This is an odd story. Somewhat predictable once you get to the actual plot. But most of the story is taken up by philosophical discussions regarding the nature of sin and religion. Which is interesting, though some of it doesn’t really make any sense by any sound logic. Anyway, because there’s little in the way of plot it’s hard to really form an opinion about “The Fire Balloons” as a story, but as a philosophical/theological treatise, it’s pretty compelling.
Mind you, that doesn’t mean I necessarily agree with all of it.
There’s a notion put forth that by going to Mars (it’s always Mars with Bradbury) there could be new sins that no one had ever even thought of before. The logic that’s put forth is that without arms, man could not kill, so by developing arms, man developed the potential for new sins. This makes sense, of course. But it begs the question: How will going to Mars suddenly cause new body parts to spontaneously develop? If anything were to come into existence by migrating to another planet, it would take generations upon generations of slow, imperceptible evolution before it even became an issue. So why are these characters wasting their time thinking about something that will never in their lifetimes be a problem?
I guess you could argue that they’re just being faithful and attending to the demands of piousness, or that they could put down warnings for the future, but what good does it do? You can’t warn against something you have no knowledge of, and you can’t repent for sins that you aren’t even capable of committing.
There’s another interesting idea put forth, though it’s subtle rather than spelled out, that religion is man-made. Which is true, of course. But it’s interesting how Bradbury doesn’t come right out and say it in those words, but still manages to get that point across. I don’t know whether he was a religious man; this story isn’t evidence one way or the other in that argument. It’s not anti-religious, certainly, and in fact would seem to support it. On the other hand there are some inconsistencies, like saying the religion in question is an Episcopal religion, but using terms like priest, Bishop, and Church as a proper noun, which, unless I’m utterly mistaken, are unique to the Catholic religion. Though I suppose one could surmise that in the future the Episcopalian religion has adopted these things. Anyway it seems evident that regardless of his beliefs on religion, Bradbury was a spiritual man. Another notion that I find interesting, given how heavily his stories rely on science. I know, spirituality and science aren’t totally mutually exclusive, but they are pretty far apart.
Ultimately, there’s not a lot of story here. But it’s interesting for the philosophy and theology presented within, which makes up for the lackluster plot and the odd, out of place memories (belonging to the main character) that are slipped in.
Oh, and one last thing I noticed. For no apparent reason, the story starts out in the second person, used for one sentence, and then switches to the third person for the rest of the story. Which really didn’t make any sense. There wasn’t any point in doing that, as far as I could tell. If anyone has any thoughts about that I’d be interested in hearing them.