on 27 January 2012
"It is good to renew one's wonder," said the philosopher.
"Space travel has again made children of us all."
Science Fiction isn't something that I read regularly- in fact I have probably only ever read a handful of books from this genre in my life so far.
However, this book has been on my TBR pile for some time now. This is because I remember the 1970's TV adaptation starring Rock Hudson from when I was a child. The story fascinated me a great deal and I watched it several times, but it was many years before I realised that it was an adaptation of a book.
The book was written in 1950 by American author Ray Bradbury who was responsible for other classics such as The Illustrated Man, Fahrenheit 451 and Something Wicked This Way Comes.
The blurb says
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 called the Great Loneliness when they saw their home planet dwindle to the size of a fist. Those few who survived found no welcome on Mars. But more rockets arrived from Earth, and more. People brought their old prejudices with them-and their desires and fantasies and tainted dreams.
The book is written as a series of short stories linked together by the common theme of man's exploration to and eventual colonisation of Mars.
The stories are set in the future (from Ray Bradbury's perspective,obviously) beginning in 1999 and are told from both the point of view of the human interlopers and The Martians. They contain a mixture of sympathy for the Martians and distaste for the way that the human invaders treat the planet. Having destroyed Earth with their greed and wars, they seem destined to make the same mistakes all over again.
Being a budding writer myself, I am always interested to know where an author gets his/her inspiration. In an interview, Bradbury said that he was inspired to write the book when as a 12 year old boy he saw photographs of the planet Mars and Schiaparelli's drawings of the canals on Mars. He also said that he read The Gods of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs as a boy but couldn't afford to buy the sequel and so he wrote The Martian Chronicles to fill this gap.
I enjoyed all of the stories but my favourites are 'The Third Expedition' which is sinister and and 'The Martian' which gave me shivers down my spine as I read it.'The Martian' begins with an elderly couple, LaFarge and Anna, who live in a remote area of Mars. It is a windy and rainy night and they have just gone to bed when they hear a noise.
He put on his robe and walked through the house to the front door. Hesitating he pulled the door wide, and rain fell cold upon his face.The wind blew.
In the dooryard stood a small figure.
Lightning cracked the sky, and a white wash of colour illumined the face looking in at old LaFarge there in the doorway.
"Who's there?" called LaFarge, trembling.
"Who is it? What do you want?"
Still not a word.
I love the simplicity of the prose which nevertheless builds suspense and spookiness. It flows along and you find yourself drawn into an alien world of craters and barren landscapes.
I absolutely loved this book and would recommend it to anyone, even those who do not usually read this genre. I have given it a mark of 5/5 and will be adding it to my favourite books of all time.
The only downside of this is I absolutely have to read his other books and so have now added t his entire catalogue of works to my TBR pile! Will it ever get any smaller? Sigh :)
on 5 April 2002
The Martian Chronicles has stood up well to the test of time. The issues it deals with such as war and human angst are as relevant today as they ever were. I'd read the first 100 pages before I even realised what time it was! I'd recommend this book to anyone who enjoys not only science fiction, but also to anyone who enjoys reading a book that will make them think. It's a good read although sometimes Bradbury's observations into human nature will have you squirming uncomfortably.
Be warned, don't start to read this late at night, it'll be early morning before you put it down.
The Martian Chronicles is a genre classic that details mankind's numerous attempts to colonise the red planet. From the outset, you are drawn into Ray Bradbury's charming yet heartbreaking allegory of the conquest of the New World. As in the historical Americas, many of Mars' native inhabitants succumb to the diseases brought by the human settlers, who themselves fall prey to their own greed and loneliness. These stories are both beautiful and tragic and I defy anyone not to be quietly moved by 'The Martian', a wonderful tale of love and loss. Bradbury has the uncanny ability to reach into your chest and play with your heart.
on 26 January 2014
I read this first as a second hand paperback edition still titled, the Silver Locusts. Very happy to return to it. If you have not read it before, it's worth noting that isn't a novel as such. All the stories are Mars based at different periods of the imagined contact with Mars and it's inhabitants.From first landing to colonisation, to abandonment. For me, it's an examination of the human condition seen from different perspectives and because of this, it doesn't matter that we all know life, at least as envisioned here, has never existed on Mars. It could be any planet and the stories would still stand. Bradbury's writing style feels understated but engaging. Always a pleasure to read. Recommend, even if sci-fi isn't your thing.
on 3 April 2013
This is an absolutely splendid work, which is dated in its science and outlook, but none the worse for that: it's an insight into the worldview of its time, written in a hauntingly beautiful style.
