“The Toynbee Convector” by Ray Bradbury

This post is the first in the theme Influences on my own Creative Work.

December 25, Westford, MA: I’ve always loved to spin stories. When we lived on the sailboat, my mother would keep me up late with her on night-crossings and tell me to tell her tales. Just the two of us, in the pitch black ocean twilight, my little mind spinning out fantastic kid-fictions to keep my mother awake. I began to write stories as soon as I could write— starting with attempts to write my own Hardy Boys books.

Throughout my life I’ve written continuously. Bad things, good things, very few of that latter, very much of the first. A thousand disposable works have passed through these typing fingers, it feels like. Mostly half-finished. Finishing has always been my greatest nemesis.

Throughout high school and into college I lacked writerly discipline of any kind. I would throw myself mentally into the excitement of an idea, write as hard and fast as I could and the idea would blossom and explode around me, spiraling out to the size of an epic (always that size, never modest) and when I couldn’t keep my eyes open anymore I would lay down on the bed and toss and turn and continue to build the story (and imagine its wild success). The next morning, most times, I would wake up and hate the story. Convince myself it was garbage. Never work on it again. That was my process for years.This was mostly a problem because I always wanted to write things that would take me longer than a single night. I could never be satisfied with a short story— only a novel (or a trilogy!), because that was all I read.

Well this here was the first time I read a short story that really astounded me. The incredible thing about “The Toynbee Convector” is that it is an epic world but contained within a very short story. This is something I thought impossible before I read this. In it, a time traveler has shown the world a beautiful future and the world has rushed to meet it. It’s a beautiful utopian picture with a hell of a twist. And in a few short pages, you dip in, you see the wonders, you soar out.

Buy a whole bunch of Bradbury in the book of short stories that carries the story with this name.

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