★ ★ ★
The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury | May 1950, this ed. 2012 | Simon & Schuster | Paperback $7.99
In The Martian Chronicles, Ray Bradbury, America’s preeminent storyteller, imagines a place of hope, dreams, and metaphor; of crystal pillars and fossil seas, where a fine dust settles on the great empty cities of a vanished, devastated civilization. Earthmen conquer Mars and then are conquered by it, lulled by dangerous lies of comfort and familiarity, and enchanted by the lingering glamour of an ancient, mysterious native race. In this classic work of fiction, Bradbury exposes our ambitions, weaknesses, and ignorance in a strange and breathtaking world where man does not belong.
When I compiled my Classics Club list, I purposely sought out classic books in the realms of Sci-Fi and Fantasy. To be honest, I rather prefer the stuff closer to the Fantasy side of that spectrum, and — again with the honesty — I don’t think I would have picked up this particular book if it hadn’t been for the Classics Club challenge.
The Martian Chronicles is really a collection of related short stories rather than a “real” novel. The stories begin at a time when Earthlings first begin to land on Mars and meet the native inhabitants, and proceed along to the point where a little group of humans become the Martians.
Of course, this book was written nearly two decades before we landed on the moon — several years even before the Space Race began. So, a lot of what a modern reader might consider “expected” in the way of terminology and technology and culture is completely reimagined. For example, space ships are generally called “rockets”… and mid-20th-century gender roles/expectations are quite firmly enforced, even for the original alien Martians themselves. It’s a little jarring, not gonna lie, but that’s the sort of thing you learn to expect with these old books, y’know? Not worth burning the book over, but I definitely rolled my eyes a few times….
I found this book kinda hard to rate because I wasn’t really grabbed by it (if it had been something I’d started on a whim, I might not have bothered to finish) but I can also see why it is so widely considered a classic. Bradbury’s writing is generally clean but beautiful in its own way, and the characters — while not 100% 3-dimensional — are interesting and realistic.
Further complicating matters, this particular edition does not include 2 stories that have been included in some other editions — “The Fire Balloons” and “The Wilderness” — while it does include a story sometimes cut from other editions, “Way in the Middle of the Air”. I suppose I can see why overly-cautious editors would cut the latter, as it includes quite a few utterances of the n-word. However, the story is quite clearly inspired by the budding Civil Rights Movement of the ’50’s-’60’s.
In the end, I’m glad I read The Martian Chronicles but it isn’t something I’d unreservedly recommend to other readers. But it’s a fine choice if you’re looking to expand your experience of early speculative fiction!
Have you read this book? What did you think of it?
- Official Ray Bradbury website
- Study guide from Prof. Paul Brians at Washington State U
- Letter to the National Coalition Against Censorship
Publication information: Bradbury, Ray. The Martian Chronicles. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2012. Print.
Source: Thrift shop.
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