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.

 

A Wrinkle in Time – Madeline L’Engle

A Wrinkle in Time is another great fantasy work, focusing on a fair mixture of science and religion.  L’Engle explores topics which focus on ideas that young adults can struggle with on their way to adulthood.

Meg Murray is a young teen who struggles a lot with school, many of her classmates consider her an idiot, but when it comes down to it, she does very well at math and science (with two scientists as parents, it’s easy to see why).  Her father has been missing for a couple of years after leaving on a science mission with the government. Her mother continues her chemistry experiments at home, patiently awaiting her husband’s return.  Meg also has younger twin brothers who do fair in school, get along well with their peers, and they have a hard time understanding why it’s all so difficult for Meg.  The youngest member of the Murray family is Charles Wallace.  He was late in developing speech, and many people in their town believed he would be dumb, but he was actually very mature for his age of five, and he had a very impressive vocabulary, along with a nearly sixth-sense of mind reading as he always knew what Meg was thinking.

As Meg and Charles Wallace were walking through the woods to their new neighbor’s home, they befriended Calvin, an older boy who was a star athlete and student.  Calvin also had some extra perception capabilities, like Charles Wallace.  Together, they met the ‘witch’ neighbors and were soon whisked away to find their father who was on a distant planet, trying to save the universe from an evil darkness that was taking over stars and planets.  Mr. Murray was not the first to battle evil, as the witches explained, others like Jesus, the Buddha, and famous artists and scientists also had fought against the evil forces.

As the book explains, they use a form of travel called ‘tessering’ which gets them from planet to planet and into other galaxies in the universe.  Soon, they land on the target planet, Camazotz, where they found a society that was completely conformed to do every task at the same time and citizens were exterminated or retrained when they ‘fell out of line’ or caught an illness. Charles Wallace in his naivety, decided to challenge the man who was explaining the order and conformity to the group, and he became hypnotized.  The new Charles Wallace led the other two children their father and Meg used a special gift to free him.  Together, Charles Wallace then led the crew to ‘IT’ to try to have them hypnotized and join the society as well, he was a completely different and untrustworthy person at that point. Mr. Murray tessered Meg and Calvin to another planet to escape, leaving little Charles Wallace to IT.

The group had tessered to another planet in Camazotz’ solar system and there Meg was nursed to health and found a true belief and good and love and is sent back to Camazotz to use her love to untrap Charles Wallace and return home.  The conformity of Camazotz and IT were essentially short circuited by this emotion as they left little free will or capability of truly understanding love.

As mentioned before, important topics in the book focused on young adults gaining a better understanding of the world.  L’Engle emphasized the importance of the perseverance of good over evil frequently in the book.  She also stressed the fight against conformity and importance of free will as the children explored Camazotz.

This was a fun and quick read.  I generally enjoy sci-fi, and those of course were my favorite parts of this book.  I liked how they explained ‘tessering’ and traveling at hyperspeed.  L’Engle did a great job of describing the emotions and physical feeling of tessering through Meg’s character.

Quick amateur sketch of my thoughts of A Wrinkle in Time: (Kids skipping rope and bouncing balls with a conformed rhythm, boy on end is out of sync, mothers leaning out of houses to call the kids in all at the same time while Charles Wallace, Meg, and Calvin watch. Evil darkness rising behind the houses.)

WrinkleSketch.jpg

Rating: ********8/10

The Stars, Like Dust – Isaac Asimov

Asimov’s 1950 novel begins in a universe in the far distant future, Byron of Wildemos was preparing to graduate from the University of Earth.  The night before the ceremony, he awoke to something amiss in his dormitory.  A radiation bomb had been planted and his life was in danger.  An acquaintance, Jonti, miraculously appeared at the right time and rescued him.  Jonti explained privately that Byron’s life was in danger.  Byron’s father, the Rancher of Wildemos, had been captured and tried as a traitor to the Tyranni (the rulers of over 50 planets, light-years from Earth). The Tyranni were not willing to take chances, so they planned on taking the life of the Rancher’s son to avoid his taking over the assumed revolution against them.

