Ray Bradbury’s first book, The Martian Chronicles, was published in 1950. Aptly named, the book contains 26 chronologically arranged short stories that depict the colonization of the fourth planet. In the first story set in 1999, humans rocket to Mars in eager anticipation of immediate exploration. In the last story set in 2026, a few tired, lonely, yet hopeful humans have an entirely different reason to venture to the red planet.
Early in the Chronicles, the reader is treated to moving descriptions of anxiety, fear, and paranoia revolving about the Martian landings. Yet, these are the emotions experienced by the Martians—not the humans—upon realizing the inevitability of Earthling visitation. One of my favorite stories in the book, “August 1999: The Earth Men” features extended verbal interactions between Earthling explorers and native Martians. Seeing themselves as heroes, the pioneer human explorers praise their own prestigious actions with every native they meet. But as the explorers meet more of the natives, they begin to realize that their arrival was a mistake. Unfortunately, the Earthlings are too arrogant to realize the danger of their situation and the story culminates with an act of supreme senselessness.
In many ways, the contents of the book are ludicrous. The silly, silver rockets, the zany, mechanized home appliances, and the hopelessly antiquated communication networks are just a few examples of how Bradbury’s science fantasy hilariously mistakes future technology. Perhaps worse, Bradbury’s description of the Martian landscape and climate (canals full of water, rolling hills, lush fields, breathable atmosphere) turned out to be even further from the truth. How strangely this book must have read in 1976 after the Viking landers revealed the sparse desolation of the red planet! Of course, no one can faultlessly predict the 50 year future, and Bradbury’s material descriptions are actually less important than the character dilemmas he introduces in almost every story.
Bradbury’s pessimism is displayed abundantly within these chronicles. These future tales contain instances of destructive violence, unending racism, stubborn stupidity, and irrevocable mistakes. Yet, they also include moments of satisfaction, hope, and promise. Now, 65 years after publication, we seem to be on the brink of another Mars boom. As privately funded ventures (www.mars-one.com) begin to gain steam, Bradbury’s book about Mars colonization, and the people that will commit to this endeavor, is relevant all over again.
Availability: COSMOS and SMCM
Review Submitted by: James Mantell