Review of "August 2026: There Will Come Soft Rains"
I reread Ray Bradbury's short story "August 2026: There Will Come Soft Rains." The overarching theme of the story is a warning about humans wiping ourselves out with a nuclear war which was very relevant in 1950 when the story was published. However there is an other theme as well, and one I connect to more personally.
The story is centered around an automated house in the future after a nuclear war has wiped out the house's inhabitants and the near-by city. The house is unaware the occupants are dead and continues to preform its daily duties. While the house is oblivious and dense, it is also clearly not malevolent. Bradbury personifies the house with things like angered little cleaning mice picking up after the dog tracking mud around. There are other traits as well as the house is dutiful, protective, and even charitable. This is most evident at the end of the story where the house begins to burn down. The house yells for the occupants to run while it combats the fire before succumbing to the flames.
The reason I like this idea so much is because computers and robots are seldom portrayed as loyal and altruistic. So often they are shown as malignant Juggernauts bent on human genocide. Consider robot portrayal: Replicants in Blade Runner, HAL-9000 from 2001: A Space Odyssey, T-800 from first Terminator movie, agents in the Matrix, or Cylons in Battlestar Galactica. By contrast this house in this story is benign and you even feel bad for it at the end. One also can't help feel a little compunction because the house doesn't know—indeed can't even understand—the fate of its inhabitant. In this way the house has a naive innocence fairly unique among robot stories.
I don't know of Bradbury had intended this as part of the theme of the story, but it is one I embrace.