The Martian Chronicles – Ray Bradbury

The early culture of space sci-fi was built on a foundation which portrayed Martians as beastly killers attacking Earthlings with no remorse.  However, in Bradbury’s Martian Chronicles (1950), we have a chance to think about what really might happen.  How would humans feel if Martians came to settle Earth- Would we defend ourselves? Would we welcome the aliens with open arms and help them make a home here?  Another viewpoint Bradbury explores is the human pioneering spirit, such as the US’ Western Expansion through the 17-18th centuries. In both cases of settlement humans are determined to take what they want, and to make the land and culture adjust to themselves, rather than adapt to the new settings.

The first few chapters had a humorous tone. The humans sent the explorers to Mars, but the first three crews were killed in defense.  A Martian woman dreamt of the first rocket coming, she talked to the captain of the rocket in her sleep.  Her jealous husband overheard the conversation and resolved to keep his wife away from the mysterious visitors. He made sure she stayed at home while he went for a casual walk and hunting gun (which shot shells full of bees!).  The chapter ends with two shots in the distance and the wife solemnly welcoming her husband back home.

The second crew found themselves in a frenzy of Martian paranoia.  They have used telepathy to brainwash each other.  Many don’t care that the humans have arrived and find it more of an annoyance.  They send the captain and his crew here and there until finally a smart Martian welcomes them and sends them into a room to wait for him to return.  The crew was dumfounded, how could the the aliens not acknowledge that they have actually travelled through space?  This was a major accomplishment! The crew ment many Martians in the room they entered and soon realized that each one of the Martians were delusional.  The smart Martian was a psychologist, he returned and conducted interviews with the humans and determined that only the Captain was real and the other crew members were holograms to trick those who met him.  Then the psychologist asked the  Captain to take him to the rocket as he suspected this was also a hologram, and he could prove that the space travel was fake.  After exploring the rocket, the psychologist knew it was the best mental projection he had ever seen.  The Captain’s brainwashing telepathy was unlike he had ever seen before.  He knew if the simply shot the Captain the rocket and crew would disappear- but it didn’t.  It was the best projection he had ever seen, even when dead, the Captain’s brain power still made him see the rocket and crew! So he shot each crew member, and he still saw it all in front of him.  The only other explanation he could think of was he, himself, was projecting the imagery, so he took his own life to stop it.

The third rocket’s crew landed in a small town on Mars.  Each crew member recognized the village as their own hometown.  Each happened to see a deceased loved one they recognized in their fake hometown.  The friends and family explained that they didn’t know how they got there, but they had died on Earth and showed up there.  They tried their best to make it more like home.  This Captain was very leery of it all, but dropped his guard when his brother showed up and took him to visit their parents. They had a wonderful meal and the captain held his mother close and danced in the living room with her for hours.  At bedtime, the two brothers lay in the same room, when the Captain had a quick thought that it might be a trick… He decided to sneak back to the ship to wait for the others.  The Captain crept across the floor toward the door when the brother took him out.  The following morning, the entire town of Martians held a service to bury all the dead human explorers.

Further into the book, similarities between the real pioneers and the characters in MC are more apparent.  A Johnny  Appleseed character saw a need for oxygen production in the early days of humanity on the red planet, so he devotes himself to the task.  A husband and wife build a business selling hotdogs at an intersection of two major roads.  Priests believe the Martians need saved so they join the adventure and send missionaries.  Bradbury said Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath was a major influence on the Chronicles and with the mass migration the states saw in the 1930’s, one can find many parallels between the two works. The Martian Chronicles was a very imaginative work 70 years ago, and can still captivate audiences today.

The venture, Mars One, plans to turn The Martian Chronicles into reality with a mission to create the first permanent human settlement on Mars.  You can find out more here.

 

Uncle Tom’s Cabin -Harriet Beecher Stowe

I recently finished Uncle Tom’s Cabin, as a fan of history and morose literature, I really enjoyed this read.  During an unfortunate period of our history, Stowe took an initiative in the fight for abolition and the equality of humanity in the U.S.  This book was written over a decade befor the Emancipation Proclamation, and I’m sure her writing made a strong fight in the abolitionist movement.

