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The Martian Chronicles was on the reading list for my prose module at university. Science fiction is my standard fare when it comes to reading and I was not disappointed with this.
For those of you maybe looking to get into reading science fiction, I whole-heartedly recommend you pick this up! For those of you who are already fans of the science fiction genre, you will not be disappointed. You may even find it's a nice change of pace from normal science fiction fare.
The writing -
There is very little science to come to terms with. The stories revolve more around the people than the how or what of living on Mars. I found this refreshing as in other science fiction novels there is a lot to remember or understand. The writing is fluid and very easy to read - no complicated words or phrases. It is written from multiple view points which means that the story does not become stale and if you're don't like a particular set of characters.
This book is a quick read and you'll be done with it in a day or two.
The characters are fully believable for the environment they are in and carry along their stories wonderfully.
This is a must read. Although some may be disappointed with the lack of science to explain certain things, the stories of the people will make up for it. Bradbury has made the impossible seem possible. His manipulation of the environment makes for an excellet read and truly shows his skill with the written word.
Also on Ciao! under the same username :)
Ray Bradbury's Martian Chronicles is without question the gold standard for literary science-fiction, a collection of short stories centred around humanity's colonisation of the Red Planet, linked with vignettes and recurring characters to the point where it almost resembles a novel.
Written largely towards the end of the 1940s, Bradbury was writing at a time when science-fiction lent itself more easily to the literary mode. You travel through space in rockets, machines do everything with their 'circuits', atom bombs are the deadliest thing ever imagined, and America rules space.
So easy then to be cynical. But the fact that both science and science-fiction have moved forward does nothing to limit the impact of the Chronicles. This is due in large part to Bradbury's unique voice. As a teenage reader, hungry for carnage and guns and high physics, I found Bradbury's work far too laid back and, well, dull. Reading this collection with hopefully wiser eyes, I was immediately struck by the poetry with which the author invests the simplest events, from the 'Rocket Summer' of the first chapter, where the firing of a rocket's engines spreads gusts of warm air and a premature thaw over an Ohio town in the grip of winter, to the moving futility of the last house standing, endlessly and pointlessly repeating its automatic routines.
The most satisfying element of the Martian Chronicles is not the exploration of Mars as such, but humanity's attitude to the new planet. First come the explorers, followed by the miners and profiteers. Then families, missionaries, the elderly and, in one of the book's standout chapters, America's entire black population board a rocket to Mars in order to escape persecution. Our own prejudices and pre-occupations are replayed under a Martian sky, and the results rarely show us in the best light.
It's not all high-handed moralistic stuff, though. Bradbury injects a constant undertone of dark irony, most evident when the loutish Parkhill inherits half of Mars from an army of Martian ghosts, just in time to watch atomic war break out on Earth. Again, once Mars is deserted, as the colonists return to their homes during the war, sole resident Walter Gripp spends his time looting empty shops and dreaming of human contact. When he eventually meets the pudgy and callow Genevieve, however, the last woman on Earth so desperate for male contact she carries a wedding dress in the boot of her car, he flees to a distant town to live out his days in blissful solitude.
This kind of black comedy plays well against the more serious tone of stories such as Night Meeting, where time becomes disjointed and a young man on his way to a party encounters the ghost of a young Martian from long ago - or is the other way round? In any case, the haunting poetry of this encounter between two fleeting civilisations on a timeless planet is striking, and should be required reading.
Not quite as effective, but still rewarding, is Bradbury's excursion into theology with 'Fire Balloons' - although this story is not always included in editions of the Chronicles. This tale of missionaries seeking out the last of the Martians raises important philosophical questions about the nature of sin. Does a new planet bring with it new sins, or are the inhabitants of Mars in a state of grace thanks to their ignorance of the tale of man's fall from Eden? Fire Balloons is thought-provoking, but not exactly gripping as many of the other stories in the Chronicles are.
'There Will Come Soft Rains', about the automatic house still functioning after an atomic war, is one you may well recognise from school, as it is frequently used as a study text for the short story form. Put in its original context it makes so much more sense than it ever did when I was forced to 'storyboard' it and other such indignities.
The triumph of the Martian Chronicles, still eminently readable sixty years after their first collected publication, is that although the science may be wrong, and the astronomy may be wrong, Bradbury has got humanity exactly right. Ecological messages aren't exactly hammered home, but on the third expedition to the Red Planet, Spender quickly becomes glum at the thought of coke bottles and food wrappers polluting the canals of Mars. We are often portrayed in the book as locusts, leaping to a new planet to ruin it as we have ruined our own. Sadly this is all too plausible, particularly in 'The Musicians' where young children are depicted on an innocent trip to kick through the autumn leaves of the Martian countryside. It quickly becomes clear that the reason their trip is prohibited is that they are viciously kicking through the corpses of the dead Martian population before these ghost towns can be sterilised by their parents. The juxtaposition of innocence and casual cruelty in children is a common and effective literary device, and this is one of its most effective applications.
