J. Dunn's Reviews > The Martian Chronicles

The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury
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** spoiler alert ** It's always just a bit dangerous to re-read one of my adolescent touchstones. I've found that far too often, they haven't held up well in the cold light of my adult sensibilities and allegiances. And I was even more apprehensive about Bradbury, because his crotchety, reactionary turn in his dotage is well known and lamented.

It's tempting to look for the seeds of that in his earlier work, and you can definitely find them to varying degrees in the form of his pastoralist nostalgia, his largely unexamined issues with expertise and authority, his hyper-individualistic outlook, and his overdeveloped persecution complex about what would later be known as political correctness. Bradbury certainly had a conservative temperament and aesthetic, if he wasn't yet a conservative idealogue.

However, the good news is that he wasn't, and while all of those tendencies are on display here, they're restrained and put to use in the service of much more worthy ends. His pastoralism is neatly subverted in "The Third Mission," where the idyllic American small town of his youth turns out to be a death trap. His PC persecution complex at least leads to some good if implausible meta-literary fun in "Usher II". But what's most interesting is that he deploys these conservative impulses mostly in the service of what we'd think of today as liberal causes. He tackles racism in "Way in the Middle of the Air," sexism in "Ylla", "Madness and Civilization" sorts of issues regarding the societal construction of mental illness in "The Earth Men", and nuclear weapons and ecology throughout. He even displays an almost Edward Abbeyesque radical environmentalism in "The Moon Be Still As Bright," which for me is the best story in the collection. This is pretty progressive stuff for the early Fifties.

Politics aside though, what sticks with you from the Martian Chronicles and what makes it great is the imagination and the atmosphere. It's just a short story collection, but it manages to create and embody a world and a culture and an era in ways that subsequent huge multi-volume Scifi series can't approach. I've read quite a bit of Mars literature since The Martian Chronicles, but Bradbury's Mars is still the Mars I see in my mind, and that's quite an accomplishment.
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