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We weren’t meant for this; no Earthman was or ever will be able to take it.
Article may contain spoilers
“The Long Rain,” one of Ray Bradbury’s famed short stories within the collection The Illustrated Man, is first and foremost a science fiction tale. This should be fairly obvious to the reader from the outset; all of the surrounding stories are science fiction, ranging in subject from artificial intelligence, virtual reality, to nuclear apocalypse, also the story is set on Venus (a dead giveaway, some say.) I believe that, intentionally or not, Bradbury has effectively used the short story form to give an allegory for colonization, from the vapid perspective of the colonizer.
The Illustrated Man was written in 1950 and published in 1951. Although fairly removed from the traditional colonial sphere in America, Bradbury still collected the stories for publishing in the midst of a colonial overhaul; independence movements were springing up across Africa, Asia and the rest of the globe, with India already gaining independence from Britain in 1948, just three years prior to publishing. The twentieth century would continue to see revolutions and recedings as empires in their last formal appearance were beaten back. Although America was and is not usually seen to be an empire in comparison to the former empires of Britain, Germany and other nations, it isn’t impossible that the global backdrop to Bradbury’s working period worked it’s way into his writing thematically.
The environment of Venus in “The Long Rain” is horrific and treacherous. Bradbury describes it thus:
The white, white jungle with the pale cheese- coloured leaves, and the earth carved of wet camembert, and the tree boles like immense toadstools- everything black and white. And how often could you see the soil itself? Wasn’t it mostly a creek, a stream, a puddle, a pool, a lake, a river, and then, at last, the sea?
The image of a jungled and treacherous landscape plagued with dense rains is reminiscient of previously colonized lands such as Bangladesh that have monsoon seasons; many logs from soldiers in 17th century campaigns in these regions complain of the heat, rain, damp, jungle plants & beasts, and disease, as if they had invaded a forsaken planet rather than another country. It should be noted that the description of the land as being bodies of water is relevant to the colonial experience, as water has frequently acted as a conduit of empire; the Americas were discovered and claimed during Columbus’ voyage to find a quicker way to India, the Atlantic would eventually be crossed time and again for the trade of sugar, spice, and humans as slaves while rivers would be used as prying paths into continents such as South America and Africa.
Despite the obvious hostility of the Venusian landscape, humans have built abodes on the planet’s surface, called ‘Sun domes.’
A yellow house, round and bright as the sun. A house fifteen feet high by one hundred feet in diameter, in which was warmth and quiet and hot food and freedom from rain. And in the center of the Sun Dome, of course, was a sun. A small floating free globe of yellow fire, drifting in a space at the top of the bulding where you could look at it from where you sat, smoking or reading a book or drinking your hot chocolate crowned with marshmallow dollops. There it would be, the yellow sun, just the size of the Earth sun, and it was warm and continuous, and the rain world of Venus would be forgotten as long as they stayed in that house and idled their time.
As part of the process of assimilation, the colonizer will bring in their own systems of governance, commerce, finance, and ultimately culture. Bradbury creates an excellent image of this in the mini-earths, complete with mini-suns, existing in ignorance and defiance of the host planet’s own environment. The story ends with the lieutenant entering a Sun Dome, feeling its warmth, looking at all of the luxuries, and abandoning his wet clothes, and indeed the memories of the events outside the dome.
The Venusians themselves never actively appear in the story; instead, the aftermath of one of their attacks is observed at the anguish of the rocket crash survivors, who hoped to find the shelter of a Sun Dome. Instead, it lies in ruins.
Every once in a while the Venusians come up our of the sea and attack a Sun Dome. They know if they can ruin a Sun Dome they can ruin us.
The Venusians took [the Sun Dome survivors] all down to the sea. I hear they have a delightful way of drowning you. It takes about eight hours to drown the way they work it.
The reader is given only savagery about the alien inhabitants of Venus; we are not offered a view as to why they attack the Sun Domes and torture humans in such a way, but only that they do. We perceive them through the eyes of the colonizer, appalled by the actions of the host inhabitants who may be actively resiting colonization.
Bradbury’s story retains a focus on the journey of a group through a hostile and maddening imaginary landscape where the rains never stops, the storms are lethal and all colour has been washed away, but still the story carries some signifiers at the relationship between colonizer and colonized subjects and objects that were apparent at the time of writing, and remain important in reading the story today.
Bradbury, Ray. “The Long Rain” in The Illustrated Man. (Bantam: New York, 1967) pp. 53-65