Thursday, May 30, 2019

Ray Bradbury, The Martian Chronicles

Bradbury, Ray. The Martian Chronicles. New York: Doubleday, May 1950.

The Martian Chronicles at Goodreads
The Martian Chronicles at ISFdb

Overall Rating:     7.5/10

There are a number of good articles on this book readily available, and my comments will be brief.

Space colonization stories reflect colonization experiences on Earth. Bradbury references human experiences, sympathizing consistently with the colonized. Here, humans are the aggressors, and though there is some sympathy for the individual, there is little sympathy afforded the human race. Characters are most often representative of different attitudes, and rarely fleshed out. Often a human is a flat out aggressor, as in "The Off Season," or a sympathizer, as in Spender from "--And the Moon Be Still As Bright."

Many of the stories were re-worked to fit the chronology, some fitting in fairly well, while others obviously re-tooled for the purpose of inclusion. While there is a certain amount of consistency, the overall effect is jagged, as there are great variances in tone and approach. What is consistent is the progression of human colonization of Mars, and a kind of circular pattern takes shape. Humans fail at their conquest, then gain the planet by inadvertently killing the inhabitants through disease, establish their own culture while treating the previous culture disrespectfully, until finally they must abandon the planet, only to later leave on Mars the seed to develop a new civilization. Vulnerable on Mars, this new civilization appears ripe for eventual conquest, and the pattern can repeat.

Vignettes are included between some of the stories. These are slight, some more effective than others, and I won't be commenting on these individually.

Ylla     7/10
Maclean's Magazine, 1 January 1950. (As "I'll Not Ask for Wine.")
A Martian woman named Ylla tells her husband Yll of an odd dream she had. In that dream, a rocket ship from Earth has descended to Mars, carrying two odd-looking men. Though Yll laughs at the silliness of this dream, he is also uneasy. Ylla continues to dream, and Yll's discomfort increases. A sympathetically-told story. Character driven, it could have been set on any countryside on Earth. The story would have to be character driven and detailing human experience in order to be purchased by the popular Canadian political and current affairs magazine, Maclean's. A good opening story, as it gives the collection's only potential for unity between the two races.

The Earth Men     7/10
Thrilling Wonder Stories, August 1948. pp 69-76
The second human expedition to Mars carries four men. Expecting great honours and a treatment of champions, they are instead welcomed with indifference, passed on from one household to another. Far lighter in tone than "Ylla," it is a little odd as it presents the martians as being somewhat loopy, whereas the humans are comically arrogant. Nonetheless an enjoyable story.

The Third Expedition     7/10
Planet Stories, Fall 1948. pp 56-66. (As "Mars is Heaven!")
During the third expedition to Mars, humans have become incautious and not too logical, in this story that borders on fantasy. Members of the expedition land on a Mars from the bygone Earth year of 1926, and soon encounter deceased family members, leading them to the conclusion that Mars is heaven. Not quite, as the reader suspects. This story was apparently re-worked considerably to fit the scope of The Martian Chronicles, but rather than push the setting to a later decade, Bradbury instead created a form of longevity that is otherwise non-existent in the rest of the stories.

—and the Moon Be Still As Bright     6/10
Thrilling Wonder Stories, June 1948. pp 78-91. (As "...and the Moon Be Still As Bright")
The fourth expedition to the red planet informs its crew that Martians are all but extinct, thanks to the diseases brought over by the earlier expedition, namely chicken pox. While many of the crew act like freshman university students on a resort during spring break, archaeologist Spender instead empathizes with the Martians, and on their behalf takes a stance of vengeance. Emulating and acknowledging the actions of Europeans colonizing the Americas, Bradbury's sympathies are with the indigenous, and a Cherokee astronaut, likely among the first indigenous astronauts to appear in literature, appropriately named Cherokee, makes an appearance. The story is a bit overlong but does its duty to bring the book to its second act, whereas Martians are less loopy and the overall tone of the work less playful. The satire on human materialism contrasted with the spiritual Martians allows Bradbury to make some still relevant points on consumerism and cultural insensitivity.