Unfortunately the long-awaited kindle edition is a shoddy effort, which has clearly not been proofread at all. Bradbury was very suspicious of ebooks, and this typo-ridden version of his gem is a travesty which shows that he had a point.
on 16 July 2001
Ray Bradbury wrote a lot of short stories set on Mars. 'The Martian Chronicles' collects most of them together in one book, arranged so as to form a loose story which, in typical Bradbury style, is actually about America, and not Mars at all. Bradbury is a writer first and a sci-fi writer second, and if you're expecting endless descriptions of nuclear propulsion you probably won't like this book. Because of this, it's one of the few sci-fi books from the period that hasn't dated. It's also one of the ultimate downers, but in a good way - the general tone is one of loneliness and despair, without being doomy. It's a shame that, judging by the lack of reviews, this book is so obscure nowadays, especially compared to his contemporaries Isaac Asimov and Arthur C. Clarke, neither of whom have produced anything which has aged as well.
on 3 July 2013
I first read this book when it was originally published in the UK as "The Silver Locusts". I have since read it many times, and in many different editions because, oddly, Ray Bradbury and/or his publishers altered the content of the book several times. The main stories telling of Earth's invasion of Mars are always there but the side line stories vary. I have about half a dozen 'comfort reads' that I return to time and again, and this is one of them.
Written as short stories for magazines in the late 1940s and pulled together with a series of linking pieces for publication in book form in 1951, the book is set around the turn of the millennium, when man is beginning to colonise Mars. But a very different Mars from the one we know today - this one is populated by intelligent beings who seem fairly human in some ways, but have telepathic powers that mean that some of them can sense the approach of the men from Earth.
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.
on 1 March 2012
I came to this with a vague recollection of the early 80's TV version and had expectations based upon a 60 years of good reviews. The novel is unlike any other I have read, there is only a hint of a plot, no re-occurring characters and no real narrative. Basically the novel tells a series of loosely connected vignettes on the theme of 'humans go to Mars'. Told over the course of 25 years the stories move from the initial lift off of the first rockets to the arrival of the last. The descriptive passages in the book bear repeated reading and interpretation as Mr Bradbury examines race, religion, family and what it means to be human (or martian). I cannot recommend this book highly enough, just be prepared for something a little different.
First published as The Silver Locusts, this is a collection of short stories about a fleet of locust-like spaceships leaving Earth to settle Mars. In this world the Martian air is just about breathable but thin, and the first astronauts find abandoned city after city with water rippling through canals. They start to see ghosts and gradually we find that there are some living Martians, though perhaps they live only as memories.
But Earth is too crowded and people come to settle, bringing juke joints, small homes and beauty parlours - recreating small town America which was Bradbury's home. In one story, the war on Earth escalates and strangely most Mars settlers think they should return - not a great idea when war means nuclear war. A young man left alone decides to find a young woman if one is left, and rings every beauty parlour until he finds one. (This female would have been out securing food.) But his idea doesn't seem so great after a while and he leaves her, stumbling onto a couple of females who are actually androids built by a nutty professor, not that he knows that.
Other stories such as Billion Year Picnic at the end tell of a family exploring Mars looking for a city to settle in, knowing that now there is no going back to a devastated Earth and they have become the Martians for real.
One or two of Bradbury's stories were omitted from the collection, such as the tale of the ship full of coloured people who left homes in America for a better future, but most of them are more social comment than hard science, a warning that the future of humanity may depend on our ability to leave this planet and a query as to what we will bring and build.
Because this was never hard SF it has not dated, so read it as a fantasy or allegory and enjoy.