Christy's Reviews > The Martian Chronicles

The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury
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Jun 23, 08

bookshelves: readinglist2-sf, science-fiction-and-fantasy
Read in June, 2008

Ray Bradbury's Martian Chronicles is a lovely, lyrical collection of short pieces about the human colonization of Mars and its consequences, beginning just before first contact and ending after the death and destruction of most of the population of both Mars and Earth.

Since this is a collection of stories and vignettes instead of a novel, the central, guiding element of the book is not a character or set of characters; instead it is the setting and the emotion evoked by Bradbury's prose. His main concern is Mars itself, as a place separate from human intentions. As one character, a member of an early expedition to Mars, says, "Ask me, then, if I believe in the spirit of the things as they were used, and I'll say yes. They're all here. All the things which had uses. All the mountains which had names. And we'll never be able to use them without feeling uncomfortable. And somehow the mountains will never sound right to us; we'll give them new names, but the old names are there, somewhere in time, and the mountains were shaped and seen under those names. The names we'll give to the canals and mountains and cities will fall like so much water on the back of a mallard. No matter how we touch Mars, we'll never touch it. And then we'll get mad at it, and you know what we'll do? We'll rip it up, rip the skin off, and change it to fit ourselves" (53-4).

"There Will Come Soft Rains" takes this emphasis on place over people to its furthest conclusion, perhaps, telling the story of a house that continues running even after its human inhabitants have abandoned it: "The house was an altar with ten thousand attendants, big, small, servicing, attending, in choirs. But the gods had gone away, and the ritual of the religion continued senselessly, uselessly" (167). The house itself takes on life, described as trying to "save itself" when it catches fire (170): "The house shuddered, oak bone on bone, its bared skeleton cringing from the heat, its wire, its nerves revealed as if a surgeon had torn the skin off to let the red veins and capillaries quiver in the scalded air" (171). Bradbury drives this point home with a poem by Sara Teasdale that states, "Not one would mind, neither bird nor tree, / If mankind perished utterly; / And Spring herself, when she woke at dawn / Would scarcely know that we were gone" (169).

The book is absolutely suffused with what is best described as a sense of nostalgia for the future. Bradbury romanticizes the Mars of future decades (1999-2026; the book was published in 1950) and distances the reader from Earth itself. Mars is a place of wonders, a place of great civilizations and developed individuals; it is a place to protect. And in The Martian Chronicles, what Mars needs protecting from is us. We bring with us violence, war, advanced technologies that we have yet to master, mining, and ideas about ownership and colonization that, if allowed to spread, would destroy Martian civilization as surely as they destroyed Native American societies, African cultures, and countless other ways of life on Earth. This is a future that has yet to happen, a place we have yet to see, but we, as readers, are meant to sympathize with Martians, with Mars, and root against humans. We are meant to see in conquering humanity the same problems we face here on Earth and in Mars a haven for freethinkers, former slaves, and survivors (c.f., "Usher II," "Way in the Middle of the Air," and "Million-Year Picnic"). This makes The Martian Chronicles both conservative in the way that the nostalgic mode is typically conservative and progressive in its subversive critique of the Earth way of life, specifically the American way of life.

In "The Million-Year Picnic," Bradbury's nostalgia for the future turns against human science and scientific progress as the father of a family who has left Earth after the wars to live, practically alone, on Mars, says to his family, "Science ran too far ahead of us too quickly, and the people got lost in a mechanical wilderness, like children making over pretty things, gadgets, helicopters, rockets; emphasizing the wrong items, emphasizing machines instead of how to run the machines. Wars got bigger and better and finally killed Earth. That's what the silent radio means. That's what we ran away from" (179-80). In this anti-technology statement, Bradbury provides little hope for the future of humanity and of Earth and little faith or interest in science. However, elsewhere in The Martian Chronicles, he does afford a small glimmer of hope in a different kind of future, a different attitude toward science, religion, and art. He gives us this in the Martian civilization:

"The Martians discovered the secret of life among animals. The animal does not question life. It lives. Its very reason for living is life; it enjoys and relishes life. . . . And the men of Mars realized that in order to survive they would have to forgo asking that one question any longer: Why live? Life was its own answer. Life was the propagation of more life and the living of as good a life as possible. . . . They quit trying too hard to destroy everything, to humble everything. They blended religion and art and science because, at base, science is no more than an investigation of a miracle we can never explain, and art is an interpretation of that miracle. They never let science crush the aesthetic and the beautiful" (66-7).

Following this model of science, one that does not separate science and technology from art and religion and humanity, there is hope for a future for humankind. The question Bradbury leaves us with, then, is whether or not we will be able to heed this warning.
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Comments (showing 1-3 of 3) (3 new)

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message 1: by Steve (last edited Apr 12, 2009 05:31AM) (new)

Steve This is a wonderful, thoughtful review. This line in particular really jumped out at me, in part because I think it captures, beyond Bradbury, a golden age of sci-fi writing:

"The book is absolutely suffused with what is best described as a sense of nostalgia for the future."






Giorgi i liked the book. i wouldn't try to discover any larger philosophical theory or moral stand in chronicles, i dont think there is one. you say it seems to criticize technological progress. is all progress bad? what is good in it and what is bad? and further, what are alternatives? without getting bit more specific than chronicles i'm afraid one doesn't get anywhere. the problem itself is not well defined, save solution offered.

it is a pleasant story full of surprises and imagination, characters are not bad (sometimes unnatural for the sake of story, eg Spender), some suspense.


Bobby Bermea Money, review. "a sense of nostalgia for the future." The closest anyone will ever come to summing up Ray Bradbury in seven words.


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