The Green Morning     6/10
The Martian Chronicles. New York: Doubleday, May 1950.
Despite having difficulty in getting accustomed to the thin atmosphere on Mars, Benjamin Driscoll is recruited to elevate the atmosphere to Earth standards. In an isolated area, he begins to plant the seeds that will help make the planet habitable to humans. Written specifically for the collection, this is among the weaker stories, and reads like both filler and a convenience in explaining human adaptability to the planet.

Night Meeting     6/10
The Martian Chronicles. New York: Doubleday, May 1950.
Another story written for the collection, it fits better in the whole of the work than does "Green Morning." Here a simple blue collar Earthman encounters the spirit of a Martian.

Way in the Middle of the Air     6/10
The Martian Chronicles. New York: Doubleday, May 1950.
A hardware shop owner and his buddies are shocked to learn that the black people of the south are making their way to Mars. The only story in the collection to be set on Earth (aside form the descriptive piece ""There Will Come Soft Rains" and a vignette), it is in some ways progressive, despite being dated, but the characters are stock, providing an outlet for Bradbury's point. The story does fit in well with the notions of oppressed races, though ideas are not followed up later, as we don't actually see any black people on Mars. The story was controversial upon the release of The Martian Chronicles, where it first appeared, and was removed from many earlier editions.

Usher II     6/10
Thrilling Wonder Stories, April 1950. pp 95-103. (As "Carnival of Madness")
As a result of the 1975 ban and burning of all fantastical fiction, such as the works of Edgar Allan Poe, Mr. Stendhal has a replica of the house of Usher built on Mars. Pursued again by the moral authorities, he uses the house as part of his vengeance on society. A good story on its own, but doesn't seem to fit the collection, and was likely re-formatted with the Mars slant. It is a predecessor and companion, of course, to Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451, dealing with censorship and government-sanctioned book burning. The original title, "Carnival of Madness," is more appropriate than "Usher II."

The Martian     8/10
Super Science Stories, November 1949. pp 72-79. (As "Impossible")
An older couple settle on Mars to get away from Earth and the memory of their lost son, Tom. Late one night a figure appears, and Tom has returned. The father quickly learns the truth, that a telepathic Martian can take on the role of a lost one, via the memories of the living. To me the most powerful story, as the tragedy in not only that of the couple who must again lose their child, but also this unfortunate Martian, who will forever be the object of someone's grief. Likely heavily re-fitted to suit the collection, the original, titled "Impossible," likely has little to do with Martians and possibly set on Earth. This one I will hunt down.

The Off Season     7/10
Thrilling Wonder Stories, December 1948. pp 99-104.
Sam Parkhill, a member of Captain Wagner's expedition from "--And the Moon Be Still as Bright," sets up the first hot dog stand on Mars, expecting to earn a fortune. Yet when a martian comes to pay a visit, his fear grips reason and he kills the visitor, which leads to an all-out chase, as other Martians appear. Though the humans in the story are barely characters, the tragedy of useless Martian deaths is effective.

The Silent Towns     7/10
The Martian Chronicles. New York: Doubleday, May 1950.
In an abandoned Mars, the last man in a deserted town hears the ringing of a phone. Missing the call, he too decides to try connecting via the Martian phone system (using a land line), and fantasizes meeting an attractive woman. A comical and enjoyable last man story, though adds little to the whole.

The Long Years     7/10
Planet Stories, Spring 1949. pp 51-58. (As "Dwellers in Silence")
Following years of living alone in a Martian cave with his family, archaeologist Hathaway from the fourth expedition discovers a ship is returning to the red planet. Having been in the field with his family when Earth was abandoned, he and his family took to the caves where they have been living since. Something is off, however, as the reader is subtly informed. A good story with a surprisingly bittersweet final image.

There Will Come Soft Rains     6/10
Collier's, 6 May 1950.
An automated home continues to function in a post-apocalyptic setting. Entirely descriptive, the piece is quite haunting. Interesting that the dad of the house has his shadow burned by the atomic blast while mowing the lawn, when later we learn that lawn mowing is a function of the automated house. Perhaps it was a hobby?

The Million-Year Picnic     6/10
Planet Stories, Summer 1946. pp 95-100.
A family lands on Mars, escaping the war-ravaged Earth. A fitting end to the collection, though a little sentimental for my taste.

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