There Will Come Soft Rains

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"There Will Come Soft Rains" is a short story written by Ray Bradbury that documents the operation of a robotic house after its human residents -- and likely the totality of humankind -- have expired. Featured in Bradbury's anthology The Martian Chronicles, the story's title is a reference to the eponymous Sara Teasdale poem. Both works share the common setting of a post-apocalyptic world, and both meditate on the meaning of humanity's erasure from the face of the planet.

Contents

Plot Summary

"There Will Come Soft Rains" begins by recounting the daily routine of an automated house on August 4, 2026. Slowly, the reader discovers that the house is unoccupied under strange circumstances. Various references to radiation and shadows burnt into walls indicate that, sometime before 2026, a nuclear war occurred that eradicated all humans in the vicinity of the house. This ties back to the title and the reader starts to understand why the story it titled such. It quickly allows one to feel the setting and become more involved. The story continues describing the houses chores until ten o'clock, when "the house began to die."

At this time, an errant branch breaks through the kitchen window, upsetting chemicals and starting a fire. The house, well-equipped to deal with fires, begins defending itself against the flames. However, the chemical fire spreads too quickly and burns too hot for the house to extinguish it. Eventually, the house's water reserves are depleted and its chemical fire suppressants prove ineffective.

The house continues crying out in alarm, advising its occupants to escape. As the fire consumes the house, the mechanical voices are sharply silenced. By the following morning, the entirety of the house has collapsed except for one wall. What remains of the house's circuitry allows it only to announce the date. Incapable of doing anything else, most likely as a result of the damage done to its circuits, the house repeats the date over and over as the Sun begins to rise.

Thematic connections to other works

Mortality

Mortality as a defining characteristic of human beings appears prevalently in Schismatrix. In that novel, Lindsay and most of the population of the Solar System undergo procedures to have their lives extended beyond that of a "natural" human. Eventually, immortality is attained; at the same time, though, various other technological and social developments have led to the transcendence of humanity. As a result, Sterling connects mortality to humanity, and thus the loss of mortality to the emergence of the posthuman.

In "There Will Come Soft Rains," mortality also acts to define the difference between man and machine. A pervasive element of Bradbury's story is the fact that the humans are gone, yet the machine lives on. Beyond that, the machine seems almost to flourish, establishing its own ecosystem of mechanical cleaning mice and warding off any unfamiliar wildlife.

Interaction of man and machine

Cyberpunk fiction often involves the interaction of man/ woman and machines, commonly with an emphasis on the equality of the two. That is, the subservience of machines to men, and often the reversal of this situation, is a common theme in cyberpunk. For example, Neuromancer describes a world in which artificial intelligence is kept strictly regulated to prevent it from reaching equality to humans. Likewise, Case's treatment of human simulations like The Dixie Flatline -- particularly his coarseness and ingratitude -- implies that humans in Neuromancer view artificial beings as something inferior to humans.

"There Will Come Soft Rains" also considers the relationship between man and machine. In this case, the design of the house -- its single-minded goal of serving its residents -- demonstrates that machines had been the tools of humanity. However, after nuclear bombardment has obliterated humanity, the house still remains. Symbolically, this suggests that the importance of humans and robots has reversed in the world.

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