When I was but a sprite, and before I became an avid reader of books (I preferred comic books), I read Ray Bradbury’s The Martian Chronicles. It changed me, what I thought of books and what I felt about the power of stories. It made me cry. And perhaps that was when I truly decided to become a writer. I wanted to move people as Bradbury had moved me.
The Martian Chronicles isn’t really about Mars (though I’ve chosen to give it my Friday Feature placement as homage to the recent Phoenix landing on the red planet). True to Bradbury’s master metaphoric story-telling, the Martian Chronicles is about humanity. Who we are, what we are, and what we may become. What we inadvertently do—to others, and finally to ourselves—and how the irony of chance can change everything.
It is, as the 1970 Bantam book jacket so aptly says, “a poetic fantasy about the colonization of Mars. The story of familiar people and familiar passions set against incredible beauties of a new world…A skillful blending of fancy and satire, terror and tenderness, wonder and contempt.”
An editorial review on Amazon.com sums up the tone of the book well: From “Rocket Summer” to “The Million-Year Picnic,” Ray Bradbury’s stories of the colonization of Mars form an eerie mesh of past and future. Written in the 1940s, the chronicles drip with nostalgic atmosphere–shady porches with tinkling pitchers of lemonade, grandfather clocks, chintz-covered sofas. But longing for this comfortable past proves dangerous in every way to Bradbury’s characters–the golden-eyed Martians as well as the humans. Starting in the far-flung future of 1999, expedition after expedition leaves Earth to investigate Mars. The Martians guard their mysteries well, but they are decimated by the diseases that arrive with the rockets. Colonists appear, most with ideas no more lofty than starting a hot-dog stand, and with no respect for the culture they’ve displaced.
Here are some excerpts. I hope they inspire you to read more of this evokative collection of short stories by a master storyteller and philosopher…it may change you…
Rocket summer. The words passed among the people in the open, airing houses. Rocket summer. The warm desert air changing the frost patterns on the windows, erasing the art work. The skis and sleds suddenly useless. The snow, falling from the cold sky upon the town, turned to a hot rain before it touched the ground.
Rocket summer. People leaned from their dripping porches and watched the reddening sky.
They had a house of crystal pillars on the planet Mars by the edge of the empty sea, and every morning you could see Mrs. K eating the golden fruits that grew from the crystal walls, or cleaning the house with handfuls of magnet dust which, taking all dirt with it, blew away on the hot wind. Afternoons, when the fossil sea was warm and motionless, and the wine trees stood stiff in the yard…you could see Mr. K in his room, reading from a metal book with raised hieroglyphs over which he brushed his hand, as one might play a harp. And from the book, as his fingers stroked, a voice sang, a soft ancient voice, which told tales of when the sea was red steam on the shore and ancient men had carried clouds of metal insects and electric spiders into battle…
Something was going to happen.
What follows is a profound and tender analysis of the quiet power humanity can wield unawares. What follows is a tragic tale that reflects only too well current world events where the best intended interventions can go awry. Ah, you’ve been there too… from the meddling friend who gossips to “help” another (only to make things worse) to the righteous “edifications” of a religious group imposing its “order” on the “chaos” of a “savage” peoples…to the inadvertent tragedy of simply and ignorantly being in the wrong place at the wrong time (e.g., the introduction of weeds, disease, etc. by colonizing “aliens” to the detriment of the native population; e.g., smallpox, AIDs, etc.). Bradbury is my favorite author for this reason (yes, and because he makes me cry…)
Biography of Ray Bradbury:
Ray Bradbury was born in Waukegan, Illinois, to a Swedish immigrant mother and a father who was a power and telephone lineman. His paternal grandfather and great-grandfather were newspaper publishers. Bradbury read and wrotr throughout his youth, spending much time in the Carnegie Library in Waukegan. He used this library as a setting for much of his novel Something Wicked This Way Comes, and depicted Waukegan as “Green Town” in some of his other semi-autobiographical novels — Dandelion Wine, Farewell Summer — as well as in many of his short stories. Bradbury graduated from the Los Angeles High School in 1938 but chose not to attend college. Instead, he sold newspapers at the corner of South Norton Avenue and Olympic Boulevard. He continued to educate himself at the local library, and, influenced by science fiction heroes like Flash Gordon and Buck Rogers, he began to publish science fiction stories in fanzines in 1938. A chance encounter in a Los Angeles bookstore with the British expatriate writer Christopher Isherwood gave Bradbury the opportunity to put The Martian Chronicles into the hands of a respected critic. Isherwood’s glowing review followed and substantially boosted Bradbury’s career. List of works by Ray Bradbury
Ray Bradbury’s Official Site: http://www.raybradbury.com/