- Paperback: 320 pages
- Publisher: HarperFiction; New Ed edition (1 Dec. 2008)
- Language: French
- ISBN-10: 0006479235
- ISBN-13: 978-0006479239
- Product Dimensions: 12.9 x 2 x 19.8 cm
- Average Customer Review: 123 customer reviews
- Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 81,679 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
The Martian Chronicles (Flamingo Modern Classic) (French) Paperback – 1 Dec 2008
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‘The bitter irony of The Martian Chronicles is both stark and shocking’ Guardian
‘As a science fiction writer, Ray Bradbury has long been streets ahead of anyone else’ Daily Telegraph
‘The sheer velocity of his words is an apocalyptic torrent which sweeps the reader on’ Independent
‘No other writer uses language with greater originality and zest. he seems to be a American Dylan Thomas’ Sunday Telegraph
The classic work that transformed Ray Bradbury into a household name. Written in the age of the atom when America and Europe optimisitcally viewed the discovery of life on Mars as inevitable, Bradbury's 1940s short stories of a brutal, stark and unforgiving martian landscape were as shocking and visionary as they were insightful. 'The Martian Chronicles' tells the story of humanity's repeated attempts to colonize the red planet. The first men were few. Most succumbed to a disease they called the Great Loneliness when they saw their home planet dwindle to the size of a pin dot. Those few that survived found no welcome. The shape-changing Martians thought they were native lunatics and duly locked them up. More rockets arrived from Earth, piercing the hallucinations projected by the Martians. People brought their old prejudices with them -- and their desires and fantasies, tainted dreams. These were soon inhabited by the strange native beings, with their caged flowers and birds of flame.See all Product description
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Above all I felt this was thin stuff from a writer who could certainly do much better when it comes to building a picture of an alien race. After an amazing start, Bradbury was not trying his best when he wrote most of this. He took a handful of memes and just repeated and reiterated. There is a lack of development and depth. Too much is trivial and mischievous.
The book is very episodic in nature though it does have a clear underlying timeline. While the human side of the story is populated with consistently '40s characters, the Martian side evolves and changes as the book progresses, meaning that it never becomes a fully realised world in the sense of most fantasy novels. Instead, the stories are fundamentally about humanity and it seems as if Bradbury creates Mars and the Martians anew each time to fit the story he wants to tell. This gives a kind of dream-like, almost surreal, quality, especially to the later stories.
The first few episodes tell of the first astronauts arriving on the planet. There are fairly clear parallels here with the arrival of the first settlers to America, with the misunderstandings and tragedies that happen between the races. As happened there, after a few setbacks the incoming race becomes the dominant one, with the Martians proving unable to resist the new diseases the humans have brought to their world. At this early stage, the stories are quite interesting but I was wondering why the book had acquired such a reputation as a sci-fi classic. The science is pretty much non-existent, and there is very little fantasy beyond the basic premise of what can be done with telepathy. Bradbury's Mars is Earth-like in its atmosphere and requires little or no alteration to make it habitable, and the humans have simply transported their recognisably 1940s world to a new place.
However, as the stories progress, Bradbury allows his imagination to take full flight and some of the later stories are beautifully written fantasies with more than a little philosophical edge. There is the usual mid-20th century obsession with approaching nuclear holocaust on Earth, but Bradbury widens it out, using the isolation of the Mars colonists to examine human frailties and concerns more broadly. Loneliness features in more than one story, with the contrasting sense of community and nostalgia that first drives people to make their new homes as like their old ones as they can, and then calls them back home to be with those they left behind when Earth is finally ravaged by the inevitable war.
There is a fabulous story about race, Way Up in the Middle of the Air - black people choosing to make a new home on Mars, leaving the southern states where, while they may be nominally free, they are still treated as inferior beings. I imagine this story must have been extremely controversial and possibly shocking at the time of writing, since it doesn't shy away from showing the white people as little better than racist abusers.
One of my favourite stories is The Fire Balloons, telling of Father Peregrine on a mission to bring Christianity to the surviving Martians, and fighting against the prejudice of his colleagues that beings so different from humanity could not possess souls. The wonderful imagery in this one is perfectly matched by some of Bradbury's most beautiful writing, and it is both thought-provoking and moving.
But I could go on picking out favourites, because the comments 'beautifully written', 'great imagery', 'fantastically imaginative' and 'emotionally moving' could be applied to most of the later stories in the book. Though the episodic nature prevents the reader from developing much emotional attachment to specific characters, the imagination Bradbury shows more than makes up for this lack. In one story, there are no characters - just a house falling into disrepair and eventually consuming itself, and yet Bradbury makes this one of the most moving stories about the after-effects of war that I have read. The final story offers some hope for the future but the overall tone is of the inevitability of self-destruction that was felt so strongly in the world in the decades of the Cold War.
So I too am now convinced that this book deserves its status as one of the great classics. Is it sci-fi? I'm not sure, and I feel to pigeon-hole it as that is more likely to put people off anyway. And I don't think anyone should be put off reading it just because it's 'genre' fiction - it is as thought-provoking and well written as most 'literary' novels and shows a great deal more imagination than they usually do. One I will undoubtedly come back to again and again.
Varied in length, with some just a couple of paragraphs or pages long, the balance works well because the shorter stories are to the point and punctuate the longer ones. Although classed as science fiction, set on (or about travelling to) Mars, the main theme running though all of them is how human's react to situations. Racial tension, loneliness, hope, fear and greed all play a part in these deftly put together stories and whether they're about being isolated on a planet, met by long dead loved ones or children just being children, they each have something to offer and leave you in ponderous mode.
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