Monday, May 5, 2014

Ray Bradbury: "Kaleidoscope"

Spoiler Warning: I reveal the ending,

This story was an eye opener for me.  I read it back when I was very young.  Up to that time, I had read many SF short stories, most of which were problem stories.  Something dangerous was happening, there was a threat to humans in space or on other planets, but humans always were successful at the end.  When I started reading it, I assumed this would end happily, for several of the crew members anyway, and Hollis especially..  The opening lines should have prepared me for something different, but I noticed nothing.

"The first concussion cut the rocket up the side with a giant can opener.  The men were thrown into  space like a dozen wriggling silverfish.  They were scattered into a dark sea; and the ship, in a million pieces, went on, a meteor swarm seeking a lost sun.

.  .  .  .  .

They fell.  They fell as pebbles down wells.  They were scattered as jackstones are scattered from a gigantic throw.  And now instead of men there were only voices--all kinds of voices, disembodied and impassioned, in varying degrees of terror and resignation."

In the story we see Hollis and the rest of the crew attempting to come to grips with their fate.  Death is certain: unlike many SF stories I had read up to this time, it appears as though there will be no last minute rescue. 

As the story unfolds we see the way Hollis and the various crew members react to the shock of the loss of the ship and then the full realization of their situation.  All this is conveyed over the radios found in each space suit.   The captain makes an attempt to "rally" the crew but soon learns what some crew members really think of him.

Bitter antagonisms and feelings among the crew which had been repressed for so long finally emerge as various members of the crew decide now is the time to tell others what they think of them.  It is not pretty:  this is not a shining example of the stiff upper lip and heroic behavior found so often in films and stories.  As time passes, some regret their outbursts and try to make amends by taking back what they had said in panic and fear.  Eventually they do reach the point where the anger and fear has passed and they are resigned.  

As I posted the first lines of the story, it's only appropriate that I post the last lines:

"The small boy on the country road looked up and screamed, 'Look, Mom, look!  A falling star!'
The blazing white star fell down the sky of dusk in Illinois.
"Make a wish,' said his mother. 'Make a wish.'"

As so frequently happens in Bradbury's tales, the ending is ironic.  Whenever I look up at the stars at night and see a falling star, I can't help but think of "Kaleidoscope."


  1. It is unfair that Bradbury is so often perceived as a writer of stories and books for adolescents and SF fans. Publishers and libraries "market" him that way. He offers much more to readers. Thanks for reminding me that I should revisit Bradbury.

  2. RT,

    Agreed. Bradbury unlike so many other SF writers has probably been able to escape to some extent the SF ghetto, but the label is still there and his works, as far as I can tell, always end up in the SF/Fantasy section and not in the Lit/Fiction section where he belongs.

  3. I am not, to my shame, as familiar with Bradbury as I should be. I always meant to read more. I have his ZEN IN THE ART OF WRITING here on a shelf above my desk and I love that he counsels the reading of poetry for every would-be writer. Obviously he took his own advice.

  4. Yyette,

    Agreed. Following is a link to a commentary I made about one of his short stories, "The Fog Horn," which was the basis for a monster flick "The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms Beneath the Sea." I quoted some great passages from the story.