It’s that time of the week to look back on the greatest classic sci-fi for Throwback Thursday!
We’ve talked about some of our favorite Ray Bradbury short stories here at ScienceFiction.com, but we haven’t really delved into one his more popular stories, “The Long Rain”.
“The Long Rain” is interesting as science fiction as it doesn’t really tackle any big questions, like Asimov does with Artifical Intelligence, or Heinlein does with the concept of the other. Instead, it focuses on the psychological trauma of humans on other, less hospitable planets.
In this case, Venus.
Now, before you get bent out of shape about humans not being able to survive on Venus, you have to remember at the time of Bradbury writing this, the common knowledge about Venus was that it was raining all the time. That was why it was so cloudy. Of course, we now know the clouds are carbon dioxide, and it actually doesn’t rain at all on Venus.
But whatever. Bradbury didn’t know that. He used what he knew, and created a story, which is what science fiction should do.
“The Long Rain” follows a group of astronauts who have been walking in the rain for 30 days after their rocket crash, and the toll it takes on the group as they attempt to find shelter. If that doesn’t sound all that bad to you, Bradbury makes sure that you think differently with this description:
The rain continued. It was a hard rain, a perpetual rain, a sweating and steaming rain; it was a mizzle, a downpour, a fountain, a whipping at the eyes, an undertow at the ankles; it was a rain to drown all rains and the memory of rains. It came by the pound and the ton, it hacked at the jungle and cut the trees like scissors and shaved the grass and tunneled the soil and molted the bushes. It shrank men’s hands into the hands of wrinkled apes; it rained a solid glassy rain, and it never stopped.
Combine that with them talking about how it feels like water torture, or the fact it bleaches everything white, including our astronauts skin and clothes, and you have a truly terrifying concept.
Of course that’s just Bradbury. He delights in taking the simplest things, and making them horrifying. He’s like an early Steven Moffat.
The story, needless to say, does not end well, as each character succumbs to madness and gets offed in various creative ways, so if you’re looking for a happy ending, this may not be the place.
But that’s not the charm of the story, if you can call it charm. What makes it good science fiction is it really engages with space outside of Earth as being fundamentally hostile to human health. Too many sci-fi stories take for granted that not every planet has ideal atmospheres or tolerable climes for humans. “The Long Rain” is interesting for eschewing that concept.
It’s been done a few times in other media, if you would like to check it out. It was a part of the critical (and financial) flop, “The Illustrated Man”, and they did an episode dedicated to it on Ray Bradbury Theater here:
If you’d like to read it, you can find it Bradbury’s short story collection, ‘The Illustrated Man’.