Byron hopped on a ship and headed toward the planet Rhodia, thousands of light-years away to ask the Director, Hinrik, for sanctuary.  Hinrik was suspicious and turned Byron over to the Tyranni, but not before his cousin, Gillbrect, and daughter, Artemesia, formed a plan to escape Rhodia with the help of Byron.  They stole a Tyranni spaceship and embarked on a course toward the planet, Linguane to search for the mysterious planet of rebellion. Upon reaching Linguane, they were greeted by the Autarch, who also happened to be Byron’s savior, Jonti.  Together they prepared to seek the rebellion planet, hidden in a distant nebula.

The following events included twists and turns in the plot as they fight to join the rebellion and escape the Tyranni in pursuit.  Though the book is 60 years old, I’d rather not give too many spoilers, other than the rest of the story involves treason, traitors, love, reason, and rebellion!

Isaac Asimov was a prolific writer, and is considered to be one of the greatest Sci-Fi authors of all-time.  On Wikipedia, he is noted as saying that ‘The Stars, Like Dust’ is one of his least favorite stories he’s written.  I was tempted to put the book down at that, but decided to keep going.  I’m glad I did, and if this book is his worst writing, I would have to say I’m enthusiastic to get to his better books because I found this a very imaginative and enjoyable read.

Rating: ********8/10

Ray Bradbury – Fahrenheit 451

Bradbury’s 1953 book about a future society that devalues books, creates a dystopian society in which the firemen burn books.  I’ve read that the original intent of the book was to show society’s change from a book reading bunch to a television/radio centered people who lose the value and importance of reading.  Some can even argue that the internet has pushed that even further now.  As a teacher, I beam when I see a student bring a paper and ink friend to the classroom and pick it up during short bits of free-time instead of getting on the snapchats and racing games with the school-issued iPad.  I hate to interrupt them, but I try to make a point to ask the students about the books they’ve brought and if they are enjoying them.  Honestly, I would not have been one of those students, but now I just feel like I’m so far behind, so many good books like F451 to catch up on!

F451 opens with the book-burning fireman, Guy Montag, walking home and meeting a strange young girl named Clarisse who is enjoying a walk outside.  She asks him strange questions and afterward, Montag can’t take his mind off of the questions.  His wife, Millie, is addicted to the TV, which she calls her ‘family’.  They have 3 wall-to-wall TVs in the living room and the current popular program uses technology to include the viewer in the programs by adding the user’s name to the program as if they are a part of it.  The Montags are currently saving up to install the fourth and final TV wall.  That night, Millie overdoses on sleeping pills, and Guy calls the hospital, which sends two technicians to pump the pills out of her stomach.  They make it seem like a common thing, and they are in-and-out in no time.

As a fireman, Montag burns books, and his run-in with Clarisse makes him question many things about his job.  He had heard once that firemen used to put out fires, which his boss and coworkers think would be ridiculous! As the story builds, Montag reveals to his wife that he has been saving a book here and there as he went to houses to burn them.  She is horrified and begs him to burn the books in the home incinerator.  When the fire captain, Beatty, learns of the books, he hints that Montag has 24 hours to burn them or turn them in to him.  Later at the firehouse, the men are called to bring their kerosene and burn up another house with books. As the ‘Salamander’ fire truck pulls up the house, Montag’s worst nightmare has come true, he must burn his own home, and books!

I’ll leave the summary there and let the reader continue on their own if they haven’t had the pleasure of reading this cautionary tale.

In this short novel, Bradbury does a brilliant job of character and plot development.  At first I wasn’t a fan of Montag as he did society’s job of burning books. The more the story developed I felt myself rooting for him and hoping he got away with all the books he had saved.  I liked the story a lot and I’ll probably save it and read it again when I need it.

