Venus in Rain
A simple, devastating premise, well and briefly executed.
BY LISA SIBBETT
[This piece originally appeared in the summer 2010 issue devoted to science fiction.]
AMONG ALL THE woodenly significant short stories I was asked to read in junior high and high school, a few stand out as authentically awesome, non-wooden exceptions: a Donald Justice poem here, an excerpt from Slaughterhouse-Five there, and Ray Bradbury’s “All Summer in a Day,” which, oh my God.
I have made friends over this story. It is set on the planet Venus, where it always, always only and ever rains. “It had been raining for seven years; thousands upon thousands of days compounded and filled from one end to the other with rain.” The colonist-children of Venus have never seen anything but rain, and they wake “to the tatting drum, the endless shaking down of clear bead necklaces upon the roof, the walk, the gardens, the forests.” They know no weather but rain, and have never seen the sun. They conjecture in their writing assignments:
I think the sun is a flower,
That blooms for just one hour.
Only one student, a recent immigrant from Earth, remembers the sun. She is pale and sickly and fundamentally broken by the loss of the sun and thus sort of a weirdo, and once recently she freaked out in the school shower, clutching her hands to her ears and screaming uncontrollably. “The water mustn’t touch her head,” the story goes. “Dimly she sensed it, she was different and they knew her difference and kept away.”
Now, today, once in seven years, the sun is coming out for an hour. When the teacher is out of the room, the other students lock the girl in the closet half-jokingly, in their resentment, and go out to play and are enraptured by the sun, tumbling and exulting—and they forget about her until the rain closes back in. And that’s the story.
Bradbury’s stories are frequently like this: a simple, devastating premise, well and briefly executed. In “Kaleidoscope,” a spaceship has exploded, and we listen in as the spacemen in their spacesuits drift unstoppably off into deep space, slowly losing radio contact with one another. The stories are well written, and beautiful, and I dole them out to myself slowly, one collection over a period of years. Almost every Bradbury story, once read, follows me around making me feel lonely on crowded sunny afternoons and terrified when I try to go to sleep at night. I love and fear them because their risks feel plausible. What if I am shut away from the sun? What if I float off into space?
Lisa Sibbett lives in Seattle, Washington.