Reading Questions from The Wesleyan Anthology to Science Fiction (2010)
Ray Bradbury, “There Will Come Soft Rains” (1950)
1. How does Bradbury personify the house, and what is its personality?
2. In what ways does the story suggest a lost technological utopia, and in what ways does it show the dangers of technology?
3. Although the story’s fictional date is 2026, it was published in 1950. How does it reflect the time in which it was written?
4. How does the poem by Sara Teasdale inform the story?
5. What techniques does Bradbury use that make it seem less science-fictional, more “mundane,” that keep it from fitting genre expectations?
Alfred Bester, “Fondly Fahrenheit” (1954)
1. What causes the violent crimes of Vandaleur’s Multiple-Aptitude android? (The graduate students Wanda and Jed are the first to see the correlation, the mathematician Blenheim is the first to explain it, and the psychometrician Nan Webb later adds details.) By the final paragraphs, readers have been given enough information to understand the reason for the ominous twitching, writhing, and violence of Vandaleur’s cheap new android—even though they are now on a planet where the original triggering event can never recur. Piecing the evidence together, how do you explain the crimes of the second android? How do you interpret Bester’s conclusion?
2. Jean-Jacques Rousseau muses in The Social Contract (1764) that “a man thinks he is the master of others, whereas he is actually more of a slave than they”; in a letter written around the same time, he argues that “he who is a master cannot be free.” How do Rousseau’s ironic insights apply to the dilemma of Vandaleur in Bester’s story? Why would the M.A. android declare that “Sometimes it is a good thing to be property” (294)?
3. Analyze the puzzling pronouns in the first sentence: “He doesn’t know which of us I am these days, but they know one truth” (284). How does this initial sentence establish the story’s focus on confusion of identity? Contrast Bester’s distinctive writing style—including his choice of an opening sentence that cannot be understood until much later—with the more straightforward style of any other writer in this anthology.
4. James Paleologue Vandaleur’s impressive name is at odds with his venal, selfish personality. Consider some flaws in motivation and character that are disclosed by his behavior over the course of the story. Some of the android’s victims—including Wanda, Jed, and especially Dallas Brady—are almost as unlikeable. Are there any heroes in Bester’s tale? Does a science-fiction story have to have a hero?
5. During the M.A. android’s homicidal rampages, he performs a “lunatic rhumba” while repeating the silly lyrics of a pop song. Bouncy non-sequiturs such as “Now jeet your seat” were a feature of swing and jazz lyrics for some fifteen years. Bester writes his own “jive” lyrics, but Cab Calloway’s “Jumpin’ Jive” (1939; lyrics by Froeba and Palmer) was a real hit song of the period: “Palomar, shalomar, Swanee shore,/ Let me dig that jive once more,/ Boy!/....Now, don't you be that ickeroo....” Such lyrics, lighthearted in themselves, become disturbing when Bester links them to the lurid crimes of a rogue android. This unsettling intrusion of incongruously merry lyrics becomes one element in Bester’s uncanny overall effect. What are some other elements or episodes that contribute to this story’s sardonic, noir atmosphere?
Isaac Asimov, “Reason” (1941)
1. Is QT’s logic reasonable? Why or why not?
2. Robots are not supposed to experience emotions, yet QT often seems to do so. Also, the three laws of robotics mandate obedience to human beings, yet QT seems to flout these laws. How do you account for this apparent contradiction?
3. What do you make of QT’s claims of robot superiority? Does the story seem to support his views or refute them?
4. How does the story use humor and irony to mock QT’s pretensions to grandeur? Does the story also mock Powell and Donovan and, by implication, all fallible human beings?
5. How does the author portray the relationship between reason, religion, and truth?