kaleidoscope." Thrilling Wonder Stories, October 1949. pp 129-134

This article is part of my attempt to read all the 155 stories currently (as of 1 November 2022) on the ISFdb's Top Short Fiction list. Please see the introduction and list of stories hereI am encouraging readers to rate the stories and books they have read on the ISFdb.

ISFdb Rating:   9.00/10
My Rating:        7/10

"The first concussion cut the ship up the side like a giant can opener."

A dozen astronauts are launched into space when their rocket ship breaks open. They are each hurtling toward a different direction and a separate destination, away from one another, with about an hour remaining before they can no longer hear one another. In a brief space of time they contemplate mortality and whether a life fully lived meant anything more than one that was not, now that they will soon all be corpses.

Bradbury is in existential mode. While this is not among his best thinking stories, it is nonetheless quite good. I did find myself more affected with the thought of spinning dizzyingly across space with not a shred of control--an absolutely horrific thought--than the idea of reminiscing and regretting minutes before death. Published in 1949, the story is as dated as one would expect, with a primitive take on space travel, and an all-male cast whose envy is aimed at the one man who had experienced many women and much comfort in his lifetime. With humans colonizing Jupiter, you would think their ships and their suits would be more advanced and better equipped, but in all fairness that was not Bradbury's aim. And humanity does not evolve as quickly as technology, and the main idea is still relevant and will continue to remain relevant as our rocket ships continue to improve.

The title is well thought out. It refers to the image of one of the astronauts carried off by a small meteor shower and the metal and rock that surround him. Yet it refers simultaneously to the kaleidoscopic view of one's life, that it can be viewed at different angles and can contain beauty regardless of its experience.

Bradbury's prose is distracting, His overuse of similes (the opening brief three-sentence paragraph contains three similes, with another close behind, and then another, like a barrage of meteorites, or like thoughts flashing quickly through one's mind, or like...). 

Not my favourite Bradbury (though it's his highest ranked on the ISFdb), but nonetheless a solid story, well worth reading..

"Kaleidoscope" was among the stories selected for inclusion in Bradbury's famed The Illustrated Man. It has been reprinted excessively over the years.


Todd Mason said...

And, to be fair, even the more rigorous astronautical stories of the era too often didn't choose to deal with serious fail-safes, etc.

This one made an impression on me...I haven't checked yet, but I believe I read it in either R IS FOR ROCKET or S IS FOR SPACE, his two collections aimed at young readers that were everywhere in the '70s, and certainly easy enough for me to pick up. RIFR I recall reading in part while walking home from my fifth or sixth-grade schoolday one spring afternoon.

bobby said...

In a otherwise very good review, I think you miss some points. Most SF isn't about predicting the future (only a very small sub-set of writers do that), but a play of ideas playfully deployed, or a channel for personal concerns, here Bradbury's requiem for lives forlorn with regret. So what if all his astronauts are men? or that the space travel is not correct to what historical happened later? Does that negate a brilliant Sturgeon, Dick or Sheckley story? It would make all space travel utterly tiresome if they had NASA technology. The film 'Forbidden Planet' and 'Star Trek' have a beauty in their imaginative aesthetics, as much as Kubrick's in '2001'. And that ency of the one man who had experience with women, replicates what soldiers in the great wars also conveyed, who were also facing the certainty of death.

Casual Debris said...

Thank you Bobby for taking the time to leave a comment. Yeah, I've probably missed many points, but these stories offer such a rich tapestry.

I don't think I claim that science fiction is about predicting the future. In fact, Bradbury was interested in the human psyche and how people react and respond to extreme situations, using different genres to explore different ideas. He does this best, I think. in his horror fiction (The October Country is my favourite of his collections).

I do enjoy, however, poking at early SF for its silliness (in modern eyes), but I do this for fun & no disrespect is intended. (You should glance at some of my other reviews.)


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