Kaleidoscope by Ray Bradbury

Short Stories on Wednesdays

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Short Stories on Wednesday is a weekly meme hosted by Nancy at A Simple Clockwork. Participants read (at least) one short story a week and post about it, usually linking to their post in a comment on Nancy’s site. It’s a great way to learn about new stories and writers. Many times the stories posted about are available for free on line and are linked within the post – as mine is this week. I am participating in this meme in conjunction with my own short story reading project for 2013 – “Project: Deal Me In!”

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I drew the six of spades from my short story deck this past weekend. This year, stories in that suit are supposed to be of the “Ghost, Scary, or Sci-Fi” category. An argument could be made that this Bradbury story qualifies on all three grounds.

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The human experience has been changed in many ways by technology. One of these ways, which this story led me to ponder about would be a human’s sometimes increased knowledge of the specific time of our inevitable death. We do not hear the old-time stories where a doctor gives his patient “six-weeks” to live* or some other somewhat arbitrary period as often as we used to. As our medical science has become more precise, so has its ability to more closely estimate the time of our “expiration date.” In this short story by Bradbury, the crew of a rocket ship that has been rocked by an explosion knows exactly how much time will elapse before their life must end.

Though hurtled into space through a gaping hole in their ship, the crew are protected by their spacesuits, but do not possess any means of locomotion. They have become human satellites. The radio transmitters in the helmets are functional, though, and that allows the handful of crew mates to maintain conversation as they fly apart in whichever direction the blast sent them. Knowing their doom is imminent, the men react different ways. Some with childlike terror, some with bitterness, some with meanness, some with the contentedness of A Life Well Lived. The character from whose point of view the story is predominantly told is the captain, Hollis. He muses about things in his life left undone and dreams unfulfilled. Of all the crew, he is the only one for whom his trajectory will lead him to fall into Earth, which allows a cute, poignant ending to this tale. Not a bad story, but not among the best I’ve read this year either.

Ever since the news of Ray Bradbury’s death earlier this year, I’ve been wanting to read more of his work, which, with the exception of “Fahrenheit 451” I had thus far neglected. What other books or stories of his would you recommend? I acquired this story in an anthology picked up at a used book sale. It’s titled The Omnibus of Science Fiction, first published in 1952, it includes 42 stories, many by pioneers in the genre

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I found this story in a few places online. One of them is here http://www.scaryforkids.com/kaleidoscope-by-ray-bradbury

*remember the one about the doctor who gave his patient six weeks to live? The patient couldn’t pay his bill so the doctor gave him another six weeks. Ah, the classics…  🙂

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4 Comments

  1. Dale said,

    August 15, 2012 at 6:45 pm

    I’ve never read The Martian Chronicles. I don’t know whether it’s a novel or a series of short stories. I think it sounded almost too science fiction to me, but so far his short stories have been great: science fiction, fantasy, etc. I’m starting to think about my own “Deal Me In” project for next year. I’m pretty sure some of his short stories will be in the drawing.

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    • Jay said,

      August 16, 2012 at 7:40 am

      Hi Dale,
      I remember there was a tv mini-series of The Martian Chronicles – maybe in the late 70s/early 80s – that starred Rock Hudson and Darren McGavin. I remember it was “vaguely incomprehensible” to my young mind.
      I might do a mini Bradbury Project next year. The more I read of him, the more I want to read.
      My short story “deal me in” projects have been a lot of fun, and the “reading burden” isn’t so great as some of the other projects I’ve done.
      -Jay

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  2. Che said,

    August 23, 2012 at 8:54 am

    Just read Kaleidoscope and its quite different from the two Bradbury short stories I read. There’s something of a moral fable-like quality to this one. But then, I think that’s what sets Bradbury’s stories apart. Ostensibly they may be about time travel or scary machines, but the commentary on human failings is a big part of it.

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    • Jay said,

      August 23, 2012 at 1:35 pm

      Thanks for the comment, Che, and I agree. Bradbury often claimed he wasn’t a “sci-fi writer.” (or at least resisted being labeled as such)

      -Jay

      Like


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