Arts and Culture Books

So you like Science Fiction? A couple SciFi stories for your next read

Theodore Sturgeon’s Microcosmic God. The book is the second volume of a series of six short stories.
Courtesy of The Internet Speculative Fiction Database website.

1. Microcosmic God, Theodore Sturgeon

Sturgen’s Microcosmic God is a short story that follows a scientist named Kidder, and the microscopic beings he has created called the Neoterics. Kidder’s island, on which he lives by himself, is inhabited by a higher authority, Conant, as he builds a large power source. Although Kidder is a genius, he fails to see through Conant’s plan and thus the story unfolds.

Among its suspense, the story assesses what a god is, and what defines one. In the work, there’s a sort of trope of encirclement happening within, meaning that the Neoterics are at the center of a circle, and surrounding them is Kidder who acts as their god. To Kidder though, he is surrounded by a different god: the workers on the island, whom he must obey. The workers look up to their boss, and their boss looks up to another in this food-chain-like stack of gods. It’s interesting that despite this “clear” hierarchy, this food chain is actually flipped and the Neoterics are the highest god on the list, with everyone looking up and worshiping them. 

In general, all of the characters look up to the person they want to control, just as people on earth today try to control their gods and control what religion looks like. Going off of the idea that the narrator could be a god as well, it’s especially interesting that at the end of the story, even they cannot see into the impenetrable shield. This narrator entity might look up to the Neoterics just as much as the other characters in the story because of their curiosity given in the last line of the story (about when the shield does eventually come down): “When I think of that I feel frightened” (112).

This short story can be found either in Microcosmic God: Volume II: The Complete Stories of Theodore Sturgeon, or featured in Robert Silverberg’s The Science Fiction Hall of Fame: Volume One, 1929-1964

Dark They Were and Golden Eyed by Ray Bradbury. Courtesy of the Goodreads website.

2. Dark They Were, and Golden Eyed, Ray Bradbury

 Dark They Were, and Golden Eyed by Ray Bradbury is set up as if the story is a loop.  People go to Mars, turn into Martians, and then reject human culture. The next time people go to Mars, then, the cycle will repeat. 

Within the story, there’s an interesting detail that the new people who travel to Mars believe that the Martians must have either killed the people there already, or they died from a disease. (In a way the people did die from a disease, except they didn’t die, they just evolved with the “sickness” that transformed their bodies into those of Martians.) 

When the people transform into Martians they don’t remember being human at all and don’t remember why they liked being human—living in the houses, having their names, etc. It’s as if their bodies are rejecting the human form, knowing they have to adapt to this new planet. Humans are made for earth, and it’s as if the body knows that, so despite their attempts to make the planet adapt to themselves, they can’t help but change instead.

One of my favorite aspects of this story, though, was the writing itself. I really loved the way Bradbury describes fear. “Sweat poured from his face and his hands and his body; he was drenched in the hotness of his fear,” and “the fear would not be stopped. It had his throat and heart. It dripped in a wetness of the arm and the temple and the trembling palm” (132, 137). As a writer myself, these sentences itch a sore spot in my brain. They flow so beautifully, and are such great descriptions of an emotion that it makes me angry I hadn’t thought of it myself. I think these are great examples of Bradbury’s genius, in that he can paint such a vivid picture of the effects the fear has on the man — sweating, shortness of breath, etc. — and acts as if the fear itself is the monster of the story, and is coming after the man. The fear of being changed against one’s will is the scariest part of the story for the main character; not changing into the Martian, but being unable to control if he changes or not.

This Bradbury short story can be found online in PDF format, or in Masterpieces: The Best Science Fiction of the Twentieth Century edited by Orson Scott Card.