The Atom World

There is a street in LA that has everything, at least, everything that my world needs. Juice, coffee, books, yoga, independent shopping, wine, cheese, parking. On this street, each of these are each well done, particularly the book store, where on the cashier’s counter I encountered Ray Bradbury’s “The Illustrated Man.”

I was on the market for short stories, I realized, particularly those of the semi-science fiction variety offered by Bradbury. His “Life on Mars” is often in my top ten modular list of all-time favorite books.

So far “The Illustrated Man” has kept the Bradbury promise: render human defects alien, gruesome by kicking them out of context. The childhood aggression, racism, panic, violence in his eerily futuristic tales are incongruous in their cruelty. No one would could ever possible do that, could they?  This can never possibly happen, can it? Or, has it, is it already happening?

The excerpt above is from a story titled “The Highway.” What drew me in was the use of the word “atom” vs. “atomic” in describing a war that could end the world. In many ways a war that could end the world is an atom war, a war of the minuscule, a war started by a few pissy men. Case in point: the past two world wars.

Who knows if the decision to use “atom” vs. “atomic” is due to language evolution or intention. It does not matter. The effect is there. It is harder to get around the meaning of the word in its noun form. An “atom” is the limit of a thing, just as a human is the limit of what can be called a “world.” An atom war that will end the world. A petty war that will end my perception.

Thus, the character in Bradbury’s story, who lives by a road in the middle of nowhere, suddenly overrun with folk escaping the “end of the world,” can only ask his donkey:

“What do they mean, ‘the world’?”

 

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