A Response to Harty’s ‘Why the Sky Turns Red When the Sun Goes Down’

Ryan Harty’s Why the Sky Turns Red When the Sun Goes Down is a brilliant example of successful science fiction. Harty flawlessly weaves the futuristic and imaginary idea of robot children into a world as normal as our own. The story addresses spousal conflict, parental worries, and many other themes that could be found in any genre of fiction. These issues could be interesting enough to read about on their own, but Harty’s surprising inclusion of a mechanical, robotic son really ups the ante.

Because Harty writes about his robots as if they are completely normal – they look like human children, and they are treated more or less the same as anyone – the reader really believes it and doesn’t have that little voice in the back of his head saying, But this could never really happen.

Harty uses the perfect balance of detail and mystery. The reader doesn’t know every detail about the world of the story – how common it is to have a robot child, how these robots actually work, how and why people want or need to adopt a robot child – but doesn’t need to in order to comprehend the story. The world constructed by Harty seems to be the same world we live in, but with a futuristic and scientific twist.

One of the issues at the heart of the story is the conflict between Mike, the narrator, and his wife Dana. Their disagreements, though revolving around their robotic son Cole, could happen without the sci-fi aspect of the novel; any couple could disagree over what course of action to take with their child, causing them to grow apart and contemplate leaving one another.

Another successful element of this story is the believability of the characters’ emotions. The little details about Cole when he gets upset convey his emotion really well – “a look of panic overtakes him,” “he’s trying to appear calm for my sake,” “his eyes suddenly fill with tears and he has to glance off at the picnic tables,” etc. – and as a reader, I really feel for both Cole and his father.

Since the story is told from Mike’s point of view, I take his side. I agree with him about not wanting to get Cole a new chip and almost view Dana as the bad guy (almost, because I still feel Mike’s love for and desire to get along with his wife). Would anyone exchange their human child for another if he got sick? No. So why would someone do that with a robot child? Harty makes the reader question right and wrong in a way that isn’t so black and white – clearly, we don’t have to deal with exactly the same issues that the narrator and his wife do, but their problems are very similar to ones we could encounter.

I think the biggest reason Ryan Harty’s short story is so great is that he writes about something odd in a way which makes it seem normal, connecting his story’s conflicts with real life and providing the reader with just enough detail. Additionally, using a modified line from the story as the title was an excellent choice.

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One response to “A Response to Harty’s ‘Why the Sky Turns Red When the Sun Goes Down’

  1. Really good analysis of some of Harty’s writerly decisions. He does a lot to “normalize” Cole’s childhood in the story, so that the fact he’s a robot almost becomes irrelevant in pursuit of an answer to this potential thematic question: what happens when parents disagree on what’s “best” for their child?

    Your ideas about how Harty handles the science-fiction aspect of the story are quite keen. The less attention you draw to the “weirdness” of your story, the more likely your readers are to simply go with the flow. If you try too hard to “explain” everything — like where these robots come from and how they work — you’ll be inviting your readers to raise questions of their own. The more coolly you play your hand, the better off you’ll be. [There’s another poker analogy to accompany your reference to upping the ante.]

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