The Martian Chronicles

Ray Bradbury
The Martian Chronicles Cover

The Martian Chronicles

Carl V.

The rocket lay on the launching field, blowing out pink clouds of fire and oven heat. The rocket stood in the cold winter morning, making summer with every breath of its mighty exhausts. The rocket made climates, and summer lay for a brief moment upon the land....

Ray Bradbury's classic story of Earth's progressive colonization of Mars, and the devastating effects that has on the native population, is a series of chronological vignettes, some of which were previously published as short stories in a variety of magazine publications prior to 1950. The stories are told from both human and Martian points of view over a period of months and years beginning in the then future of 1999 through late 2026.

A firing rocket brings early summer to a wintery Ohio countryside; a Martian wife in a dissatisfied marriage tells her husband of her recurrent dream of a man from Earth coming soon to their planet, prompting her husband to make a decision that will forever effect both humans and Martians; an expedition of men from Earth land to discover a familiar small town and the presence of friends and relatives long dead; a colonist of a later expedition takes exception to the behavior of his fellow crew members to their new home and reacts in the only way that makes sense to him...a way that ends in blood...

Ray Bradbury uses the mysteries of the red planet to shine a mirror at humanity, reflecting our hopes, dreams and propensity for destruction in a series of interconnected tales written with the graceful nostalgia that made him a much-celebrated and beloved author.

Like many of us who gaze into the night sky and wonder what it would be like to travel to other planets, Mars has long cast a spell over my imagination. The fourth planet in our solar system has been the setting for printed stories beginning a hundred years ago or more, some of which approach Mars from a scientific standpoint and others that play upon the romantic notions of ancient alien inhabitants and an atmosphere that would allow mankind to survive and thrive on its red sands. The Martian Chronicles leans towards the later, though Ray Bradbury's refined story technique makes the implausible so palatable that you cannot help but believe that surely this must the way of things up there.

In a recent online book club conversation, blogger James Wallace Harris described The Martian Chronicles as "elegant", and that word rang in my ears as I turned the pages, grasping almost instinctively what he was referring to. I had not read Raymond Bradbury since 2010, and that absence has certainly made the heart grow fonder as I recalled everything that I loved about Dandelion Wine-another series of short stories with an overarching theme-while reading The Martian Chronicles. Though he wrote these stories not long after the end of World War II, Ray Bradbury's fiction is ingrained with the heady nostalgia for that time period that many of us have experienced all these decades later, even if, as in my case, we were not yet born at that time. How he was able to capture that spirit and sentimentality for a time in which he was presently living is one of the great mysteries that makes his fiction so readable today.

The Martian Chronicles strikes me as a collection in which readers could find any number of themes on which to grab hold. It has that quality of "applicability" that Tolkien wrote about. I cannot help but see it as being informed by the horrors that mankind afflicted upon one another in two great twentieth century wars and the rapid boom in industrialization, urbanization and consumerism that arose, in America in particular, after the end of World War II.

While there is a sense of wonder present which makes science fiction such an appealing genre, there is a greater thread of sadness and inevitability woven throughout, beginning with the first time we meet a native Martian. Though Bradbury describes a place and people that are somewhat alien to humankind, the sadness of a marriage gone cold and the longing created in this Martian wife as her dreams become filled with the impending arrival of a man in a rocket from far-off Earth, are so familiar and heart-breaking that readers form an instant connection with this people and their home. As we begin to detect her husband's intentions, we long to step into the book and bring them together, begging them to sit down and discuss their hurts and desires and the hope that they surely must have had in the beginning for their marriage. In this one couple, and the decisions they make, Ray Bradbury brilliantly demonstrates the consequences of a lack of communication and the causes and effects of those decisions.

Ray Bradbury accomplishes what many others seemingly cannot do with the short fiction format in that he writes in such a way that readers form a bond with characters that may only be present for a brief period of time. He does so, I believe, by taking readers straight to the emotional heart of the story. I could not help but feel a connection to Jeff Spender, whose desire for the first night on Mars to be one of quiet reverence is juxtaposed against the men who want to whoop and holler and drink and celebrate. It is in this story that we learn of the fate of the aboriginal Martians since the arrival of the first men and Spender's initial reaction to this news is what we hope ours would be. As he sees the men of his crew begin to litter a Martian canal with empty bottles something clicks in Spender. Any of us who have felt saddened, and frankly disgusted, by historic landmarks defaced with graffiti or beautiful spaces of nature spoiled by litter and waste will immediately understand what Spender felt. That kinship of sentiment makes for an interesting conflict of emotion when we see Spender's reaction to this all-too-human tendency to be disrespectful and destructive.

Lest you think The Martian Chronicles is some depressing, moralizing story, please let me disabuse you of that impression. The Martian Chronicles is brilliant and accessible and remains relevant because of the way it reflects the way we have treated both our planet and our fellow human beings over thousands of years, but it is also an intriguing, imaginative journey of mankind stepping out from Earth into the great unknown. It is exciting and mysterious and engages you from the first page. The fact that these vignettes are so closely interrelated gives The Martian Chronicles the structure of a novel. This too is a testament to Bradbury's storytelling skills. Though Ray Bradbury was envisioning a future (now our present) in which we have not tamed our inclinations for violence, there remains a spark of hope in the life of each and every person, and alien, we meet in The Martian Chronicles.

Ray Bradbury's vision of Mars is fascinating. The Martian culture is interesting and inventive, the science fictional tropes that we are used to seeing all these years later feel visionary because of the rhythm of Bradbury's writing, and his imagined future is at once solemn, terrifying and hopeful.

My Rating: 10/10 A fine example of the art of storytelling