Sunday, August 13, 2006

The Martian Chronicles - Ray Bradbury

Ray Bradbury's The Martian Chronicles is best read as a collection of short pieces rather than a full-scale novel. The stories in the collection are: Rocket Summer, Ylla, The Summer Night, The Earth Men, The Tax Payer, The Third Expedition, And the Moon Be Still as Bright, The Green Morning, The Locusts, Night Meeting, The Shore, The Fire Balloons, Interim, The Musicians, Way Up in the Middle of the Air, The Naming of Names, The Old Ones, The Martian, The Luggage Store, The Off Season, The Watchers, The Silent Towns, The Long Years, There Will Come Soft Rains, The Million-Year Picnic.

One of Bradbury's goals in writing this collection was to counteract the image of a menacing Mars as first portrayed in H. G. Wells' The War of the Worlds (which I read and reviewed couple of months ago). In Bradbury's work humans from Earth play the role of "invaders from outer space", although (spoiler warning) the Martians do get killed off in one story by a fairly common ailment (though not quite as common as the cold !). The collection was written in the 1940s and starts in the far-flung future of 1999, as expedition after expedition leaves Earth to investigate Mars. The Martians guard their mysteries well, but eventually (like so many "Colonies" discovered by Europeans) they are decimated by the diseases that arrive with the rockets. The colonists who appear mostly have ideas no more lofty than starting a hot-dog stand, and have little or no respect for the culture they've displaced.

Bradbury's quiet exploration of a future that looks very much like the past is sprinkled with some lighter pieces; in "The Silent Towns", for example, the last man on Mars hears a phone ringing and ends up on a comically horrendous blind date. But in most of his stories, Bradbury is holding up a mirror to humanity that reflects its shameful treatment of "the other" (especially in "Way Up in the Middle of the Air") and demonstrates time and again, much loneliness and isolation. However, the collection ends hopefully with a belief in renewal, as a colonist family turns away from the dead Earth towards a new future on Mars.

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