"Zero Hour" was first published in 1947, in the pulp magazine Planet Stories, a regular home for Bradbury stories in the 1940s. Today you can find it in several Bradbury books: it's in the 1951 collection The Illustrated Man, the 1960s compilation S is for Space, and the 2003 retrospective collection Bradbury Stories: 100 of his most celebrated tales.
|Planet Stories, fall 1947 issue. Click to embiggen.
Bradbury's story is about an alien invasion with a difference. The alien - Drill - finds a way of communicating with Earth children.The children incorporate Drill's ideas into their play, and eventually enable Drill to take over the Earth. Like John Wyndham in The Midwich Cuckoos, Bradbury manages to tap into something inherently frightening about children. Perhaps they are too innocent, so that they just have to be up to something.
But what Bradbury's story is really about is... bad parenting. As with another of his classic short stories, "The Veldt", the parents just don't pay enough attention to the kids. They've got enough adult things to pre-occupy them, and would rather just send the kids off to play, or to sit in front of the TV. Their lack of interest in what their kids are up to, and specifically their lack of interest in the children's play, becomes the parents' downfall.
Bradbury often said that he didn't predict the future, but instead tried to prevent it. "Zero Hour" is a classic Bradburyan warning: pay more attention to your kids, or else...
"Zero Hour" has remarkable staying power. Although the story is dated in places, and clearly reads like something from the 1950s (although it was written in the 1940s), it is sufficiently non-specific about future technologies that it can stand up well today. It has long been popular in other media, too. It was all over American radio in the 1950s: it was adapted for Dimension X in 1950; Lights Out in 1951; Escape in 1953; Suspense three times (1955,1958 and 1960); X Minus One in 1955. And it has been made into a short film, and adapted by Bradbury himself for TV's Ray Bradbury Theater - see the Youtube video below.
Although Bradbury's short story is still in copyright, somewhere along the line Anthony Ellis' 1950s radio script for "Zero Hour" slipped into the public domain, and has become a popular source for re-enactors of old-time radio. You can find the script here.
At the time of writing, I haven't seen The Whispers. Given that there have been some dreadful adaptations of Bradbury over the years, I am not expecting much from the series. But I have my fingers crossed that Bradbury's concept is strong enough to shine through whatever ABC can do to it!