Prior to reading this, I had always heard allusions to ‘Uncle Toms’ being an African American taking a subservient stance toward Caucasians.  I feel the book had a completely different point- a point of forgiveness and kindness.  The atrocities Uncle Tom experienced never faltered his Christian beliefs and his hope that there was a chance of goodness in everything.  As each episode he went through became worse and worse, his love and drive to ‘save’ everyone became stronger.

The book begins with Tom’s owners, the Shelby’s, selling Tom and Henry as a financial decision to help their farm.  Tom submitted to the situation, but Eliza, took her son, Henry, and fled North in hopes of Freedom in Canada.

Tom was taken to sale at an auction in New Orleans and along the way a wealthy man named Augustine St. Claire bought him as a driver and caretaker of his daughter, Eva.  Eva was a delightful girl and as the story drew on it was apparent she was ill and would soon be lost.  Tom enjoyed Eva and her interest in his bible and before she passed away she declared she would be spending the rest of her time in heaven and wished all the people in her life would remember her and strive to treat each other kindly, quit enslaving people and meet her in heaven when their time on Earth was finished.  Upon her death, St. Claire announced he would free Tom and the other slaves, but his life was taken in a pub before he could make the necessary legal provisions to free his slaves.  His wife sent most of the slaves to auction and Tom was bought by Simon Legree.  Legree was an evil man and used two overseers who he pitted against each other.  He was harsh in his treatment of the slaves he owned and resolved that there would be no talk of God or the bible on his land.  He decided one way or another he would beat the religion out of Tom.

Eliza’s story took a different path as she fled North.  She was taken in by a family of Quakers and soon found her husband, George, miraculously coming to the same family on his own path to freedom.  They joined together and found freedom in Canada and lived happily ever after.

This was a fairly sad book, in looking back on the common treatment of slaves in the South, and the indifference of the Northerners. A repeating theme was that many Southern farmers said they planned on freeing their slaves, but this usually was put off too long and their deaths brought their slaves to the auction block to continue their servitude at another plantation.

I’ll finish with my favorite quote of the book, which was from a conversation with Tom and St. Claire –

St. C- “Why Tom, you couldn’t have possibly have earned, by your work, such clothes and such living as I have given you.”

Tom- “Knows all that, Mas’r St. Claire; Mas’r’s been too good; but, Mas’r I’d rather have poor clothes, poor house, poor everything, and have ’em mine, than have the best, and have them any man else’s, – I had so, Mas’r; I think it’s nature, Mas’r.

 

Number the Stars – Lois Lowry

“…and I want you all to remember – that you must not dream yourselves back to the times before the war, but the dream for you all, young and old, must be to create an ideal of human decency, and not a narrow-minded and prejudiced one.  That is the great gift our country hungers for, something every little peasant boy can look forward to, and with pleasure feel he is a part of – something he can work and fight for.”

-Kim Malthe-Bruun

This excerpt was from a real letter written by a young man who was part of the Denmark resistance of Nazi occupied forces, from his prison cell just before he was executed.  While Lowry’s story was fictional, she explained in the Afterword that stories like this were true and provided this sample to illustrate how the people of Denmark worked together to save the lives of thousands of Jewish citizens.

In her fictional story, Number the Stars, Lowry introduced the readers to the Johansen family.  The main character, Annemarie, her younger sister, Kristi, and her parents.  Annemarie’s best friend, Ellen Rosen was a Jewish girl living in the same apartments and the two were nearly inseparable.  During the Nazi occupation of Denmark, the time came when the German soldiers attempted to relocate the Jewish citizens.  The bravery of the Johansen family was told as they risked their lives to save their friends from the unknown dangers of the relocations.

Annemarie discovered a secret language of codes used by her family. At first she thought it was strange and was angry that her family would lie to her, but she discovered it made it easier for one to be brave if they don’t know the entire truth.  She found her uncle and father talking of delivering a carton of cigarettes to be strange, but the carton turned out to be the code for her friend, Ellen, who was to be taken to a safe place.  Good weather for fishing came to mean, a good time to take the Jewish friends to a safe place as well.

While the story was fictional, the reader experiences with the characters what it means to be brave and overcome life and death challenges.  I enjoy reading stories of the brave persevering during tough times, who doesn’t?  Lowry is an exceptional writer with other works like The Giver, if you haven’t read any of her work, you are missing out!

Rating: *********9/10