Incisive and Way Ahead of Its Time: The Martian Chronicles

the-martian-chronicles-book-coverI am trying to make double-time this week as my dissertation writing needs to start picking up steam. I love Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, so I was really looking forward to reading his The Martian Chronicles. And let me say that it does not disappoint. The one failing (and a minor one at that) is that, at times, the book shows its origins. Bradbury had initially written a number of the chapters as stand-alone short stories but tied them all together with interspersed vignettes and a few more stories to make a novel. “The House of Usher II” is a great story but it jars with the tone of many of the stories given its very fantastical and Poe-heavy style.

This novel, or perhaps collection of inter-linked short stories, is all about the human colonization of Mars. However, this colonization is not peaceful, scientific, or noble by any means. Several of the early short stories are told from the perspectives of the Martians and the human arrival is an absolute disaster (once they manage to establish themselves). These stories are both humorous and incisive. Bradbury lays out a very strong critique of human colonization (and one that could certainly be read as an allegory of the colonization of North America). Where I felt the book turned quite amazingly was when the nuclear war starts on Earth. At this point, there are many humans on Mars, turning it into a resource extraction colony and throwing up shoddy towns and dumping trash as they go. (spoiler alert!) However, once the war gets going, almost all of the humans leave for Earth to take part and only a few stay behind. At this point, the novel takes on a melancholic tone that productively explores the meanings of space travel, global war, and human loneliness.

While I want to read this book as an environmental fable (humans tend to destroy the places they inhabit), this can take away from some of Bradbury’s craft. Yes, it certainly has an ecological message in it, but it is also about wonder and awe. The fact that some of these stories were published as early as 1946 while the book itself was published in 1950 means that this book predates almost all space travel and even nuclear weapons as we know them. But Bradbury clearly saw into the future what was coming. He is an amazing writer and The Martian Chronicles is well worth your time.

I highly recommend this book for any readers. You will laugh, cry, and be astounded.

Bradbury, Ray. The Martian Chronicles. Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1950. Print.

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4 Comments

  1. “But Bradbury clearly saw into the future what was coming. ” why must science fiction do this? That question sounds perhaps a little strange but think about it — are they social scientists? Or even scientists (some are, obviously)? They consider themselves writers and what predictions they get right are purely often coincidental… One of my pet peeves — hehe.

    Other than that, a nice review of a great book. What other science fiction from the 40s and 50s have you read? I recommend Sheckley and Kornbluth’s short stories — satires, pessimistic takes on our future in space, etc… Highly recommended

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