There are inevitable parallels with American and European colonialism, of course, from the death of most of the Martian populace from chickenpox (alluding to the decimation of America's indigenous peoples by diseases such as smallpox), to the issue of renaming ancient valleys and rivers after their 'discoverers'.
The recurring message of Bradbury's work is that it does not really matter what awaits us in deep space - the biggest challenge humanity will face is its own nature, and we can not even escape from that on another planet. Essential reading.
~~~~A bit of Background on the Author~~~~
Each writer puts a bit of him or herself into their writing as the stories flow from somewhere deep within their soul. Hence, I feel it is always pertinent to learn at least a bit about the writer to gain a deeper appreciation of their work. Ray Bradbury is no exception to this rule. Born in the US state of Illinois to Swedish immigrant parents in 1920, Ray came from a family who had newspapers in the blood. Both his great grandfather and grandfather were newspaper publishers, and it was no great surprise to the family when the young avid reader grew up and decided to sell newspapers himself and educate himself rather than go on to college. Literally selling newspaper from a corner in LA, he spent all his spare time at the public library, reading everything he could get his hands on. Like many young men of the period, he had grown up idolising Flash Gordon and Buck Rogers, and began also spending some of his time writing science fiction stories for various fanzines. Tasting success, he moved onto paid submissions with pulp science fiction magazines of the day. A chance encounter at a bookstore with the British writer Christopher Isherwood ended with the opportunity to put a manuscript of a selection of short stories before him. Isherwood read the manuscript, and wrote a glowing review. This review helped propel Bradbury to the heights during the Golden Age of science fiction. The book? A gem entitled "The Martian Chronicles."
The book itself is as the title suggests, a chronicle, thus the book is made up of a series of short stories that follow a chronological order, and present a historical viewpoint of an epoch of Martian history. These range from those in the area of the space centre on Earth who are affected by the rocket take off, and of the Martians themselves, to the astronauts who first visit, to the colonists who follow, The stories are strangely moving, and often provide psychological insight into assumptions we make about who we are, and the nature of reality. The effect is that the reader is deeply drawn into the very entertaining stories, but when finished, finds himself hyper aware of what is going on around him. The book opens the mind to the possibilities that exist, the nature of who we are, and how we treat people as well as our expectations of others, and the changing landscape of Mars from alien world to a world of fast food, trendy clothing shops, and at last, an empty place, echoes the booming of many modern towns and their later abandonment.
One might think that the facts as we know them today might date this book. This is astoundingly not true. Indeed, The astronauts land upon what they understand to be a dead planet, and so are utterly unprepared for the events that unfold. With the return of man to space and the planned manned exploration to Mars with technology based upon the original lunar landings for cost effectiveness, this book instead feels like a glimpse into a rather near future, or a possible alternate history with the timeline running eerily close to our own. It is an alternate future history that is all too realistic in some ways, giving the reader the feeling that perhaps, just perhaps, this writer might know something we don't. With its theme of exploration, colonisation, and the supression/death from human disease of the natives, it is a very familiar story indeed to the British and American public, with unsettling parallels that open questions on "what if" and "what should we do" if our explorations ever DO happen upon a native civilisation. in order to avoid our past mistakes.
These are perhaps questions that are worth thinking about, and it is very obvious that it is a lesson that needs to be learned at home. Bradbury addresses this as well, offering up views of "back home". with racism and even nuclear war all making appearances, with the vignettes written in such a way as to not shock, but rather to relate the human cost and reveal the failings for what they truly are. These remain very timely subjects, and despite being written in 1950, have an uncomfortable familiarity in some places about them. It is very much a book that explores who we were, who we are now, and who we would like to be.
I have to admit I first encountered The Martian Chronicles when it was run on television circa 1979. It was the school holidays, so I was allowed to stay up, and it looked interesting. The high quality of the 3 night mini series adaptation and its intriguingly haunting storyline awoke my preteen mind from the glories of Star Wars and the original Battlestar Galactica, and sent me off to my public library to find the book. I will admit it was heavy reading for me at the time, and I did not grasp many of the nuances that were going on, but it was a cracking read. Rockets, aliens, intrigue, and even ghost towns were all to be had, what more could I ask?
Superbly written, the stories haunted me for years to come. I was to finally purchased this book to have always, and have now reread it so many times, I need a new copy! So much more than a sci fi romp, but full of action, intrigue, pathos, and deep human emotion, it remains a masterpiece of science fiction and a monument to the human condition and its quest to explore both ourselves as well as the universe.
Colonists from Earth were few at first, and most of them suffered the illness called The Loneliness - because when you saw your home town, then your home planet, dwindle to the size of a fist, you felt you had never been born. Then came the overwhelming strangeness they would find on Mars.