Rating **********10/10

Twitter: @blookworm

God Bless You, Dr. Kevorkian – Kurt Vonnegut

Vonnegut is a favorite, so this may be a little biased, ha.  Though “God Bless You, Dr. Kevorkian” may sound quite morbid and unappealing, the book was quite interesting.  Vonnegut compiled several short pieces from a show he did on public radio in the late 1990’s, each visiting a different character in history.  Here’s the catch: he wrote as if he went through a blue tunnel up to the pearly gates of heaven assisted by Dr. Jack Kevorkian, who made him just dead enough to get Vonnegut there and then to safely bring him back from the dead.  At under 80 pages, this was a quick but satisfying read.  He was able to quote memorable historical figures, friends, and acquaintances as he visited about 20 dead souls in heaven.

First, Vonnegut stated that this does not reflect his religious views (as the president of the American Humanist Association), but was a fun way to look at different perspectives of history.  Humorously, he interviewed Isaac Newton, who said he can’t forgive himself for overlooking the theories of evolution and relativity (even though he invented the reflecting telescope and calculus).  Hitler was interviewed, asking for forgiveness.  Yes, Hitler was in heaven, Vonnegut said there was no hell and that everyone simply went to heaven, because nobody knows, who can say he’s wrong?  Isaac Asimov was also interviewed and asked how he became such a prolific writer (over 500 novels).  He replied with one word, “escape,” followed by quoting Satre, saying “Hell is other people.” Vonnegut even wrote in his mysterious alter-ego, Kilgore Trout into an interview.

I have enjoyed all I’ve read by Vonnegut and this was no exception.  His witty and thoughtful work did a nice job of exploring the afterlife and people who have influenced himself and the world.  A quick read, not to be taken seriously, it was a nice ‘brain break’ from the world, if only for a short time.

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

Anthem – Ayn Rand

This was my first venture into Rand’s work.  I can say she was a very eloquent writer, I enjoyed how she developed the short story and used her writing to describe a dystopia that man, though highly unlikely, may encounter.  The story was great, but I was not a big fan of the message.

Equality 7-2521 is the central character. He is living in a world where the word ‘I’ is forbidden.  He refers to himself as ‘our’ and groups as ‘we’.  He struggles in school and has feeling of sin as he explores his own thoughts and desires.  Everyone in his world is there for each other, as one.  The Council of Vocations has assigned Equality 7-2521 to be a street sweeper.  He is disappointed as he loves thinking, so he wanted to be a thinker, and to study and help the world he lived in.

One day, while cleaning a street, he found a secret passage.  Every night when the city went to the theater, he would sneak away and spend three hours in his secret underground passage.  Soon he discovered an ancient clear ball, which produced light like the sun (a light bulb).  He decided to take his discovery to the great minds to make the people’s lives better.  The elders decided that it would be foolish to use this as they just accepted their new tool, a candle.  Using the light would put hundreds out of a job because they wouldn’t need to make candles any more.

Equality ran away to start a new life, and found that a woman he knew and liked followed him out of the city into the uncharted forest. (I found it ironic that Rand wrote in a woman to follow Equality, when the theme of the story was independence.)  They found a house in the mountains and settled into it.  The house had a large collection of books, which Equality read and discovered the word ‘I’ and then the book went into a strong emphasis that ‘we’ was a thought that only hurt the progress of men.

“The word ‘We’ is as lime poured over men, which sets and hardens to stone, and crushes all beneath it, and that which is white and that which is black are lost equally in the grey of it  It is the word by which the depraved steal the virtue of the good, by which the weak steal the might of the strong, by which the fools steal the wisdom of the sages.”

As a special education teacher, I read her message and disagree.  I am tasked with helping to provide an education to students who struggle with reading and math.  Without assistance, my students may not achieve goals in life that many others could take for granted.  I consider my occupation to be a part of the ‘we’ as I put others first.  I make students, their parents, and our school happy by helping them earn a high school diploma.  I concede there are parts of that message that are important.  I push students to help themselves. I want them to feel the achievement they deserve.  ‘I’ is important in that aspect.  These students will only go as far as they want to.  There are also students who have higher degrees of disabilities.  There are students who cannot talk, cannot communicate as well as others.  How can I put myself first to say they are not my concern.  Isn’t our world a little better by trying to get these students as far as they can go?

Rating: ****** 6/10