Asleep In Armageddon by Ray Bradbury, 1948
The magic trick:
Dispensing with the predictable space travel problems only to deliver a new conflict that is much scarier
The story begins with a crash. But it’s a happy crash. Our hero’s spaceship is wrecked, yes, but he’s alive and he can now eat and read and relax. He and the reader, both, let their guard down.
Little did we know.
There is something far more treacherous than a lack of oxygen on this planet. OK, well, perhaps not far more treacherous. First of all, a lack of oxygen wouldn’t really be treacherous at all. That would imply some kind of evil or conspiracy. It would simply be a massive problem. And for a human, it would be the ultimate problem. So I can’t really say that the story’s conflict winds up being worse than asphyxiation. But it kind of is?
The enemy on this planet comes in the form of voices in our hero’s head. They are legitimately scary. Like, especially for 1948, I’m thinking this really scared some readers. It’s very, very creepy.
The hero literally claps his hands in joy at the beginning of the story. It’s short-lived, though. And that’s quite a trick on Bradbury’s part.
Oh? cried a small metal voice within. An echo. Fading.
“Yes!” he cried, beating his fists together. “Sane!”
Hahahahahahahahahah. Somewhere a vanishing laughter.
He whirled about. “Shut up, you!” he cried.
We didn’t say anything, said the mountains. We didn’t say anything, said the sky. We didn’t say anything, said the wreckage.
“All right then,” he said, swaying. “See that you don’t.”
Everything was normal.
The pebbles were getting hot. The sky was big and blue. He looked at his fingers and saw the way the sun burned on every black hair. He looked at his boots and the dust on them. Suddenly he felt very happy because he made a decision. I won’t go to sleep, he thought. I’m having nightmares, so why sleep. There’s your solution.
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