Where Does Inspiration for Dystopian Science Fiction Come From?
Updated: Aug 26, 2020
Image by Mystic Art Design via Pixabay
Writers inspire technology with fictional devices and scenarios, as much as they take inspiration from the technology that terrifies them.
There's a wealth of ideas for dystopian sci-fi between reality and fiction. We don't have to travel the galaxy to expound on one of our favorite themes—
Humanity's ability to create and destroy.
Ray Bradbury's August 2026 There Will Come Soft Rains is an excellent example of how fiction and fact overlap when the writer asks the simple question—what if?
Spoiler Alert! Why not click on the link above and read this 5-page short story before I ruin it for you?
Photo by Charles Levy / Public domain via Wikimedia
Bradbury wrote August 2026 There Will Come Soft Rains in 1950, long before we could ask Alexa to turn on the lights with a voice command. Imagination and research fueled his take on a scenario as he placed technology and nature at odds with one another. And a strikingly familiar system continues to operate even after the people who invented and used it disappear.
The world feared nuclear holocaust when Bradbury penned this short story. And as all great writers do, he asked, what if? He imagined the results of humanity's misuse of one of our greatest gifts—the ability to create technology that can advance society or destroy it.
“Fantasies are things that can't happen, and science fiction is about things that can happen.” ~ Ray Bradbury
Bradbury’s August 2026: There Will Come Soft Rains uses a futuristic setting in which humankind has destroyed itself. The location takes on a life of its own, however, through a series of surprisingly familiar technologies. Setting becomes a character alive and running on automatic until a fallen tree sets off a fatal chain of events.
Conflict Drives Action and Moves the Plot Forward
Conflict drives the plot in any great story through the rising action, climax, falling action, and on into resolution. What's more, the “struggle between opposing forces” (Charters 1241) occurs when a protagonist has a burning desire to achieve a goal and an antagonist blocks their attempts to succeed. Bradbury uses language to appeal to the senses and bring the setting to life in this dystopian sci-fi tale. In doing so, he effectively turns the house into a protagonist that illustrates the power of technology.
Characters Don't Have to Be People
The technology within the house becomes supporting characters that all work together to move the plot forward. And mother nature is the antagonist who will always win in the end.
Bradbury begins his tale at the dawn of a new day, establishing the rising action immediately with a “voice-clock” singing in the living room, “Tik-Tock, seven o’clock, time to get up” … “as if it were afraid nobody would.”
The clock sets the pace of the story, marking the house’s last day. It's the beginning of August. “Eight-one,” the house is empty, “no doors slam.”
Photograph by Josh Sorenson via Pexels
The weather box sings, “Rain, rain, go away.” This simple, familiar children’s rhyme foreshadows the climax when “At ten o’clock, the house begins to die.” Throughout the day, the house carries on, with technology that runs everything from wake-up calls and making breakfast to setting off the sprinklers and letting the family dog in the house.
At “Twelve noon,” the house recognizes and opens the door for the dog. Pancakes cook with “the rich odor and the scent of maple syrup” in stark contrast to a starving pet who, after searching the house for its occupants is driven crazy with hunger and “runs wildly in circles, biting at its tail” before it finally dies on the kitchen floor. Despite its attempts, technology could not save the pet; however, the electronic house mice did clean up the poor dog’s body and dispose of it in the incinerator.
Time Marches On
We understand that time is limited in this world as traces of the past disappear, hour by hour.
Nevertheless, the location is alive and relentlessly continues its daily routine— the clock marking time— moving the action forward, until the fateful hour when a tree, blown over in the storm breaks the kitchen window and knocks over flammable cleaners that catch fire. “The solvent spread on the linoleum, licking, eating, under the kitchen door,” and the technology sounded the alarm, “Fire, fire, fire.” The house and its automated occupants lose its battle as “The fire rushed back into every closet … The house shuddered, oak bone on bone …” Its destruction marks the end of an era.
Nature wins again.
Did you enjoy this short story as much as I did? I'd love to hear your thoughts! Are you looking for inspiration? Checkout TheDailyShift.Oline—where science and fiction meet. If you like this article, you can read more about some of my creative inspiration on Vocal.Media.