The Martian Chronicles, by Ray Bradbury
Posted February 7, 2017on:
published in 1950
where I got it: purchased used
I read Ray Bradbury’s The Martian Chronicles at the end of January as part of Vintage Month, but as you can see, I’m not getting the review up until now. As these are short stories, this counts towards Tip the Wink’s Short Story February. Win!
This collection of short stories and episodic microfiction that chronicle humanity’s conquest of Mars is a fun read for a lot of reasons, foremost that early stories take place in 1999. I always get a chuckle out of reading something that was written in the 50s and the author places it at the turn of the next century thinking “that’s so far in the future!!”. Well, the future is now, or it was 18 years ago. Fun little time slip there!
As the story goes, in the late 1990s, we sent expeditions to Mars, and the first few were complete failures. (Which makes me wonder – how much did we know about Mars in 1950? That’s the worldview that these stories were written in) Some of the short stories at the beginning of the chronicles are from the Martian’s point of view, and they basically see humans as annoying curiosities. The Martians are telepathic and can appear in any shape to us, so sometimes they appear as humans as to help us feel more comfortable. One of the expeditions comes across an entire Earth village filled with the astronauts parents and grandparents, who “welcome” everyone home. There’s a darkness here as well, as the Martian’s goal is be sure we never attempt to return. I viewed a lot of that with gallows humor, but I don’t believe it was ever meant to be funny.
We finally do have a successful mission, and colonization begins. People flock to the Mars to start a new life. Businesses open (and some fail), people escape horrible conditions on Earth for a better life somewhere else. That’s interesting in and of itself – isn’t all human migration about hoping life elsewhere will be better? Better farming or fishing, a better life for your children, more temperate weather, etc? Some of these short stories are very, very short, the length of flash fiction. Less complete stories and more vignettes, if you are looking for a plot, a novel, adventures, or characters that stick around, you’re going to be sorely disappointed because that’s not what this skinny little volume is about. The quick scene changes make for a just as quick read, and I was able to zip through The Martian Chronicles in a weekend.
The first and last stories were most memorable for me. In the first story, when the first Earthlings land on Mars, they expect to be greeted as heroes. But no one seems to want to talk to them, until finally someone says “oh, you’re from Earth! Yes! Come with me!”, and locks the Earthlings in a mental institution for crazy people. From Earth? Yes, you must be crazy, of course. The last story takes place in 2026, with a family planning to homestead on the Martian frontier. The father tells his kids that he’ll show them some real Martians! He takes his children to a clear pond and tells them to look, and all they see is their reflection. Martians indeed.
If you come across a copy of The Martian Chronicles, it’s certainly worth a read, just be aware that it isn’t a novel, and these aren’t exactly functioning short stories. If you expect this book (or any book, for that matter) to be something it isn’t, you’re sure to be disappointed.